House building in Baan Mae, Chiang Mai.
06/02/2010 30 °C
After three solid days of voluntary hard labour we were able to construct two houses for our two Thai families. With 23 CIGNA employees recruited throughout the world, despite not knowing each other, we worked marvellously as a team.
Firstly, let me tell you where we were building.
Bann Mae, Chiang Mai. A beautiful, quiet suburb of the city, with picturesque country lanes and humble living people. Where banana trees grow in the wild and chickens and hens roam free wherever they like. All the townsfolk naturally smiled and greeted us in their native language. It allowed you to feel welcome in their community. Whether they know we are building a house for Bann Mae's own Mr Smith, I don't know, but they sure make you feel you belong there.
Instantly, we got started as we arrived on the first day. After a short introduction on basic safety rules we headed towards the house. The first task we had to complete was the mixing and laying of the cement. Hard work, it was, especially as the day went on. Although, it was cool in the morning, it was baking hot by midday, and even hotter in the afternoon. Fortunately,nobody got burnt as people were applying lots of cream. Surprisingly, even though I didn't apply much myself, I'm still Scottish white as milk. Mixing the cement involved using a bag of cement, obviously, 18 buckets of sand and 15
buckets of stones with water being added intermittently. Virtually the whole of the day was spent doing this task
On day two, we commenced the building of the walls. Thin brittle breeze blocks were used, and to create th e cement we just had to mix sand, water and cement. When I had built three rows in about half an hour to start with, on my own, one of the house builing professionals had told me it was not straight enough. It looked straight to me but after he got the string out, it was out by a chaing Mai country mile. If only I had downloaded the spirit level app to my Iphone.
Well, the more he knocked each brick down, the more embarrased I got and the more it drained my confidence. The Tradesman then proceeded to rebuild in 5 minutes what I had constructed in that half an hour. Thankfully, one of the coordinators for Habitat for Humanity, Melane, convinced me to keep going and guided me to continue what the professional had left me with and we reached our objective by reaching the top of the window.
In the afternoon, we visited the Baan Mae primary school. We played many games with the kids and had a really wicked time.
When I'm around kids, I am a kid but only in an adult's body. Our fist game was with a bottle of talc, yes talc Liz. We had to
clap our hands and pass the bottle around and as soon as the school teacher blew her whistle, the person, or better defined, the
kid had to pour a hand full of talc and wipe it all over their face. Funny how the majority of us kids (the CIGNA team)
wanted to get caught with the bottle. Around ten of us in total got caught. At one stage, I held onto the bottle and waited for the
whistle to go before handing it over to Thressa (Hong Kong office). She didn't mind as she knew it was fun. But that's me, I
can be a bit devious at times. After that I played a bit of football with the kids, showed of a few skills but didn't score any
goals as the goalkeeper was actually quite good. It's amazing how any ball is fit enough to play football (we used a volleyball).
Day three was a good day for me, in terms of working hard. For me working hard is blood, sweat and tears, and that is exactly why I enjoyed it. I knew we still had the septic tank to make, and as being a brickie is not my bag, I immediately decided I was going to do the hard labour work. Along with Shybian, a chinaman, living in New Zealand, we got "dug in" and got to know each other a little better. Shybain is a big lad, and as we both appeared to share this same 'gusto', and avoid the brickwork altogether, we completed the objective of digging a 1.2m x 1.9m x 1m hole in about an hour and a half. It had to
be big enough to place two large septic tanks inside. It was indeed hard, back breaking work and we were permitted, by ourselves to take regular breaks. Whilst the others continued to build up to the roof, we focused primarily on our task.
Day three was extremley special too. Not just because it was the final day, but because the septic tank job allowed me to take these regular breaks (not because I'm lazy, please). On each break, I went walking around the small village. On one such walk, I came across the village store. Nobody spoke english, of course, which allowed me to refer to my phrase finder. I wanted a coffee, and was offered a sachet for about 4 baht (8 cents/pence). 'What was i going to do with that?', I said to myself. As my phrasefinder didn't include, "can i have a mug of hot water too please", I had to resolve it by making gestures and noises. Remember the nescafe advert where the guy goes to the kitchen and makes a boiling water noise? Well, I had re-enact that advert. I later learned that one of the locals could speak French, so I had a little conversation in the best French I could and was a bit surprised with myself and how much I could understand.
Once we had all finished our jobs. It was time for the handover ceremony. Although there was still much work to be done on the house, plastering, painting etc. we had done most, if not all, of the hard labour work. The ceremony, itself, was purely a publicity stunt as the CEO for CIGNA Thailand and the local press were all present. I'm not disrespecting the ceremony but it did feel a bit superficial. For me, it was more personal and emotional when we, the CIGNA global team, had built not only the house but
a unique relationship with the homeowner, his family and his neighbours. I had given the children the many coloured pens and pencils that some of my colleagues had given me and we shared our musical knowledge on the third day by me playing a bit guitar and them playing typical Thai instruments. I was offered a special Thai cigarette which I naturally declined as it looked more safer to have smoked a spanish dark "ducado" rather than dried grass rolled up in a palm leaf. Funnily enough one of the workers
coined it a marlboro and we both laughed it off together.
After the handover ceremony everybody could not stop taking photos. We all enjoyed working together and getting to know each other.
It was a real privilege to have worked for myself, the team and for my company, CIGNA.
Most of the evenings throughout the last few days were taken up with dinner, thai massages, shopping at the night bazaar and walking around the beautiful city that is Chiang Mai.
Thanks for reading.
Continuing to live the dream.