The house we thought we were replacing!

The house we thought we were replacing!

Starting to rain - I have a roof!

Starting to rain – I have a roof!

Damaged coconut palms

Damaged coconut palms

Coco lumber salvaged from dead and dying trees

Coco lumber salvaged from dead and dying trees

The house on Day 3

The house on Day 3

One wall on, Day 4 - Toto behind me, Ellen on the right, John from New Zealand to my right, and a Filipino friend

One wall on, Day 4 – Toto behind me, Ellen on the right, John from New Zealand to my right, and a Filipino friend

Two friends!

Two friends!

Shelter from the rain: they can build a house too!

Shelter from the rain: they can build a house too!

Two of Lina's friends

Two of Lina’s friends

Children beading

Children beading

I worked for three days to help build a house in a small neighborhood between two main roads, flanked by swampy ground on each side.  The house was 12’ by 12’ and raised two feet above the ground.  We used green coco lumber, probably salvaged from the many thousands of downed coconut palms, for all the posts and framing; thin plywood for the walls; galvanized iron sheets for the roof.

For three days I sawed, hammered and “gofer”ed.   On the first afternoon we got all the posts in and the floor joists in place.  On Day 2 the floor went on and the stud walls went up.  On Day 3 we put three roof trusses together and up on the plates, and in the afternoon nailed the purlins and roofing on.  My last morning the plywood siding was going on and we began to frame the door and windows.

Sometimes there was no task for me, or we were waiting for materials to arrive, and then I watched the life of the families around us and talked a bit with the children and their parents in English or in my inadequate Tagalog.  I enjoyed watching the children play with toys as simple as an empty cardboard box.

A couple of people came up to ask if we would build them a house also.  All I could say was that I was only a helper, and that they should approach the local pastor or our Filipino supervisor to ask.  K.I.M. had prioritized the families in the area according to need and family size, I was told.  Yet the man with whom we worked to build his house had chosen not to have his old house knocked down.  It is small for a family of 8 and had flooded during Yolanda, but it was still standing and livable as far as we could see.  I could understand why some of his neighbors wondered why he was going to have two houses when they had only one or perhaps less than one.

Lots of children watched us work and interacted with us, using their English even at a few years old, asking for treats from those of us who’d brought them (I did not have any candy for them), getting tossed in the air by two of the men.  I worked with 10 year old Jon-Jon one morning, showing him how to scribe a line and cut along it, letting him use our tools.

Lina arrived on the last morning and immediately led 15 to 20 children in songs and games.  Filipino children know a lot of songs in English as well as in their own languages.  They sang, clapped and laughed strongly, their mothers too.  I smiled and reflected that Lina, in her short time at our work site, was probably bringing a gift at least as big as the house we were building for one family.  Her gift was laughter shared with everyone.  She also brought beads and fishing line, and the children beaded simple bracelets.

Lina also spent time with one family.  The father said he felt sad to see the house going up when all he needed was money to buy some materials like roofing.  He wouldn’t ask for any labor help, he could manage that himself.  Lina’s gift here was to be able to have an intimate and honest conversation with someone on the fringes of our work site.  We foreigners were limited not only by our lack of the local language but also by our focus on “the job”.  The job is sometimes just to listen.

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