The third installment in Dan’s Mongolia adventure.
We have completed our first week of building in Darkhan, Mongolia. After a team breakfast, we started our second day building ceiling supports and rafters for the house. This entailed measuring, sawing and nailing – no experience necessary. Everyone on the team had the opportunity to try their hand at everything.
After we completed the rafters, we shifted to cutting 1’x4’ boards into 65 cm boards for what would become the inside ceiling. This required using several teams as we needed 360 boards for the house.
Near the end of the morning, we were informed that we would be building an additional house. After lunch, we went to the new site. There, the foundation had been poured, and waiting for us were large stacks of polystyrene-concrete composite blocks. The larger of the blocks weighed about 45 pounds each and were around 2 x 1 x 1.5 ft in size. People in the group went around picking up the blocks to test them for weight.
We mixed concrete, and the workers from Mongolia who were overseeing the build showed us how to correctly place the blocks. (I cannot comment enough on the patience of the build crew with us – they are great to work with!) The team divided into cement makers, block lifters and block placers, and the work began. With the guidance of the local builders, we laid the blocks, taking into account placement of the windows and the door. We used crosscut saws to cut blocks to size. We were able to place three rows of blocks before the end of the day.
The following day we went back to the second site to continue placing the block walls. We got to the site to find that the water in the container used to make the cement was frozen. We chipped out the ice and the day continued. We placed a fourth level of large blocks before switching to blocks about one-half the size of the original ones. Three levels of the half-size blocks were placed before capping the walls with a quarter-size block. The ends at the upper levels were started by one of the workers who looked like an acrobat as she moved easily around the walls. We finished our part of this wall by the end of the morning.
In the afternoon, we went back to our original site. Piles of blocks for the walls were waiting for us. However, unlike the polystyrene block at the other site, we were greeted by blocks of gypsum. While roughly the same size as the other blocks, they weighed about twice as much. We were told one reason for the difference was the material available at the time. The other difference was that there was only one size block – large. At this house, the large blocks would be stacked up six high through a series of scaffolding and steps made from the blocks themselves. The work was much slower as we needed two people to move each block. By the end of the week, we had nearly completed the walls of the second house. Everyone wanted to stay Friday evening to finish out the walls, but our hosts said we were already ahead of schedule and that we should take time to enjoy ourselves.
The evening meals presented their own opportunities for adventure as we would go to restaurants without the aid of a guide. Most menus had no English subtitles and as no one spoke enough Mongolian to adequately translate, meals were generally selected through the use of pictures. There were times that the picture did not match the meal provided, but it was tasty nonetheless.
On Saturday, we took a three-hour van ride to one of the oldest and more revered monasteries in Mongolia. The last hour of this trip was over dirt roads which twisted and turned and dipped in all directions. We finally saw the Monastery, which was at the end of the valley on a large open plain. The Monastery is still in use today and houses about 50 monks of different ages, from young boys to older men. During religious holidays, the ranks swell to around 1000 monks as monks from all over the region converge on the monastery. We arrived during prayer, but were allowed to observe and walk around the temple.
There were signs of reconstruction going on at the Monastery, and piles of new brick to replace the old ones were all over. Visitors can walk all over the grounds and visit any of the shrines. Herds of goats, horses and cattle were all around grazing on the grass. They are evidently very used to having people around, as they do not run when people approach them but rather walk away casually if people get too close to them. We ended our day with an authentic Mongolian BBQ along a river near the Monastery. The white linen-covered table with folded napkins and wine glasses was a stark contrast to the fact that we were in a large grazing field for the local animals. The cattle came right up to us, curious as what we were up to, no doubt not used to visitors in their domain. A meal of mutton, potatoes, salad and soup was provided, with wine and juice to drink. It was a great meal in the quiet of the valley. When we finished, we packed up for our drive back to our hotel. We will have one more day to visits the sites before beginning our second week of work.
Tags: Habitat for Humanity