It is our last day. As we drive through the beautiful countryside locals who,
when we had first arrived, viewed us with curiosity, now wave a greeting. And when we walk the last half kilometer to the house, “our” house the festive feel is palpable. The final thin cement coat is on the floor and looks great. The bricklayer and his two assistants are already hard at work finishing off the part of the wall that abuts the rendered lattice walls. The other villagers are busy decorating the house with balloons and bunting, silver balls that sparkle. The women are laughing and clearly plotting together as they help with the cooking or the decorating. Only later will we find out what they have in store.
As fast as we blow up the balloons the throng of kids gets bigger and bigger. Soon the ratio is one for the house two for the kids. They are wide eyed with delight. The little ones ecstatic when we carefully tie a balloon to their arm so it doesn’t fly away. A tub of soapy water appears and suddenly the air is filled with bubbles, a kaleidoscope of colour in the bright sunlight. I can’t remember the last time I saw a child so genuinely delighted with such a modest present or moments of fun. When their excitement gets the better of them and they intrude too far into the preparations for the hand-over, one of the village elders roars at them and they run off, laughing in delight.
The official ceremony begins. We gather, our team and the community, blended together by a week of working together and the feeling of achievement. There are chairs for the Habitat Australia team, officials from Habitat Nepal and our partner organization Forward. A brand new floor covering is put in place for everyone else. There are speeches. Although the words vary slightly the heartfelt sentiment is the same: two different groups of people from different sides of the world and different cultures came together and have achieved a wonderful result. Some were generous to travel so far to help, others were generous to welcome strangers into their lives. When things got tough (groans at the memory of hauling what seemed endless containers of sand and cement; water and rock), people were inventive and by working together made light work of it (more mock groans and laughter). And always the subtext that this work is important. As well as being one family’s new home the house is a concrete manifestation of so much more: Of a brighter future for women as valued members of the community; of the need for wide-scale improvements in sanitation, health and education for everyone; for a recognition that those who are better off must hep those who have little, or nothing.
All the time, sitting quietly is Jitansari Sardar, the 50-year-old widow whose house we have helped build. Diminutive but clearly strong and determined with a captivating smile, Jitansari is modest and graceful as she thanks us for coming from so far away to help build her house. She says how she too has been welcomed into the community and now knows that she can go to her neighbours for assistance if she needs it. She is not alone. They will help her.
Then the fun really begins as we move to the bejeweled front of the house. First an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony where it seemed almost everyone got to cut a tiny portion. Then photographs. And photographs. And photographs. A contingent of women has gathered and leads us through to the next-door home. They are giggling conspiratorially but this turns to uncontainable hilarity as they dress us all in local garb. Whilst one or two of us looking elegant in the ornate blue cotton saris it’s fair to say that most of us looked anything but. As we parade past what seems like the entire village we are a sensation. Howls of laughter. Who needs television? Then a generously lavish celebration lunch much of it made from the first of the new season’s rice.
Then it is over. Layers of lessons have been learned. The old adage ‘many hands make light work’ is true; different cultures can work together and learn from each other; there is almost never just one way of doing something; things don’t need to be complicated to be enjoyable; everyone has something new they can learn; there is a intrinsic generosity amongst people who have virtually nothing; respect is as important as brute force for getting things done; asking for help isn’t showing weakness. And finally, that helping someone by getting your hands dirty, really dirty, can be one of the most satisfying experiences.