Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.


December 10, 2009:Thatching the roofs

Posted in Cambodia on December 14, 2009

This is our second day of house-building. We are really starting to get the hang of it now. Framing at Site 1 was finished yesterday, but framing at Site 2 had to be completed this morning.

After framing, the roof is thatched. Then the walls and the floor are finished. For those readers who have never thatched a roof (which we presume is most of you), here is how it works: the layered straw is attached to a wooden rod about a yard long. Each piece has to overlap six inches to keep the rain out. The thatch has to be hoisted up onto the roof, where is it is hand-wired onto the cross beams. Aesthetically speaking, the appearance from below is quite pleasing. As one might imagine, a few of us had to get out of our comfort zones to climb the wooden frame walls and work on the rooftop (they say it’s best to face one’s fears). There is a great view of the countryside from up there.

One person has to stay on the ground to send up supplies by rope pulley, a forked stick or climb up and hand off to the thatcher. The supplier has to be able to respond quickly to requests such as “more wire,” “more thatch,” “camera,” “water,” and “shoes coming down.” Those who aren’t thatching have to tote dirt in wicker baskets for the floor, so as far as hard labor goes, thatching is preferred, even if one has a fear of heights.

We expect the Site 1 house to be finished tomorrow, but we will have to finish the Site 2 house on Monday. The Site 2 family’s Dream Home is a bit more ambitious than the Dream Home at Site 1.

Brian and Celeste, two of our Canadian teammates, have a unique perspective on both houses because they are filming at each site. Their objective is a time-lapse effect to show the houses progressing through various stages of construction from start to finish. The film will be used by Developing World Connections as part of an application for a $1 million media outreach project. Today Brian and Celeste hiked between the two building sites at least eight times, and they have helped out at each site, too, after setting up their equipment. They are really feeling the effects of the intense heat here and we really appreciate their efforts.

While we are building, we ponder the many cultural contrasts that are a source of fascination to us. Here are just a few examples:

• We are sitting on the roof of our house wiring thatch and the cell phone rings in our supervisor’s pocket.
• In this country where Buddhist shrines dot the landscape, there are Christmas trees at some of the hotels.
• There are no coins in circulation and the U.S. dollar is the currency of choice.
Change is made using riel on paper – it’s about 4,000 riel to $1 U.S.
• Our bus driver is on 24-hour call and sleeps in a hammock in the bus.
• People actually wave, smile and shout hello when we walk past.
• In the countryside, laundry is hung out to dry on fences lining the street, and rice is dried on tarps on the ground.
• Gas for motorcycles is dispensed out of Pepsi bottles.
It common to see three or four people on a small moto, including little children who sit wedged between the adults.
• While the people for whom we are building houses have very few creature comforts, they have friends and family close by watching out for them. The older ones take care of the younger ones, and vice versa.
• And, have you ever heard of Cambodian gelato? Well, it exists.

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