HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Nov 2008
Put 11 High School Seniors and 3 teachers into a van, transport them to the airport, fly them to Southern China, spend the night, then travel another 4 hours on bumpy, winding, mountainous 2 lane roads to a mediocre hotel in the middle of nowhere and surprisingly you have the formula for a great experience.
This is an international group of kids - only one other US passport in the bunch with others from Korea, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, Sweden, England and China.
We fly from Nanjing to Nanning a city in Southern China and are met at the airport by 2 of the local Habitat for Humanity personnell. The city is about 5 minutes from the airport and we arrive and check in at the hotel. The hotel is simple, but modern and clean and the beds are not too hard. We eat dinner at Pizza Hut - yes Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds are all over China! We realize that this will be the last available western food for a week so we’ll take advantage of it. After a Chinese breakfast - vegetables, rice, steamed buns, fruit... we pack up the van that will be our transport for the next 6 days.
We are traveling to a village close to the Vietnam border where there are people in need of housing. Many people with disabilities live in this area and Habitat for Humanity is working in a local village. The road is bumpy and the van feels every rut in the road. Spirits are high and there is lots of chatter among the kids, in spite of the earphones that hang from every child’s ears. The scenery is lovely - we pass green fields and beautiful flowers and trees, then a huge banana plantation and more and more fields as we get into the rural areas. After about an hour we start up the mountains with breathtaking scenery - lush green mountains along winding 2 lane roads. Luckily there is not too much traffic as the van driver pulls out tentatively to pass slow moving vehicles in front of us. A couple of bathroom stops with facilities that are best not spoken about and we arrive at the hotel where we will spend the next 4 nights.
It’s a mediocre hotel, but reasonably clean with a bathroom and western toilet in each room. The weather is warm but drizzly with rain forecast for the entire week. We’ll eat all our meals at the hotel dining room and the food is good and plentiful - need to keep those growing boys filled up!
Our first visit to the site shows a small village with many houses under construction and SEAS of mud! The weather has been rainy and is still drizzly. The boys are commissioned to dig a hole - a BIG hole - about 9 foot diameter and 8 foot deep - in solid clay-like soil. This will be a place to put in a biogas unit - where they compost organic material to make gas for cooking/heating. The girls are put to the task of stacking bricks - there are truck loads of bricks in huge piles where they have been dumped and they need to be stacked where the brick layers can use them. The girls form a line and we pass and stack bricks - A LOT OF BRICKS!
Life gets into a rhythm and the next days pass in this same fashion - breakfast - bus to the work site - bus back to the hotel for lunch - bus back to the work site - bus back to the hotel for dinner. There is no entertainment so the kids occupy themselves with an old billiard table found in a back garage or video games or maybe an occasional homework assignment.
It takes the boys 4 days of full time work to complete the hole -but they really get into it and are quite ready to show their muscles and blisters. The girls pass and stack thousands of bricks.
One afternoon we take a break from work and take a small journey to the second largest trans-continental waterfall - on the border between Vietnam and China. It’s not much after viewing Victoria Falls but it it lovely in its own right. Lots of lush greenery and beautiful water.
After 4 days its back to Nanning and Pizza Hut for some western food! A nice change for us after eating Chinese food for 5 days! A night in Nanning - the kids go off shopping and around the city, dinner at an Italian restaurant and then the next day back to Nanjing.
Great kids, interesting experience...