B-Section Hall-Male Team Member Reflection

It has always been said that if you enjoy what you do you will never work a day in your life.   Working to restore the B-Section hall was one such rich experience.

Working with the Community

Before going into the physical process it is necessary to explain the role of the community volunteers that worked with us during the entire project and without them we would not have been able to achieve the level of completeness that we were able to get in the end.   On our first day of building during the demolition phase of the project some guys walked by and began to inquire of what we were doing there.  After we gave a very brief explanation of what we were doing they immediately jumped in and began to help tearing down the old roof.  This being our first real interaction with no co-researchers and it was an interesting learning experience.  On the first day, our interaction with the volunteers was similar to that of an employee-employer relationship keeping the fact that we did not pay them in mind.  Looking back on it now it seems to be an unfortunate remnant of behavior left over from the apartheid era.  Around noon on the first day we decided to take a break for lunch, to which our helpers where very reluctant to do.  I truly do admire their work ethic in this respect because I feel the same way that once you start something you should stick with it, but I was really hungry.  Once we convinced them to take a break, a group of us bought some lunch and we sat down.  On a social level they were very friendly and willing to talk with us, most expressing their thanks that we were rebuilding the meeting hall.  It is in these conversations that we began to realize to importance of the space that we were working on.

After lunch we got back to work, and at this point we had the entire ceiling removed.  We began to figure out how we would go about safety removing the roof.  Earlier in the day, another member of our team and I spent a good while removing some of the roofing nails around the front and one side of the building.  Having the ceiling fully revealed furthered our suspicions of the unsteadiness of the actual roof.   This did not phase our volunteers, who proceeded to simply hop onto the roof and began to remove the remaining zinc sheets that comprised the roof.  Because of their confidence on the roof, we gained some ourselves, watching where they stepped and how they moved to remain upright and steady on the beams was interesting, as well as fun.  It was at this point our team began to realize and adapt to some of the language barriers presented in communicating our ideas.  As engineers we usually like to explain ourselves in an effective but technical way, whereas here, we found that moving and showing and acting out our ideas and steps was the most effective.      In learning this we did waste some time in trying to explain to the volunteers things inclduing where we wanted to put scraps and the order of which we wanted to dismantle the roof.

In more a social aspect, the conversations we had with the volunteers where surprising to us.  Coming from another culture (and also speaking a different language) we had some assumptions that they would not understand what we were saying, not because they are unintelligent, but because they are not exposed to the same things we are- cultural differences.  Once we befriended them we talked about a lot of “guy” topics such as sports, drinking, and women.    To be let into such a huge part of another culture within a few days was amazing.  What was even cooler was the fact that a lot of our options and practices are the same- across oceans men like to watch sports and drink beer while watching a football game, who knew?  The fact that you can go from an assumed position of authority to an equal to being called a “brother” is an amazing feeling.

The “Normal” Day

At the start of a normal day we arrived on at the site and called the volunteers who were always eager and willing to come down and help.  Once they arrived we quickly talked with them about our plans for the day and asked if they had any suggestions.  From the end of that conversation, the rest of the day (with the exception of lunch) would be non-stop work.  As with most construction projects, momentum builds, increasing our progress exponentially as the day goes on.  As expressed before, once we surpassed the communication barriers we had a great time working, as well as getting to know the volunteers better.  In working, we shared different improvised construction practices such as cutting the tin with a wire and our practice to use a T-square to ensure a straight line.  By the end of construction, both skills were used uniformly by all groups.

The difference is building style was also very apparent.  From the beginning it was apparent that the volunteers had a lot more of a rushed attitude- less planning and more doing, one might go so far as to say a little more instinct than intellect.  There were many times in which we had to stop the volunteers from moving forward in order to ensure we had the proper measurements and that the plans were being followed.  It was at these points that we had to take time and slow down.  This was a problem in the beginning, when the volunteers were very hesitant to slacken their haste, to the point that they wanted to finish everything in one day.  Again, time helped everything in showing the volunteers what we were going to do and how, in a sense, we gained their trust.