I’m in an interesting state of mind. Lately, it feels like all I’ve been doing is “pushing paper,” as Chris calls it. There’s been so much emailing and document writing, I feel oddly productive without anything to show for it. And really, I’m going home for Christmas in 3 weeks and once again, I’ll likely have nothing to show for all the work and time I’ve put into the work here. I’m not frustrated, but I was really hoping I’d have pictures of a completed classroom or at least some walls to show my family and friends during my month at home. Oh well. Jindagi estai cha. Life is like this.
The contract for our contractor has taken a lot of work and time, and I’ve been the guy writing it (gulp). I’ve looked through sample contracts from the US and moved content from that into a standard Nepali contract. I’ve certainly learned a lot from making the contract, but could I possibly say that I’ve learned enough to do it again? I’m not sure. The more I work on the boring/procedural work, the more I think I may need to someday go back to school. Not so I can avoid doing it in the future, but so that I have a firmer grasp of how that work needs to be done.
Hand in hand with the contract are rammed earth specifications that dictate the standards we’ll hold our contractor to with our structural walls. I feel slightly more qualified to work on this – and actually just finished the 6-page document a few days ago – given the last two years of research and field work with RE. It’s a bit more enjoyable – I’ve downloaded the New Zealand standards for RE and read through them, and also read cover-to-cover the standards adopted by 27 countries in Africa. It actually feels quite relevant to creating opportunities in the future.
Unfortunately, though, there are things that our team here simply can’t do. We don’t have a certified Nepali engineer to do bill verification or change orders during construction, nor do we have someone who can sign off on key structural components. For this, we’ve reached out to multiple consultancy firms in Kathmandu about assisting out team in project management. We’ll also need them to review the sloppy jobs done on our Bill of Quantities and structural drawings before we can actually proceed with work or even finalize our contract. This is really the first domino that needs to fall. During a busy few days in Kathmandu a week ago, Chris and I met with four different consultancy firms and extracted service proposals from each. One was clearly the most professional, and we’re in the process of hiring them.
The Early Childhood Village workshop that I mentioned in my last blog post went relatively well. I say relatively well because we did not return to Surkhet with a strong image of what the ECV would actually look like, but we were able to visit multiple schools and have a productive discussion of all our programmatic needs. Jaddon was certainly the MVP of the two-day workshop – organizing two separate tours and giving a thorough presentation of everything he thought we needed to consider and include in our design discussions.
The Aquaponics system has continued to be a semi-distracting sideshow that has taken far too long but that I’ve abstained from putting much of my time into. All three members of that team are leaving in two weeks, so we’ve gotten them to commit to a schedule that has them finish up within seven days. I’m dubious it’ll happen, but maybe I’ve gotten too pessimistic during my time here.
The one part of that sideshow I’ve enjoyed is building two square-shaped, underground tanks. We dug for the tanks anticipating that we’d be placing plastic tanks imported from India. With the border blockade, the delivery company said “It will come in one week” for six straight weeks, until finally the Aquaponics team requested their money back and we decided to go with a different route. Unfortunately, we had dug round, sloppily shaped holes in the ground. We had to retrofit these, by digging out straighter sides and using a mud plaster, to have clean, smooth walls against which we could apply our ferrocement wire mesh and mortar. The tanks look great – almost like swimming pools – and I’ll find out tomorrow whether that actually hold water. One of them is 7 feet deep – that’s a lot of pressure on the bottom!
Finally, the last piece of news is the arrival of three new adorable baby goats on the land. I had been really worried about their old mother, who we affectionately call Baje Bakri (Grandma Goat), and her ability to survive the birth. During our charette in Kathmandu, though, the caretakers on the land hired a vet to come and manually remove the babies. All three – Lady Bolt, Jonesy, and Nappy – are doing great. Lady Bolt had a bad limp for her first few days, so Baje Bakri rejected her. We’ve been feeding her with a bottle and cow’s milk, and she’s growing just as fast as the other two.
We also have baby bunnies and ducklings on the way – all from our own animals. We’re not 100% sure about either, but the mother bunny is getting bigger by the day and has begun to shed some of her fur (apparently a sign she’ll make a fur bed to keep her babies warm). Two of the mother ducks have been sitting on their eggs all day and night, so we’re trusting their judgement that at least some of the 20 eggs they’ve stored up are fertilized.
Lastly, we had a kitten with us until this very morning. She was named Mugatu by Nena, and we got her two weeks ago when she was just 2-3 weeks old from a neighbor who had found her abandoned by her mother. She was a beautiful kitten that nearly resembled a tiger. Whether she died of infection, cold, or malnutrition, I’m not sure. We did everything we could, without making it a full time job, to bring her back up to health, but it just wasn’t enough. I tried to take her to a vet yesterday, but vets here rarely see any animals but livestock, so there wasn’t much help to be found. I woke up in the darkness early this morning from a strange dream, and reached down from my bed. I wasn’t surprised that she had died – it looked like she had made up her mind several days ago, but it was a bit heartbreaking nonetheless. We could have done more. You can always do more. We buried her today under a lemon tree.