I have had the privilege of making two trips to South Africa to do Habitat For Humanity work. This was my first extended experience in an impoverished community. We were in an area called "Orange Farm" outside of Soweto. It was a group of people from Chicago that my mom hooked me up with. We built four homes each time I was there. The homes are constructed of crude concrete blocks with corrugated metal roofing on wood trusses. Each home has the same floor plan: two bedrooms, a full bath, a kitchen area, and a living room. I think they were about 800 Sq.Ft. total. Compared to what they had been living in, these homes were palaces.
There were no power tools or cement mixers, so everything had to be done manually. The most labor intensive stuff involved hauling the block to where it was needed and mixing the mortar. Mixing mortar was backbreaking stuff. You'd get so many wheelbarrows full of sand, combine it with the right amount of cement, add water, then mix it on the ground with shovels. The woman pictured above, Wilhemena Silesi, was working each morning when we got there and was still going when we'd leave each day. Her husband, George, worked at a gas station during the day. As you can tell by her picture, she was about 5'-3", 100lbs. She worked circles around all of us. A common misperception is that impoverished people tend to be lazy. This, my friends, is bullshit. We looked like utter wimps compared to the Africans. The other thing that became clear is that they all took great pride in their property, no matter how meager. Some would buy a few pieces of sod and manicure them like they were the 18th green at Augusta.
One of the most poignant moments for me was towards the beginning when the exterior walls were just starting to take shape. The son, Moses, came home from school to see the progress. He had a smile a mile wide and pointed out exactly where his bedroom would be. Their previous home had just one room where the entire family slept. When I went back the second time, I stopped by to see what the home looked like all finished with furniture. It was amazing. They had stuccoed and painted the outside and even planted flowers and a small vegetable garden.
I have a few pics of the second trip on my website HERE which includes some of the sight-seeing and safari stuff we did after the work was done.
I almost forgot, the blog-fairy's target for today campaigned for their family to give charitable donations in lieu of exchanging Christmas gifts. Pretty fucking noble, I must say.