Tuesday was an extraordinary day despite being the earliest morning since I came to Chiang Rai. I can understand that from reading The Dandygram, it might seem like I am portraying each day as better than the last, but this day was simply awesome in so many ways. We knew from the night before that Nate and Rachel were going to leave very early to meet the Westmont group (who had spent the night in the village) at the Resource Center, so Christa, Deirdre, Zach, and I were up at 7am in order to meet the rest of the group in the village by 8am.
After a 20 minute ride via scooters, we arrived to find everything in place for the full day of work ahead of us, and it was incredible to see the 20 Westmont students ready to work. However, you wouldn't have known this by the groggy looks on their faces and sluggish start due to the little sleep from the night before. With only a few minutes to catch up and hear stories from their home stays, we were quickly divided into groups and put to work on three main tasks for the day of volunteer work for The SOLD Project:
First, we needed to dredge the pond which meant clearing out the water and pulling out the weeds and sticks that were under the water and around the edges. Although we didn't get to lay any sort of foundational base at the bottom of the hole, Nate plans to get about 20-30 long bamboo sticks to lay down, thus creating a base for a layer of gravel and rocks to settle onto. That way, there will be minimum amounts of mud and sludge that will settle on the bottom layer of the pond. We managed to clear out the water within the first few hours, but the best part was how many crabs, shrimp, and frogs were discovered at the bottom of the drained pit once the water was out, and the few Thai villagers that were there helping us throughout the day were absolutely delighted by these finds. We helped them catch every last creature for some lunch (shrimp) and their dinner (crab and frog's legs!). The shrimp was prepared with sticky rice brought in from the village (used to scoop a helping of the shrimp), and it was delicious--much better than anything in the boxed lunches brought in!!!
Second (and by far the most strenuous and physically demanding task of the day), we needed to pave the entire first floor of the Resource Center. This started while I was still at the bottom of the pond pit, but with that wrapped up shortly before lunch, I joined the group of cement mixing Westmonsters. Now, I was personally excited about helping in every way I could that day, but I was completely blown away by the motivation and eagerness from the students who had just come to the Resource Center from a night of very little sleep and were now spending their entire day under the hot sun mixing batch after batch of concrete. A Thai man from the village was there as the only one smoothing the cement floor once buckets of newly mixed cement were transferred to him from each batch. After the first few loads, all the cement mixers could easily see that the day was going to be a long one. At the end of the process, I think it took about 30 loads to pave the entire floor, but the first part of the morning we only one set of hoes and one mixing container. What seemed like a slow start (one 7 x 9 foot rectangle being mixed, transferred, and smoothed as pavement at a time), the day of cementing REALLY picked up after a rhythm was established, an extra mixing container was delivered, and about twice as many tools were purchased to help mix two batches at once. This process took nearly everything out of us, but at the end of it all, the floor looked great! We shared much laughter while we carried buckets upon buckets of rocks or sand for the concrete mix--substituting for each other at every stage of the process in order to get a break from mixing or carrying buckets. Sometimes, you got the chance to just sit beside a container and keep track of how many buckets of rocks had been added. Now being three days later, I am still so SO sore in many places. Two hour Thai massage . . . here I come!
Finally, the bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor needed to be painted. Right from the start, there was a dedicated group of painters--both in the morning and then again after lunch who (I think) were committed because of the intoxicating smell from the oil-based paint they were using. In all honesty, the rooms they painted (bathroom and bedrooms) turned out great, and it was hilarious to be in the middle of concreting and see a random painter pop out onto the patio for a break to breathe some fresh oxygen and clear their lungs. The top floor of the Resource Center, as I have probably already mentioned, is going to be a place for work and long-term living. As the first full-time volunteer staying in the village, Deirdre is going to stay in one of the rooms, and then a married couple will be arriving shortly to occupy the other room to start working with Deirdre and SOLD. It's going to be a very nice place to live and work, and I plan to get some photos up of the finished work once the ladders and tools are cleared out, the ceilings are finished, and Brady's lighting work is completed, but for now, enjoy the pictures from the day!
Preparing to dredge the pond . . .
Taking a break from oil-based paint!
The first three loads of concrete . . .
Getting the rhythm down!
Ready for some SHOWERS!!!
Showered, drinking, and celebrating a great day.
While the day of concrete mixing hit a few snags when we realized we needed extra cement mix and another load of sand, we still managed to finish the all three tasks by 3pm. It was, in every since of the word, a wholesome day of dredging, concreting, and painting--with heart, sweat, blood, and HEAT all mixed in. Man was it hot, but with a continuously refilling supply of bottled water, short breaks to get into the shade, and a light rain late in the day, the heat wasn't as cumbersome as I had imagined it would be. Plus, we got smart after the first few batches of cement were mixed to move the container into the shade and under the top floor!
Since we were all covered in our respective work (paint, pond, or cement), incredibly filthy, and some starting to stiffen up from the layers of cement on legs and arms, we cleaned up the Center and headed back into Chiang Rai for showers, dinner, and a celebratory night back at the Peace House. After the day we had, you can barely manage to keep going, but the heart and soul of the group--along with the camaraderie that had continued to grow among the students--didn't keep us from spending a few more hours together. I was so delighted to share a few last minutes with my new friends because Christa, Deirdre, and I would accompany Rachie and Nate to Chiang Mai the following day and leave the Westmont group to continue on with their trip to the next stop. It really is fascinating to follow their adventures and to take in all of the stuff that has been planned for their time here in Southeast Asia. With Santa Barbara only a few hours away from UC Berkeley, I don't doubt I'll be seeing that group again soon!
First name Trevor, middle name Michael.
Next up on The Dandygram: Our Trip to Chiang Mai & Elephant Rides, Tiger Cuddling, and Muay Thai Boxing!