November, 2011

Construction in Cambodia


One of the reasons I decided to live in the fourth-floor rooms that I rent is because of the persistent strong breeze that blows into my rear windows across open lots behind me.  The house would be much too hot without that air blowing through and I have lived in trepidation of the day when houses might be built behind me, blocking the natural air flow.  Finally building has started on four relevant lots, all at the same time.  The lot directly behind me is the one that worries me most, because if a tall building is erected there, I may have to move.

The original lot below my rear window
There was a veritable wildlife sanctuary below my window before the lot's owner sent in his crew to clean it up.  A six-inch diameter tree was growing in one corner and I'm sure various small mammals and rodents sheltered in the underbrush which was extremely dense.  I used the lot as a compost heap, throwing my orange peels and banana skins and tea bags into the jungle.  Less considerate neighbors on the right threw boxes and plastic bags of trash over the wall into the lot.
Fixing the wall and gate
When the area along the street was cleared and the tree cut down, the crew first took down the steel gate and repaired and painted it and then rehung it. Then they did some work on the wall.
Shoveling the sand
Then one morning a truck loaded with sand arrived and dumped the load in the gateway.  First two, then three, then four young men started spreading it over the lot with shovels and hoes, truckload after truckload.
Dragging the sand
When they had filled in the area around the gate and could no longer pitch the sand to the needed area with shovels, they devised a system using ropes and old rice bags. They tied a rope around a rice bag slit open to make a large flat surface, and then they shoveled sand onto the flattened bag. Then the young man would loop the rope around his waist and drag it to the edge of the filled-in area, slowly spreading the fill across the lot.
Wagon for hauling sand
After a day or two of dragging loads of sand across the sand, the workmen tried using the wagon against the rear wall. They would load it with sand and then three of them push and drag it through the loose sand. It was extremely difficult to do and that effort lasted less than a day.
Carrying sand in baskets
The final solution to the problem was the most Cambodian one. They used coolie poles with a wicker basket on each end and just carried loads of sand from the gate area to the edges of the lot until they had filled the whole area. These wicker baskets are ubiquitous in Cambodia and are used to carry and move everything.
I'm not sure why, at the beginning, the workers didn't just have the truck back all the way across the lot and start dumping the sand at the wall closest to my house and then keep dumping closer and closer toward the gate. It seems that would have been much easier but maybe they were afraid the truck would get stuck or something. Even if they couldn't take the truck across the lot, they could have hired a Bobcat (a small earth-mover) and bulldozed all those truckloads of sand across the lot in one afternoon instead of the five or six days it took them to move it by hand. But then that would cost money, and probably hiring four or five men for five or six days would still be cheaper than using machinery.
The finished lot
Here is the "after" photograph, showing about a foot of sand spread evenly over the whole lot.  Now I'm waiting for the next step, to see what will be built on sand.

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