Abstract concrete

By Toby Koch

Finally. I was there. After months of anticipation and weeks of traveling I was where I wanted to be; at the Ban Mae Tuen village. I had imagined my time here would be spent searching for water sources that could only be reached by bushwhacking through jungles that Bear Grylls himself would shiver at, drawing out architecturally flawless blueprints for future projects, and conducting in depth community based health assessments with advanced techniques unknown to the common man.

Okay, maybe not quite that drastic, but a man’s mind can be prone to wander. Instead, I found myself hacking away in fascination (and no small amount of frustration) at a giant puddle of gelatinous cement soup, trying to keep it in some kind of pile, accompanied by a few members of our group and an entourage of Thai men hacking away along side me. I, being the all-knowing American, thought to myself, “this is ridiculous, there are ratios and procedures and other fancy stuff that needs to be followed in order to make cement set properly. This pile is random, there are still clumps of dirt in this cement and every bucket of it that we pour unto this porch is different.”

As we continued to add a few more rocks here, some sand there, and buckets of water everywhere; I had an epiphany. “Building this porch doesn’t mean diddly squat. In the end, its just a porch to a cafeteria. It will more than likely hold just fine.We didn’t fly half way around the world to build a porch. We came to build relationships with this village and this school. To show them that we care about the world and the people in it, and that their culture, class and ethnicity shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance, but an opportunity to expand the way we see the world. We are here to show that we don’t know best, that we are equals and that they have as much to give us as we them (if not more).”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Despite my past service experience around the world, I still knew nothing. Perhaps I never will know, but suddenly that pile of gelatinous cement soup suddenly meant a lot more.

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