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All the locals just stopped and gawked at us, almost in a trance, as we walked past. Many had never seen a white person before
In October 2013, Troy Everett, Head Teacher of Building and Construction, Civil Engineering, Surveying and Mapping at TAFE Illawarra, volunteered to help with the construction of new toilets in a remote village in one of the world's poorest countries. What he encountered there left him "changed forever". Following are excerpts from his journal.
Today was the first day of work and Dan and I were keen to see the building sites and get started.
The rest of the guys were all a real mixture and enjoyed a good laugh and stir. It seems construction crews have a similar dynamic the world over. Each of us had to introduce ourselves and there was a lot of stirring going on between the Bangladeshis and a few little jokes aimed at us, which was fine.
We then visited the first of the two sites. The project was experimenting with two different types of construction methods for the septic tank component, one brick and the other precast concrete.
Things were going pretty well as we rotated the digging. We had to go really deep in one area; over six feet and we knew there were going to be issues with the water table.
Sure enough once we got to about four feet, water started trickling in from the sides and we had the added concern that the side banks would collapse. And right underneath the toilet and washroom.
It was messy hard work and we had to make a decision as to whether to dig right down, bail out the water and try and get the first ring in place.
Dan and I could see that the locals were a bit self-conscious so we tried to complement what they did and make suggestions rather than dictate how things needed to be done. A form of diplomacy, I suppose.
We were all exhausted and it was only the first working day here. I have to say that Phoebe and Tom earned a lot of respect from me in how they work. Phoebe did a lot of digging and tried to spur the locals into working hard. Difficult to achieve with the gender attitudes here. They also made many crude jokes about her. I was impressed with how she handled it.
After work Tom invited us to go for a swim at the river. We were extremely dirty and tired. We walked through a couple of small villages to get there. All the locals just stopped and gawked at us, almost in a trance, as we walked past. Many had never seen a white person before. I really enjoyed seeing how agriculturally intelligent they are. It's a massive part of their life.
The river was beautiful and as the sun started to set there were all these strange colours in the sky. The flow of the river was quite strong so the thing to do was to lie flat in some shallow water and dig your fingers into the sand to hang on. The river was well over 100 metres wide.
It gets dark very quickly here so on the way back we had to follow the track via mobile phone light. A bit hairy as we did spot a few snakes slithering past and there are cobras in the area that can be deadly.
But it was incredible to look out over the rice fields and see all the fireflies putting on a light show.
Even though the showers are cold it was good to have one and get to bed.