Today we’re passing buckets, of rubble, yet again, and Ayessa is playing, coyly, behind us with kittens in a discarded blue toilet on top of a heap of gravel that will no doubt be used for cement at some point. She’s wearing a “Dora the Explorer” top, one of Simone’s favorite cartoons. These things are universal, I find, based on the “Frozen” and “Little Mermaid” and “Transformer” clothing we’ve seen. Ayessa’s dad is working on the ground beside us, preparing rebar to be used for vertical cement forming. He tells us his name is Adam, like my son-in-law, however he pronounces it with a long A. Ay-dam. And Ayessa, he clarifies, is not Aye-eesh-a at all, but pretty much as it looks, Aye-ess-a. There is a man in front of me bending small pieces of rebar on a make-shift table. The flower man, holding yellowing blossoms, wanders by, then the fish man, carrying a bar and balancing two buckets on his shoulders, then a motorcycle with a square cooler on the back selling Frostee-Cremes, then the man with the colorful kids’ beds. Oh, and then the Jirvin truck backs in from the other direction with a cement block delivery.
On one side of the road is the row of two-story walk-ups being constructed and on the other side of the road is the village. The community, and a gated one at that. Apparently the slums on the exterior contain drug-dealers and are quite dangerous. Bistekville IV holds a population of about 400 people, yet only 200 will fit into the new buildings. As sections of the village are destroyed for new construction, inhabitants are moved to bunk houses. I haven’t seen a bunk house yet.
Beside the discarded blue toilet where Ayessa plays is a cage containing a rooster. These cages are everywhere and they move around from time to time. I’ve seen them in the midst of the construction zone. Apparently there are cock fights with these gorgeous birds and the loser is dinner. In intervals of at least every five minutes you hear them cry out. I referred to it previously as a “cock-a-doodle-do”, but it’s more insistent than that, more like a, “Get to work now!”
On the other side of Ayessa sits her grandma, perhaps, with a small boy, her brother, perhaps, on a two-seater plastic garden bench that has broken arms held together by the wire we use to strengthen the rebar with. There are clean socks, drying, on a clothes hanger with pegs above them. Clothes are drying everywhere throughout the village, color-coded, the whites, then the various colors, in order. How they remain clean amidst the dust is a miracle, but Kathie bought some of the magic purple powder for the whites and it must work because when you see the children in their school uniforms their white shirts and blouses glisten.
School is expensive and Anna, our Habitat connection here, got pretty choked up telling us about a boy, Jericho, who had to quit school in grade 4 because his parents couldn’t afford to continue sending him.
Speaking of children, the average number per family seems to be four. Most people are Catholic, so have yet to embrace birth control. Also, access, as well as the money for it, is scarce.
Dogs and cats, not routinely neutered, are abundant and most don’t look too healthy.
So, the village consists of a construction zone, homes, church, several convenience stores (it seems like every other dwelling sells something) and farming/breeding operations. The population swells regularly with Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
Construction has been going on for a couple of years, so Ayessa is used to moving aside for truck deliveries and practising English or Japanese or Chinese with the Habitat volunteers. And, by now, I’m sure she’s used to the smaller size of her family dwelling, chopped back, literally, to allow for construction of the new apartments. Having visited Bistekville I on Saturday, we volunteers are thrilled with how a completed community looks, how proud the home-owners are and how they’ve enhanced their space with trees and shrubs and flowers, and even some grass. Hopefully, Ayessa and her father Adam, and the rest of her family will be granted space in one of the new buildings we’ve been working on over the past two weeks.
And, hopefully, Adam can afford to send Ayessa to school.
Great story! I have been reading them as you post, and feel as if I am right there with you – sans the aching muscles from lugging buckets all day, of course. You have a knack for making it real. Keep up the good work!