Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

Thatching a Dream Home’s roof: A lesson in strong and nimble fingers.

Posted in Cambodia on December 15, 2008

December 11:

Today it was my work group's turn to work on a 'dream home'. It was fantastic! I can now add roof thatching to my resume. In this case, rather than starting from scratch, we took the frame of an existing structure and added to it. The frame was leaning over about 20 degrees. We collectively pushed with all of our might and propped up the house with some logs. We got a quick lesson on how to properly attach the thatch to the roof and it looked really easy to do...until we tried it for ourselves. After several failed attempts we decided it wasn't for a lack of technique but rather a lack of what Tommy refers to as “insane Cambodian finger strength”. I guess using a keyboard all day doesn't develop the same finger muscles. In any case, we did the best we could and by the end of the day we had almost completed the roof. We lamented not being able to run to the nearest Home Hardware to pick up the necessary tools to make things easier. Some zap straps could have gone a long way. This was a good exercise for us... an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are here to learn other ways of doing things. We resisted the temptation to take charge, although harder for some than others. Mr. Theary from BAB was patient and helpful. I can only guess that the people were at times too polite to tell us when we were doing things wrong.

Back home, the secret to success is in developing a specialized skill. In so doing, we are far removed from all the things that we consume. Here, survival depends on one's ability to maximize the utility of the land. Resources don't go to waste. Self-sufficiency is key. Virtually all the materials used for the house come from the land: bamboo, logs (sticks may be a more accurate description), rice stalks and cow dung. It's like a real-life episode of survivor. I don't think my wicked excel spreadsheet skills would be of much use here. I admire the people's ability to sustain themselves because if I had to do the same back home, I would likely go hungry. In my 20 years of formal schooling, I don't recall sustainable agriculture ever being on the curriculum. I hope to make the time to grow a garden this summer.

As some of us clung to the roof frame and attached thatch, the others played with the kids... and there is no lack of kids and this is no surprise given that the average Cambodian age is 21 and that the average life expectancy is less than 60 years of age. We played games, threw a ball around, did gymnastics and sang songs. When we showed up they must have wondered what in God's name we were doing there. At first, the kids were very skeptical and shy...almost scared of us, but mesmerized. Shalen is a clown and made animals and flowers with some balloons and the kids loved them! A child's ability to be present, spontaneous and honest never fails to impress me. Tommy was a hit with his gymnastic tricks. Teresa, Courtney and April's games were very well received. The macarena and chicken dance have officially been introduced and well received in rural Cambodia – we all do our little part. It didn't take long before we had the kids wrapped around our fingers. A little love and attention goes a long way. By the end of the day we had a gang of about 15 children chasing and screaming as our bus departed. This is the juice. These moments make it all worthwhile.

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