Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hide & Seek

6:33 a.m. the coffee pot that is engulfed in flames is making another sleepless night come to an end. Once I push my hair and "almost sleep" out of my eyes I put on my work shirt, work shorts and chaco sandals that are for all occasions, work or play. As I make my way to the well to wash my face I feel the bright yellow sun staring me in the face beginning yet another all day game of hide & seek. Ignoring the regular stares from all the every morning observers while I brush my teeth I try to stretch my back a bit to get it ready for yet another day of construction work. The coffee is bitter and strong, when asked if I would like a shot of horlinka for "energy" I respectfully decline...respectfully meaning promising to take one after 12 noon. By 7:05 the entire construction site is filled with sounds of drills, chainsaws, gas generators and curse words. As we approach our duplex the second floor walls are looking significantly taller than the day before and the blisters on my hands have actually turned into callouses over night. After wheel barrelling the usual 10-15 wheel barrels of sand next to the mixer I climb up to the second floor and ask whats next. For most of the week we had electricity through a gas powered generator. However this morning the generator appears to be broken, why no one knows but that is the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it until it is picked up and taking to get fixed. It is now approaching 9:00 a.m. and I am already losing, as usual, the game of hide and seek from the blistering sun. There was for at least one half second where I thought "what can we do without electricity? we cannot make the cement like stuff we use to lay the bricks (I know it is sad I do not know what it is called in English but I know it in Romanian), we cannot use the wench to raise the wheel barrels of bricks to the second floor (yes that is correct they purchased a small wench to save their backs), thus we cannot add to the height of our walls. As soon as that half second crossed through my mind I am pounding nails into scaffolding about half the height of the duplex. I had to laugh to myself while I was picking up the bricks off the second story floor, that were placed there by Vasile who had them placed at his feet on the scaffolding by the two other dudes that work with them, who brought them over from the pallets next to the street in their wheel barrels. (make sense? good!) No electricity! Ion and Vasile are just getting familiar with working with such amenities as electricity, mixers and wenches. For years they have built homes in the village making cement on plastic tarps, carrying bricks up stairs and using axes instead of chain saws, ha ha what was I thinking! Finally 9:30/10:00 a.m. comes around and we break for breakfast. I gladly eat the fried pig fat, boiled eggs and white bread, I am going to need every bit of energy possible. After breakfast I just left my shirt at home, it is already close to 90 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, it was not even worth carrying on my shoulder. While working as a merchandiser in downtown Detroit, I thought carrying around cases of Carlo & Rossi jugged wine were hard on the body, especially the hands and back...I was wrong! Cement bricks have a nice way of slicing the corners of your fingers and rubbing away your fingerprints like nothing else! Not to mention there is a reason in the gangster movies they strap cement bricks to the feet of the guy going into the river, they are heavy. Once all the bricks where on the second floor and after many water/shade breaks we broke for lunch. We all take our time eating in the cool shade and then have no problem closing our eyes for a mid-day siesta hiding from the high afternoon sun, the score is still way in favor of the sun for the day. While drinking yet another cup of coffee and making up another excuse for refusing another shot of horlinka even after my earlier promise, I chat with the neighboring construction workers. My knowledge of swear words has increased 150% since I arrived at the construction site, I have even learned them with the different regional accents! Most of the men working in our same area are all from small village communities from all over Romania coming to Timisoara to make money to support their families. Most of them who have not been home since may or April, I wont lie some of them enjoy the freedom and all that cities have to offer but many others because they cannot afford to. Ion and Vasile, make it a point to come back to the village every month even if it is for just 2-3 days. Still no electricity and with all the bricks on the second floor, it is time for a little summer cleaning. On the main floor their were still all the wooden support stilts in place supporting the ceiling. We knocked all these down and any remaining wooden boards on the walls and put them in piles. I also had the duty of removing nails from the large straight boards that would reused on the second floor. It was not my favorite thing to do but it was in the shade and who am I to complain when I was just there for a week. Right around 9:30 p.m. the sun is making its way out of the city and we finish our summer cleaning. As we talk about the day and all curse the generator (even me with my newly learned Romanian swear words!) you can see all of our eye lids are getting heavy. Back at our room (they stay in a room of a building that has already been built but is just the cement walls, no windows or doors except a plastic sheet)everyone asked if I would like them to warm up some water on their gas stove to kind of sort of shower. I thank them but decline, gas for the stove is expensive and they don't do it so I'm not either, I wanted to be a worker for a week not a visitor. Instead I finally agree to those two shots of horlinka I avoided earlier, splash a bit of cold water from the well on my face and chest, eat the fried potatoes with pig fat and lay on my part of the mattress slowly closing my eyes swatting the bugs away. Before the week was over the generator had returned and was working like a charm. I learned how to lay bricks for the first time in my life and was told I did a good job. After my six days of work (their work week is monday through saturday, and around 13-14 hours a day) I was exhausted yet strangely felt very alive. Walking back to our room saturday night, it was a great sense of accomplishment signing how high the walls had gotten since my arrival six days ago. The height of the walls was not the only sense of accomplishment I felt after my week at the site. When I first arrived I was the "Americano" but by weeks end it was Alex.