Apparently, there are some in my circle convinced that I have issues around ‘control freakery’. Not sure I agree, but I would be happy to organise a meeting, perhaps with some catering which I could organise, where we could all take turns in an order that I would decide on, so we could in an orderly and structured way, share our positions on this and come to a consensus which I would then be happy to type up and circulate.
Anyway – arriving on site on the first day of the build to find the full squad of the local football team ready to help us and the only tools available to be a couple of blunt machetes sent my ‘must sort this’ reflexes into overdrive.
Pat, one of or US volunteers had fund-raised before she came and had brought a few hundred dollars as petty cash for ’emergencies’. After work we headed for the local supermarket and filled a trolley for around £100 with enough tools to build an extension on a three bed semi in Surbiton.
All tooled up, we approached day two with renewed vigour only to discover early on that the huge pile of sand and rocks that we had passed on day one on the north side of the valley had to be moved to the south side where the build site was.
Like China, one thing Africa is not short of is people. Shortly the cry went out that the Muzomos (white people), whilst putting on a good show, were never going to get the job done alone.
Suddenly the valley was filled with women and children of all ages forming a human convoy, moving the materials from north to south.
Our team members become figureheads for small groups of children all singing newly learned English nursery rhymes as they swarmed back and forth across the valley carrying their loads in scenes reminiscent of the Pied Piper.
The men meanwhile, dug, sawed, nailed, mixed and fell in love with the women in our group. By the end of day two at least two members of our team had firm proposals of marriage and promises of years of continuous child bearing.
In addition to recruiting her school friends to help with the ‘great move’ Zawadis role in all of this was to stop now and then to gaze at this vast hive of activity that was about to change her life forever.
The process of ‘mudding’ the walls of the house starts with a pile of mud and vast quantities of water. The mud is rolled into dumpling sized lumps and forced into the gaps in the wooden frames.
Mercifully, the mud had been delivered to the site before we arrived. Unfortunately, as I saw the women returning from the well with the first of the dozens of five gallon containers of water we were going to need on their heads my ‘I can fix that’ reflex kicked in again.
Four hours and another £100 later me and my team of ‘water boys’ were stringing half a dozen garden hoses across the valley from the one house in the village with a working tap.
In his book, The End of Poverty, Jeffery Sachs postulates that one reason for the British ‘success’ in colonising Africa was the fluke of geography that meant that the Industrial Revolution was much more likely to happen here than anywhere else.
I was pondering parallels between this and my water project as my team and I patrolled the route of the pipe looking for leaks. Determined to follow the ‘teach a man to fish’ model of delivering my miniature international aid project, I encouraged the team to mend the leaks themselves which they did with skill and enthusiasm.
As we climbed the last few meters to the build site my role had been diminished to following behind double checking for missed leaks as the team rushed ahead with the tools and spare pipes we needed for our task.
Unfortunately for me, and for my attempts to present the former ‘colonial masters’ in a new reformed light, I found a leak in the last joint before the top. My cries to the team to come back and help me fix the leak altered my co-volunteers to our presence.
As this group of Americans, Canadians and Australians, all countries that have faced the challenges of Colonisation by the Brits, turned from ‘mudding’ the side wall of the house they were faced with the sight of a group of locals, including a 10 year old boy who had ‘insisted’ that I let him carry my rucksack, running full speed down the side of the valley in response to the call of a large white man in a silly safari hat.