And we’re off and running at a lickety-split pace. It’s hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since our last blog and the land clearing finished. I think Hans’s family feel bad that we’ve had to wait so long, and now that it’s only a couple of months before we head home, they’re pulling out all the stops to get the buildings finished.
For that reason, they’ve subcontracted some of the building to other members of their family. The workshop/kitchen is being built by Philipous, Hans’s cousin from the local village of Yensawai; the dining/lounge room is being built by his cousins Andreas and Nus and their father Adolphus (no idea how to spell these names!) who are now our neighbours on Dayan; Hans’s father, Haja, and brother Renol are building our house, and Hans and his cousin Frenchie (not sure how you spell that one either!) have been tasked with building the ablutions block and septic tank.
Have you ever watched “The Block”? I think I’ve only ever watched a couple of the early episodes and caught various snippets when channel-surfing. You probably know the format – teams compete by each renovating an apartment in a block, with the lure of a prize at the end of it. A lot of drama and bitchiness ensues. Thankfully, we have none of the latter and no prize as such, except payment for the building – but with people zooming backwards and forwards in their boats, ferrying materials they’ve managed to source from the forest, and then constructing their assigned building in a slightly different style to the other teams, it’s hard not to imagine there’s some competition going on here. Maybe we’re in some surreal Papuan version of the TV show (except this one is so much nicer) and any minute now a camera crew will appear around the headland…?!
We’re really happy that so many members of the family can benefit financially from this project, but it has its own stressors for us. Mainly the language barrier. The family speak their own dialect of Papuan amongst themselves, Hans is the only one who can speak any English, and our grasp of Indonesian is tenuous, to say the least. We’re slowly learning more words, but we’re a long way from being able to converse at the level we need, so we rely on Hans to be the intermediary. And often his understanding of what we’re trying to say is limited, so you can see how tricky this gets. Added to that, he’s often away from the building site cutting wood all day, and so the potential for misunderstandings multiplies exponentially. We’ve done our best to draw floor plans and sketches, on paper and in the sand, but we’ve quickly discovered there’s no substitute for being there on site to nip any problems in the bud. Unfortunately, we were too late for one – we’d got caught up trying to order solar panels and batteries on the internet (another whole dilemma here, because as well as limited internet availability, Tokopedia, the Indonesian equivalent of eBay or Amazon, won’t accept foreign credit cards), and by the time we got to the island, Team Andreas, building the dining/lounge room, had already put in the foundation poles, one of which was now right in the middle of the living area, and the other was smack bang where we’d planned the entrance. Erecting these poles is no easy feat, and because they’d already lashed the roof timbers on, we didn’t have the heart to ask them to dismantle it and start again. It isn’t quite what we had in mind, but we’ll have to work around it…literally…
Here’s a short video clip of how the foundation poles are erected, and as you can see it’s all manpower and technique:
The whole building process is fascinating. These guys are the jedi of the chainsaw – it’s hard to believe that these planks are cut using nothing but a chainsaw.
And they have a unique way of making sure that things are level. Hans calls it a ‘waterpass’ (or that’s what it sounds like). It’s a bourbon tube effect – by filling a length of tubing with seawater they can accurately gauge the correct level for anything by lining up the ends of the tube on the poles and marking them off. Here’s another short clip of Hans and Renol marking the levels for the floor joists on our house:
All the timbers are lashed with vines from the forest, and only a minimal number of nails are used.
And there’s no such thing as OH&S here – these guys have the most amazing balance and can shimmy up their makeshift scaffolding and stand on a rounded pole, all the while wielding a chainsaw without blinking. To say we’re impressed is an understatement.
Team Andreas are the largest team – 3 men building, several young boys as gofers, while the women prepare the palm leaves for the roof by folding each one in half. Then they’re stacked in piles according to size and passed up to the guys on the roof, where they’re overlapped and lashed to the roof poles with bamboo twine.
At the other end of the scale is Philipous, who seems to be valiantly building the workshop/kitchen all by himself (his son, or nephew, disappeared a couple of days ago). I hope the judges give him extra points for this….
And yesterday Team Rudolph (no reindeer to be seen) arrived to build one of the guesthouses. I tell you, it’s full-on action stations here, from sunrise to sunset!
While all this is going on, we try and keep ourselves busy by doing more ground-clearing and burning of rubbish.
A huge part of the garbage we’re collecting is plastic that’s washed in by the tide. This is definitely going to be a daily task, and its heartbreaking to see how much washes in from these otherwise beautiful waters. If we can improve our language skills, getting involved in the conservation of this unique part of the world would definitely be a worthwhile cause.
Are we tired and exhausted? Yes. But absolutely stoked by the progress that’s been made in such a short time. And I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of this view.