Making rebar and continuing to shovel dirt and move rocks.. =)

Braga Travel Blog

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The group upon arrival

Today we arrived at the site, not really knowing what to expect. Whatever it was that we all imagined, I'm sure it wasn't this rock-fenced, uneven plot of land, half full of large boulders that we would eventually have to break up and carry away, and a high wall of dirt that we would have to shovel, wheelbarrow away, and then dump into the back of a truck - the same truck we would have to sit in on our way to lunch, oftentimes.. =)

We met the President of Habitat for Humanity, Portugal, as well as the construction foreman, Luis and his father Senor Ribeiro, as well as the family that we were building the house for. They were all very sweet, and the son was particularly photogenic and active, running around everywhere trying to help despite the child labor laws not allowing him to.

The family we are building a house for - dad was at work. The son has very bad asthma.

So my day started off transporting water in buckets from a local source to these oil barrels upstairs. We managed to dry up the supply with the few gallons we were able to remove. So then I began shoveling dirt in the pit. After about 20 minutes of this, I needed a break, so went upstairs to rest in the shade of our tin lean-to. When I went back down, I picked up my shovel, but was unable to adequately lift any dirt. So I tried a smaller shovel. My hands were shaking. And that was the beginning of the end.. Shoveling dirt was so hard on me physically that as the day grew hotter and shaded areas grew less accessible, I almost fainted after lunch.

This would unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the week, as people in their 50s, 60s and 70s put me to shame on so many levels.

The dig site upon arrival..
I would hide in the van or wander away trying to keep my sanity and health as the rest of my group labored on. I'd lend a hand here and there, but nothing that was particularly meaningful. I found it impossible to fully engage in anything after this first realization that I was completely incapable of participating in construction activities without causing some major damage to my health.

I still have to take a moment to appreciate how much people pushed themselves physically on this build site. I think we all expected tedium, but this was really hard work! Some joked about being part of a chain gang, others would yell out "I need a ho-er!" or "I need a banger!" or "I need a pick-er!" as some of the dirt was formed around boulders that we would eventually have to pick around and roll away, to be cut up and carted off.

Our shed, where we kept our things and took water breaks.

The dirt process went like this: We would shovel dirt into buckets about 4/5 full, then someone else would swing the full bucket up out of the pit to someone standing there with a wheelbarrow and they would repeat this until the wheelbarrow was full, and roll that over to the edge of the wall where they would have to lift the wheelbarrow up to deposit the dirt onto the back of a truck. Someone would often be standing in the bed of the truck using the hoe to spread the dirt around so that more dirt could be dumped in easier.

The rock process went like this: The large boulders would be sized up by one of the local construction workers and Mary would drill holes about 10 inches apart on the face of the boulder. Water would be poured in occassionally to cool off the drill bit and when enough holes were drilled, wedge pins would be hammered into the hole.

The saw was soon abandoned for more traditional tools - such as a sledgehammer.
The a sledgehammer was used to drive the pins far enough so that the rock would crack in two. This process was repeated until the boulders were small enough to lift and carry away to the other side where it would be used to build a rock wall. Smaller boulders that did not need to be lifted were rolled over other rocks in order to get out of the way. This was the one task I did not participate in, and apparently there is an art to jimmying loose rocks, as well as rolling rocks over one another.


Copied from my hand written journal:

September 3, 2007

OH MY GOODNESS!! Construction is freaking INSANE and so manually intensive. It was too much for me today and I had to taxi it back in the afternoon I was feeling so awful - dizzy & kind of small breaks in consciousness.
The building plans.
Pretty scary - heat combined with manual labor, but somehow the labor manages to feel pretty good. I carried buckets of water and then shoveled dirt and then helped get a mixer off the back of a truck, and then loaded wheelbarrows with dirt and rocks. It was all crazy and fabulous at the same time.

But I have to say I learned a valuable lesson - manual labor is NOT my value-add. But at the same time we are out there doing something the locals simply couldn't find volunteers for - something that not everyone has the heart for, but that members of this group obviously do... however different they are in other ways...

kingelvis14 says:
My husband and I have been in the home construction industry for 35 years. Yes, it definitely requires bunches of "elbow grease" and back breaking labor. In Alabama, the hardest of the hard labor used to be done by blacks, but now the illegal Mexicans have taken over these jobs and the blacks have "moved up" to other jobs that require more education and experience. Heat stroke is a dangerous side effect of hard manual labor here in the deep south and can actually cause death in the most severe cases. Don't feel bad that you couldn't hang in there. This type work should be done in small doses until the body can adjust to the heat and physical demands. It's definitely not for everyone ~ especially ME:)
Posted on: Feb 11, 2008
glennisnz says:
This work sounds incredibly hard, in awful heat, not many young ladies would be fit enough to stand it. You gave it as good a go as you could. Well done.
Posted on: Jan 13, 2008
Yasuo says:
Hi welcome to Portugal! Hope you like it here.
Posted on: Sep 12, 2007
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The group upon arrival
The group upon arrival
The family we are building a house…
The family we are building a hous…
The dig site upon arrival..
The dig site upon arrival..
Our shed, where we kept our things…
Our shed, where we kept our thing…
The saw was soon abandoned for mor…
The saw was soon abandoned for mo…
The building plans.
The building plans.
We dug out 6 feet of dirt..
We dug out 6 feet of dirt..
getting water was a problem, as th…
getting water was a problem, as t…
photo by: Jaina_me