Rotary-SDN short story winner: Davis Gidney
As I jumped off the rickety old airplane I slowly surveyed my surroundings. I smelled the air and it smelled exactly how I had imagined, like a rainforest. As I was in the midst of my thoughts, my best friend walked up behind me. She was just as amazed as me. I looked around and noticed that all of my friends were having the same exact experience. Our leader called us in and we all emerged from a dreamland that we had seemed to be visiting.
While we all lazily got onto the bus, I suddenly noticed just how many people were packed into this relatively small country. The people were crowding our bus all of them begging for money and food. The bus driver quickly motioned for us to close our windows and give them nothing. We all obeyed quickly. As we drove through the capital all of the homeless people around us astounded me. I had been to New York City before but I had never seen so many people in such a small place.
When we fled the populous city I started to think how different of a trip this was going to be. It would set me and my peers apart by the color of our skin. Me a paled toned person with freckles on my cheeks, compared to the dark skinned people who lived here. I wondered how they would treat a girl of 15 who had light brown hair and bright green eyes. Would they take advantage of me? The questions started to quickly build up in my mind.
As we approached the town where we would be staying, I started having butterflies in my stomach. My nerves were getting to me. I was wondering if the people would like us. When we rounded a sharp corner there we were, as if the village was waiting for us. It looked like the entire town had turned into a big welcoming committee.
I looked past all of the faces and suddenly reality threw me a curve ball. The houses looked like they were going to collapse at anytime and probably provided no protection against the rain. My eyes suddenly fell to a little baby that was stick thin. It broke my heart and a tear came to my eye, I quickly brushed it away and reminded myself, “That’s why we’re here”, I kept repeating myself. The village people quickly introduced themselves and we introduced ourselves to them. Our trip had begun and I could tell it was going to be hard but definitely worth it.
The next day started suddenly with the crow of a rooster. I sleepily opened my eyes, I slowly pulled myself off of the floor and got dressed. Ten minutes later we met in the middle of town and were briefed by our leader. The village leader came over to talk to us. None of us were able to speak fluently so we had to rely on our translator.
The village leader got straight to the point and immediately instructed us on what we needed to do. He said we needed to start by building the well. As we walked over to where the new well was going to be built, I couldn’t help but think about how poor people were and the difference between the poor people in the United States and them. In America a poor person would be considered wealthy here. A rich person could only be compared to a king here. How blinded we could be. It was ridiculous.
As we approached the well I had to take a second look because at first glance I thought it was a pile of junk metal. “How could people be living off of this piece of junk metal?”, I asked myself. We started rebuilding the well by taking away the remnants of the previous well and starting to put together the new one. It amazed me how difficult it was to put together. Finally after a grueling three hours of work, the well was completed. There was a small celebration after that small feat was over.
Our next project that we were to do was to rebuild the school and that was supposed to take the whole rest of the trip! This day we were only supposed to tear down the previous structure that was called “the school”. As we walked to the school we passed multiple houses that were in terrible condition. The roofs were caved in and some had completely collapsed. Suddenly a little girl peeked her head out of the door of the house that roof had collapsed. I gasped in astonishment. How could anyone be living in that? Our eyes connected, and for that split second I seemed to understand her pain but then she looked away and it was over. I knew why I was here and I started walking faster, determined to help this place.
We arrived at the school and I was surprised to find that all that was were four posts and a grass roof. In school I had read all about the monsoons and how it rained so much. How did the children go to school during monsoons with this kind of building? I asked our leader and she said that they quite frankly don’t go to school during monsoons. I was shocked.
We started by slowly taking down the roof then slowly taking out the poles. It was long grueling work. It was a pain to take down all of the different pieces of vegetation one at a time and it felt like it took forever. Then the guys were in charge of taking down the poles because they were stronger than the girls. We quickly were done with it and it was time to start laying the concrete. That job proved harder then it looked. It ended up being more like a game then a job. By the end of laying the concrete we were all thoroughly covered with it. The floor looked really good and then we just had to wait for it to dry.
That night was an exceptionally hot one and none of us could get to sleep. The bugs were swarming all over us and it was disgusting. All of the girls ended up staying late talking. Everyone I talked to was so surprised by what we had seen. As we all came to this country we expected something much different then what we found. I think that we all expected to be working in a much different place. Finally, everyone slowly started going to sleep one by one I stayed awake and couldn’t stop thinking about the girl I had seen.
The next morning we woke up before dawn ready to work again. The concrete was dry. We started by building up the support for the building. Oh man was it hot. It was 110 degrees plus the heat of the welding machine. It didn’t take very long and we were quickly finished with the support. It looked really odd, like a skeleton. Then we started building up the sides with bricks because wood would be eaten away by termites. That was the hardest job of all because, it was so hot, it was backbreaking work and it was just hard. By the end of the day we hadn’t made a dent in the work. That was very discouraging considering all the work we had already done was relatively fast and easy.
That night wasn’t as hot as the previous and we all fell asleep relatively quickly. The next morning we woke before day break again and continued the work. By lunch time we had gotten about an eighth of the way through, but it still surprised me how much slower the bricklaying was going than the other parts of the building. For lunch that day we had the country’s specialty, fried bugs. It was a little disgusting because, well because, we were eating bugs! After lunch we continued with our work and layer by layer we got it about as high as my waist. We were expected to finish the building the day after tomorrow which seemed crazy to me. How could we complete a building in five days? I guess I would find out.
As we were walking back to the houses we were staying in I heard one of the guys complaining about missing the football game. We were here helping people who had probably only seen a television a couple times in their life and he was complaining about missing a football game. The people here were starving and he was complaining about missing a football game, I mean what’s wrong with that picture? I couldn’t stop myself from getting mad, but I didn’t want to start drama so I just walked away. Why were some people so blind? How could someone be in such a sad and scary place and yet be disappointed that he missed a football game?
The next day we were allowed to sleep a little later than usual, so by the time we woke up it was hotter than jalapenos! We started once again with the bricklaying job. We were supposed to get all of the brick work done by the end of the day but that seemed impossible. We had to build another five feet! I was stressed out that we weren’t going to get it done. By lunch we had only built about a couple more feet. That meant that we needed to build three and a half more feet by the end of the day!
Our lunch break was done and we were ready to work, but, we had a problem because the mortar we were using was the wrong consistency. Of course something had to go wrong! After we had to take the time to make a new batch of mortar we had wasted needed time. Finally after seven hours of work, the brickwork was done. We had worked late into the night and were ready to go to sleep.
It was time to build the roof. This would be an interesting project because of the height and the fact that the boys were in charge it. The girls were in charge of the ground work. The roof was to be built of a synthetic material that would stand against the rains of the monsoon season. With the new roof that was being built, water wouldn’t be able to get in and kids would be able to go to school all year long. As the roof was slowly built, I had a smile on my face that no one could wipe off. The kids would now be able to get a good education and make their way into the world more ready. The work was slow and everyone was sweaty and ready to give up but something inside all of us pushed us to keep working and not give up. Finally, we finished the roof and the school was done!
We all took a step back and looked at the building we had just completed. It was nothing special but it was a building that the children could have school in without having to deal with the water from the monsoon season. We had experienced something special that no one but us would understand. As we drove back to the city our bus was silent, most of us thinking about what we had just done. This trip made us all better people and in the silence we all seemed to understand.
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