- Aug. 14, 2006
- Greetings from Pondicherry
As part of CLIF BAR's international 2080 program, Bryan, Bentley and Cassie have gone off to Pondicherry India to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Bryan found a few moments in his busy schedule to update the folks here in the Berkeley office on their trip.
I hope this email finds you doing well! I'm having a truly amazing experience thus far,and after a very long travel (46 Hours) and an extremely labor intensive first week of work, I'm finally finding the time to sit down and share some of what's been going on in my world.
I'm fully immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of India. Picture me sitting in an internet cafe with high cubed walls, a sticky space bar, Indian raga/techno pumping, and all of the madness of a busy Ponicherry street bustling outside. Tuk tuks, moto richshaws, bikes, ox carts, busses, cars and people everywhere. Horns blare, dust flies, fireworks explode and everything moves.
People going every which way you can imagine. All seemingly in their own direction, yet tied to a greater flow of momentum and life. Everything's in the air and it all manages to stick to my skin, my clothes, my chacos and especially my feet. I can't seem to shake it and strangely enough it's all become a part of me. It begins to feel like home.
Our CLIF BAR Team is 3 strong in a group of 13 total. Well, 2 strong actually. Cassie and I seem to be hanging tough but Bentley's been stricken with what the doctors have diagnosed as a "throat infection" ( i.e. they have no clue) and has been quaranteened from the rest of the group for the past 4 days. A total bummer for sure and no doubt Bentley has had enough room service and Bollywood movies to last a lifetime. Keep your fingers crossed that he'll get well soon.
With a larger team of 10 from the US, 1 from Korea, 1 from Canada, and 1 from India and all based in Pondicherry (on the South Western coast of India on the Sea of Bengal), we're sharing in a very unique cross cultural experiment or sorts to say the least. We've all come to be here through Habitat for Humanity. Habitat chose this as one of its work sites following the tsunami of 2004 where hundreds of thousands of Indian lives were affected.
We're working on a project 1 hour north of Pondicherry (aka Pondy) in a town called Allambarikuppam. Try saying that ten times .... on second thought, try saying that once! We're working in a fishing village like most here that line the coast.
Though there weren't any deaths in this particular place, much of the village was destroyed. So through the land provided by the Indian govt and the funding for homes and labor provided by Habitat, we've come here in order to help rebuild for a stronger and more prepared and promising future. Set back about a half mile from the water (as opposed to where the old village is and was, about a half foot above the high tide line) we're working on a project that will provide 364 homes in this particular village. 182 have been completed to date and we're working on 5 homes in particular of the next 180 or so.
We're working with materials that consist entirely of concrete, mortar, rebar and brick and doing everything by hand (no power tools here). Our days begin with carrying materials from all over the site to mix large quantities of mortar, passing bricks in fireman's lines to supply each house that we'll be working on, gatherrng our simple tools and then building—building and building one brick at a time.
We're usually grouped in teams of 3-4 volunteers per house (1-2 per wall), a couple of native Tamils (to help bring more mortar, bricks when we are upon scaffolding,and tani (water)), a skilled mason to check in and critique our handy work,and 2 engineers to oversee the entire project. The days are long and hard but so incredibly rewarding. Language barriers make for fun and challenging communications and working conditions and thankfully laughter is spoken loud and clear on the job site.
None of the locals speak much english beyond "hello, how are you, and what is your name" and so far my Tamil is limited to vannakam (hello), nandri (thank you),tani (water), nandru (good,as in thumbs up which comes in handy when checking the plumb or level) and my personal favorites, ok ok (all good) and same same (international speak for ....well....same same).
Another personal favorite is my discovery that here, no means yes. Not literally, but the Indian people have this great way of shaking their heads here (picture a bobble head doll/ gesturing "no", but it actually means yes). Imagine that when asking important questions or trying to figure something simple out like where the bathroom is.
In additon to helping on this build for Habitat, I'll be doing a bit of work for Wheels 4 Life. W4L is a non profit that Hans "no way" Rey started a while back and it aims to bring bikes to people in need in lesser developed places around the world. With a shared love of international travel and remote cycling adventure, Hans asked me to take a bit of this work on along my journey. I was of course honored to have the opportunity to bring something I love so much to someone who can only have an improved quality of life through this venture. So far I've identified a couple of recipients that I will be purchasing bikes for tomorrow.
The first to receive will be an orphanage that's about as far from the village as you can get and it doesn't have a single bike to go to market, the doctor, or otherwise. Additonally, I'll be gifting a bicycle to Murgan, the security guard on the Habitat job site. Murgan is responsible for overseeing the 360 houses and after walking or bussing the end of the road, he makes his way to the village (some 2 miles up a rough dirt road) to spend the rest of his day walking around the job site and being "security". So far, I've had 2 pairs of work gloves stolen, so needless to say, I'm somewhat selfishly motivated and Murgan's need is blatantly obvious.
In my time here we'll likely see one or two houses built to completion, I'll get to gift a couple of sweet Indian bikes to some people in need and then I'll light out for some adventure travel of my own. I could safely call it "adventure travel" just making a trip across the street to use the internet or make a phone call, but I'm hoping to get a little farther than that.
I'll leave you with that for now. I look forward to sipping a cup of chai sometime soon and sharing tales of travel and inspiring thoughts of a more peaceful and loving global community. Until our paths can cross again...
- Office Life