Day 4: The Brick Factory

March 28, 2012 - 02:36

3.20.2012: Tuesday was a mix of fun, frustration, and exhaustion, with a liberal application of sweat. The women on our team were assigned to visit and work at the brick factory that afternoon, where the adobe blocks are made to construct the Habitat houses in La Gallina. We had no idea what were in for, and by the end of the day had enormous respect for the community women who operate the factory.

First, we visited the local school, just up the hill from Ismael and Martha’s house. We planned to paint it on Thursday, so Vittoria asked us to clean the walls in preparation. Many children attend that school, including four of Martha and Ismael’s children, and with only 3 classrooms there is a morning and afternoon session to accommodate them all.

The walls are paint-chipped and graffitied; the classroom ceiling tiles hanging from the frames, exposing the metal beams above. But the children are cheerful, rowdy and rambunctious, and mobbed us as soon as we got there. They aren’t camera-shy either. We spent the morning scraping old fliers that had been glued to the wall with sheets of sandpaper (Tip: saturate both the wall and the sandpaper with water to remove old glue), then spent some time taking pictures with the students. I surprised myself by remembering many of their names, and I think they were pleased, though I was chastised by a girl named Katia for confusing her with my buddy Yuvelki. I tried to explain that they looked alike, but the best I could come up with was, “¡Tus caras son igual!” = “Your faces are equal!” (Sounds awkward, I know – I later learned the word, “parecer,” as in “Usted parece ella.” = “You look like her.”)

After lunch, the ladies of the GV team, along with Vittoria and newcomer Kristy, as self-described ‘Habitat Junkie’ and world traveler, headed over to the brick factory, where we found Yesbelin and her crew already at work, hauling in water in large buckets atop their heads, with 3 huge piles of layered adobe and cement ready to be mixed together. Guess who was going to mix those layers together? That’s right. We claimed each pile – 3-4 to a pile – as Yesbelin demonstrated how to mix: churning a small section again and again with her shovel until the red-brown adobe and white cement blended into a tan color. She formed a new pile with the blended mix and started over, mixing another section. It was back-breaking work, and it was only the first part of the process. After the mixing, we had to add water, layer by layer, forming a new pile. Then we had to stir the now damp mixture again. The final step was shoveling the mix into buckets to be handed to our trusty bus driver and honorary Habitat Nicargua volunteer, Nelson, who would load the mix into the machine to form the bricks.

That’s when the frustration kicked in. Nelson was like a speed demon, emptying buckets faster than we could fill them. And if we weren’t grabbing the empty buckets in time, he’d toss them to the ground. I felt like I was on that episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel are working at the chocolate factory and the conveyor belt goes haywire, spitting out chocolates faster than they could pack. But I wasn’t about to eat dirt, so I tapped out like WWF wrestler when I couldn’t take it anymore, letting someone else fill in and coming back after a break. Sometimes we got a good rhythm going, but more often than not there was a lot of bucket-chucking to the ground. Finally one of the community ladies stepped in to help, scooping a bucket-full of mix and handing it to Nelson as if it weighed less than a pound rather than 10 or more. We were very impressed, especially knowing that this is work that these women do everyday. We were also very appreciative of each brick that was made – we joked that we would start naming our bricks and mourn over each one broken when making U-blocks.

And we made a pact. It’s not the nicest thing we’ve done (and not my idea), but it was fun: we decided to leave the guys in the dark about how hard the process was – their turn would be on Thursday. =D

Check out the short video I made at the brick factory here:

Another video on how we made U-blocks (you’ll see how brick-breaking often happens):

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I believe the most valuable thing we can do in our lives is help others, and Habitat does such a great job in bringing passionate people together who believe this as well. Providing essential services to others in need while gaining knowledge and... More >