(Wednesday) Last night was another rough night sleeping, but I woke up refreshed and full of energy. Today our group is split into two. We are doing two separate building projects. My group has seven members including Madeleine, Sam, Luke, Natalie, Anastasia, Brent and myself. After breakfast we began the toilet project.
We walked through the rice fields from the house to the site. We built a toilet at a nearby house so it was not a far walk. The guys had the hardest job carrying three 250lb cement circles to the site. It was tied with a rope and then strung on bamboo wood to help distribute the weight. The temperature was hot, but the sun was forgiving. The morning had been somewhat cloudy.
There were several families at the site when we got there. There was an old man who was practically folded in half because there's a piece of a bomb lodged in his spine. They were so kind and welcoming. I immediately felt comfortable. They gave us their blessing and thanked us before we started working. The old man told us that the Buddhists believe people who help build toilets (or other personal hygiene items) are meant to have long, prosperous and healthy lives. He spoke with such compassion, and I was even more inspired to start digging.
We had to dig a whole about 3 meters deep. The cement circles would later be placed inside to become a compost. The digging was hard and strenuous. The tools used were simplistic and ancient. Our shovel was a piece of bamboo and metal. We took the excess dirt and piled it into a woven basket to be taken out of the hole. Within minutes I was drenched in sweat. It was hot and humid as I hunched over trying to dig. I had a lot of fun while digging, but we rotated every so often. I then started stripping bamboo posts. For the first time, I was able to use a machete! I felt my hands getting hotter and hotter until I had a blister in the middle of my palm. It had only been a half hour yet I already had a blister. I ran back to the house to get my first aid kit, cut a piece of mole's skin and patched myself up. Within minutes I was back to work.
Instead of fretting, we pulled out our phrase books and began to interact with the families. The kids and adults joined us in a fit of laughter and learning. We asked what everyone's names were and then began talking about animals and foods. Afterward, we went over the months and days of the week. It was so fun saying it in English and then learning it in Khmer. The locals learned the English words and laughed at our poor pronunciation of the Khmer words. I was so happy. We bonded with this family on a much deeper level. I did not feel like we were building a toilet for some stranger but for our friends. I was extremely grateful for their kindness and hospitality.
Madeleine and I helped with the concrete mixture by pumping water from the well and carrying it over. Others collected bricks. When we were done with the water, I decided to collect some bricks. As I was picking up my stack a little gecko poked its head out. I don't think he would have enjoyed being sealed in the bricks and concrete so I shook him out. When the foundation was laid, we had to wait for it to dry. The guys then carried the cement circles into the hole. I think the girls are pretty strong, so I suggested we give it a try. Everyone watched with great enthusiasm when we counted down to lift up the 250lb monster. We were able to lift the circle off the ground and with some help transport it to the hole. I think we all patted ourselves on the back for that one. So much for a "man's job." They must have missed the memo that they had some pretty tough girls on site! Again, more laughter and excitement.
When our work was done, we retreated back to the house. I was sad to leave. This day was the most memorable day. It felt so good to give this family something of substance. In a few days, we will donate more personal hygiene products. Many families are ignorant to personal hygiene. My heart broke when I saw the rotting teeth of the little girls. They all pick lice and fleas off one another and use a bush as a bathroom. I was so happy they let us into their homes and stood by our side the entire time. The personal interaction was unbelievable. We broke the language barrier with as many smiles as possible. Their faces will forever be engraved in my memory. Despite their lack of money, clothes, housing, etc. they were full of life and spirit. Their smiles masked any hardships. I feel fortunate and continuously count my blessings on this trip. I find myself growing and learning from each experience and hope I can continue to have a positive impact on others as they inspire me.