Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Day Eleven: In the Trenches
More rain, more buckets. The new angle on things today was the beginning of digging on a huge trench that will serve as the prime support for the concrete tank at the core of our project. As of today, we all realize that we don’t really know what we are building, as we can’t quite picture it even though we have seen drawings, talked about it for days on end now, and imagined what it should look like.
No matter what this thing is supposed to be, our job for today was to dig a three-foot deep trench inside which we will build plywood forms that will provide the shape for the concrete supports of the tank. To dig a trench that deep that is 22 feet long means that a whole lot of dirt needs to be diverted somewhere else. Thousands of pounds of dirt. And lots of water. And a few rocks. Some of them really really big. When those things land together in a full bucket, they weigh about 50 pounds. We needed to move bucket after bucket after bucket.
So we got back into bucket brigade mode and created a whole new set of roles, including dumpers (who may or may not use the “hip ninja” move from yesterday), catchers (who help the empty buckets travel back down the line by leapfrogging over most of the people who are passing full buckets), and poppers (who knock the clinging clay and mud out of the bottom of an already-dumped bucket). We’ve been playing all of these roles for a week or so now, but we have finally figured out a shorthand way to announce what is going on.
The trench situation turned quite complicated right away, as we were digging right in front of a wall with multiple springs running out of it. Of course, that water immediately started pooling into our trench, which meant that we had to bail water at the same time that we were digging, just to see what we were doing. Our strategy, then, was to dig another set of lesser trenches all around our support trench so that we could divert the water around the trench (like a little moat). Different ones of us would go around and watch for where water was getting in and move dirt and rocks to block the flow. We couldn’t cut it off entirely, but we managed to redirect it pretty substantially.
As it turns out, even with really strong workers and lots of them, digging a 22-foot trench takes a very long time. We got to the end of the workday and had just completed the entire trench, meaning that we didn’t have enough daylight left to build the plywood box that would bolster it. Thus, when we return tomorrow we expect to encounter a partially collapsed trench that is overflowing with water but at least we will have an easier time re-establishing it now that we have gotten it to the right dimensions once.
At the very end of the time at the site, a delivery truck arrived with our last shipment of sand. Because of all of the rain today, the driver could not get all the way down to the breadfruit tree, so he had to leave the load partway up the hill instead. That decision means that we will have to wheelbarrow it much farther to get it to our pulleys tomorrow, but there was no choice so that is what we will have to do. We look forward to getting back to our fabulous pulleys, so getting to use them again will help ease the pain of the strenuous overland haul.
The other silver lining of the arrival of a new load of materials was that we got to hitch a ride in the delivery truck to get ourselves and our equipment (including wheelbarrows) up the steep hill. It is always a little difficult to load everything back out of the valley where the springs are (“where the two trees stand alone”), especially after a day of trench-digging and bucket-dumping. We even let Matt H. get in the truck from the beginning this time, instead of making him run behind it. The truck is by no means glorious, but the ride certainly was.
We ventured back home and had an excellent dinner of chicken with mangoes and raisins, some tater tot like things made from a local root vegetable called “daishen,” beans, and fancy macaroni and cheese. We eat very well here, including last night’s meal that had two especially fabulous components: cornbread and rice pie. We’ve eaten a lot of fish and chicken, some beef, some pork, and lots of fruit. The main vegetables we eat are tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as roots like manioc and daishen. We often have freshly-squeezed juices and incredible local fruits. We even have fresh-ground cocoa from a tree in the yard.
We have a birthday coming up tomorrow, which means we will have a short work day so we can go to dinner and have a celebration. We’ll wait until then to tell you whose age is increasing . . .