Today we started rebuilding Angela and her mother’s house using materials we salvaged from their old home. It’s not easy work as their old place wasn’t in the best shape to begin with. Add to it that, as with most families here, they had a pig sty underneath their houses, full of mud, and the humidity speeds up the rotting and disintegration of much of the cheap wood used in building. After the destruction of so many homes there are pigs strolling around the streets at their leisure. I’ve named them Babe, Babe #2, Babe #3…
The plan is to build them a temporary place to stay as they’re currently housed in the local school and the local authorities are pushing to resume classes in a couple of days, so Angela and her mom need to move out.
The work is slow due a number of factors. One impediment was digging the holes for posts as each house needs to be raised due to frequent heavy rains in the area. However the water table is so high that digging down only a foot or two we find thick, slimy clay-mud that’s really hard to move. In the area there are several shrimp farms and the army had originally proposed moving the entire town to a new location – something which raised a few eyebrows as they (potentially) could be using the disaster as an excuse to evacuate people so big shrimp companies could expand operations here. I’m not sure how this plan was diverted, but I’m guessing that it likely had to do with having too many cooks in the kitchen. Everyone seems to be an authority here, meaning that once work gets started on one project, new heads of organization pop up wanting to exert an influence and change plans. This happened on my first day when we went to dig latrines in an IDP camp only to be told we had to fill in the 2m long, four-foot-deep hole dug the night before because some chief of something decided he wanted the latrine to be in a different place (not due to hygiene standards, by the way – only a change in mind). I’m learning that relief efforts, while incredibly rewarding, can also be hugely frustrating, and am beginning to have a sense that ‘recovery’ takes much, much longer than I ever thought. The people most affected, those already living in poverty, will likely never fully get back to the standard of living they had previously. Due to these reasons I now understand more the place for foreign relief assistance in these places, to give impartial perspective and unbiased help where most needed.
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