November 13, 2010
Just a bit about the work project here. We’re a few hours southwest of HCMC now in a town called My Tho, down in the Mekong Delta area. We’re rebuilding a home for a family of four. The entire project will take between four and six weeks, depending on weather and other inconveniences, so unfortunately I won’t be able to see the finished abode. I have, however, seen quite a bit of concrete in the past five days. We have no mixers (besides our shovels), so we’ve spent many hours carrying buckets of sand (4) to mix with 1 bag of cement (50 kg) and 7 buckets of rocks, and enough water to make it into a nice cementy slop, which we then shovel into buckets and pour into our rustic cement forms. We’ve built the foundation footers and walls and just Friday began laying some bricks.
Our Vietnamese builder has chosen the name Bob (many of our helpers here either choose a Western name or go by the translation of their Vietnamese name to avoid hearing us butcher the pronunciation), so we spend all day with Bob the Builder. He’s quite a prankster and especially loves to toss water on some unsuspecting worker and then gesture at the tin roof under which we’re working and say “Mua? Mua?” (“Rain? Rain?”) He’s like a kid in that the joke never gets old, and he always laughs the longest and the hardest. He also loves to pretend to eat the rocks. Bob has a few helpers who don’t speak any English (Bob knows a bit), and I’m now able to recognize the Vietnamese words for measuring tape, hammer, nail, wood, water, and rocks. And of course, “NO!” which Bob shrieks at the top of his lungs and then holds his belly and laughs. He also loves to say “Bob Number 1!” and if we do something wrong, he’ll say “Bob number 1, you number chin-chin” which means you’re number 99. Ah well. The work is back-breaking and the humidity is stifling, but it is really fun. The three other volunteers are all from Australia and we all get along very well.
As we walk through the streets of My Tho to and from work, people stare and look curiously at the dirty Westerners, and sometimes someone will shout a “hello!” to us. When we say hello or xin ciao in response, they erupt in smiles and laughter. I suppose it’s like when you roll down your window to moo at cows in a pasture… you don’t really expect a response, so when one actually acknowledges and/or answers you, it’s a bit of a thrill. Ummm, not that I ever moo at cows while driving.
We have our evenings and weekends free, and we’re now getting past the exhaustion and going out to eat and see the nearby pagodas at night. Today (Saturday- greetings from the future!) we took a boat tour of a few islands in the delta, which was a nice break from the hard labor. Hard to believe I’ve already been here a week and a half. I hope this finds you well.