Sunday, October 6, 2013

33,315 Days Too Many

     On the first day of our Habitat build in the Dominican Republic this past July, our team was introduced to the future homeowners.  The husband and wife welcomed us with open arms, smiles that stretched well beyond their faces, and a delicious cup of coffee (and I'm not a coffee drinker!)  Around us, shy neighbor children quietly gawked at the group of Americans who had just arrived, and not-so-shy chickens dashed around the yard.  The house, pieced together with scrap panels of metal, had little besides a dirt floor, a few wooden chairs, and rubber soles from tennis shoes nailed to the sides (never learned why).

     Chitchatting, I asked how long the couple had been together.  My question led to lots of laughter, as they both said it was so long that they couldn't remember when exactly.  However, they could remember how....Many, many years ago, the husband became smitten with a then young village girl.  After a brief courtship, he rode his horse to her house and literally swept her off her feet, galloping off into the distance and to marriage.  They had been together ever since.

91 year old homeowner, far left, and his wife, center

     A little later in the conversation (a term I'm using loosely since my Spanish leaves a lot to be desired), the husband announced his age to be 91 and his wife in her late 70s/80s.  It took a few minutes for me to wrap my head around the number 91 (and not because of my poor Spanish :)  Ninety-one years translates to 1092 months.  This translates to 33,315 days.   The welcoming, generous man standing in front of us had lived with dirt for a floor and scrap metal for his walls for ninety-one years.  For 1092 months (or 33,315 days), he waited for decent housing.   It's almost impossible to fathom.  

     Needless to say, our team got to work!  How could we not be inspired?!  After the first day, the walls were up, the beams for the roof were in place, and the wife was sweeping a finished (cement) floor in her own house for the first time in her life.

     I've always been inspired by the resilience and determination of Habitat homeowners.  On that day, I was humbled too.  No one should have to wait a lifetime for a decent house, and certainly not ninety-one years. It's 33,315 days too many!  

     So here's my Sally Struthers' moment:  I encourage you to take some action...learn more about the need for decent housing around the world, volunteer with your local HFH affiliate or join me on a Global Village build, make a donation to Habitat (

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Everybody's Working for the Weekend...Except I'm Working on the Weekend!

It's Sunday night, and that means another work week is about to start.  If you're like me, you're probably already making plans for next weekend.  I bet you can't top my plans, though!  Saturday I'll be sitting on planes for over 11 hours so I can arrive in a foreign city at 1:00 am.  On Sunday, I'll start a week of manual labor that will leave me sweaty, dirty, achy and probably a bit dehydrated.  And I can't wait!!

Want more details?  Let me get up on my soapbox!

I'll be in Feira Nova, Brazil,  a city in the northeastern part of the country about 77 km from the regional capital of Recife.  It has a population of 19,000 with a large rural economy dependent on family farming and the production of manioc. 

The local HFH affiliate has been working on a project called Women Building Homes and Rebuilding Lives.  It's a collaborative effort developed by local women’s centers, the government and Habitat for Humanity Brazil to ensure better living conditions for 100 women and their families  

The project aims to support 100 women that scrape manioc at a local factory.  Known as “houses of flour”, the factories where the women work are practically inhumane.  Early working ages have become increasingly common in this region, bringing major impact on education and integration of women into the workplace.  Most of the scrapers are 13 to 30 years old with no other alternative of employment to survive.  Over 60 percent of the women at the factory are heads of families.  The income obtained from these women in the “houses of flour” is heart-breakingly low:  85 percent of them receive less then $94 per month.  For each 100 kg of peeled cassava, they earn 94 cents.  They usually work in 15 hour shifts, often returning home to care for young children.  All the women pay to rent houses, in most cases sharing the same living space with several relatives. Furthermore, there is a lack of public housing, forcing these women and their families to pay high rent to live near the factories.  Women Building Homes and Rebuilding Lives aims to increase access to affordable, reliable and safe housing, as well as to ensure rights among a group that has historically been denied citizenship by social processes of exclusion, invisibility and violence.  (Pretty wordy last sentence...I took that from HFH!)

Here's a video clip featuring some of the women how will be moving into the new HFH houses soon.  It's worth watching!!

( on the link below for the video clip, not the photo)

I'll be there mixing up gravel and cement, slinging mortar, and having a lot of fun.  Makes your plans for a round of golf or happy hour look a little boring, huh?

slinging mortar in Jordan

But here's a way you can make yourself feel better:  Donate to our Brazil build at
HFH Brazil: Team Akremi


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Easy As 1, 2, 3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3

To Do List For HFH Trip in July:
#4  Get tourist visa from Brazilian consulate

It seems like an easy task to cross off my list.  I simply needed to 1.  fill out an application online and print out a copy, 2.  get two passport photos taken, 3.  obtain a money order from the post office and 4.  drop it all off at the consulate.

Funny thing about To Do lists, though.  The tasks written on them are never easy.  If they were, we would do them right away.  And when you're trying to complete a task, you end up creating more.  

That was certainly the case a few weeks ago when I journeyed into D.C. with a couple of HFH Brazil teammates to get our visas.  To cross off #4 on my list, here's what else had to be done:

3.1  Find a parking space in D.C. and then figure out how to get out of the driver's seat!

3.2  Take a ticket upon entering the consulate.  Learn that your number will eventually be called, but not in the order of arrival.  You may find yourself waiting more than an hour while the person who just walked in might only wait five minutes.  If someone ahead of you forgot some paperwork, it's okay because he can leave to get it and walk right back up to the counter, adding to your wait.  

3.3  Talk with the security guard who looked just like Matt Dillon if he was Brazilian and talked like a character from a mafia movie.  Okay, this wasn't necessary to get our visas, but he was fascinating!

3.4  Try to learn Brazilian Portuguese.  Signs like the ones below were posted everywhere throughout the consulate and we learned that some of the staff was on strike.  Couldn't figure out the x-x-x, though.  Was it a extra big strike or an triple x-rated strike? Tricky language!

3.5  Learn about Brazilian culture and current events.  We weren't the lucky ones who only had to wait a few minutes for help, so we watched Brazilian cartoons

and discussed the woman in a huge photo on the wall.  It's obviously the Brazilian president, but ten points if you know her name without looking it up.  We didn't!

3.6  Bring a glue stick if you really want to be prepared.  Once called to the front counter, the clerk will take your applications and attach the photos with a glue stick.  Yes, a glue stick.  Maureen had thought ahead and brought her own. 

3. 7  Finally, be prepared to repeat Steps 3.1-3.5 again in a week to pick-up the visa!

I can happily say that I've been able to cross off #4 from my To Do List.  

love the mugshot on my visa??

Now, time to tackle #10:  Get a Yellow Fever Vaccine Shot.  Who knows where that will lead??

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Yankee Ventures South

Growing up in Montana thousands of miles from the Mason-Dixon Line, my teachers focused on the Lewis & Clark expedition, mountain men like Jim Bridger, and the powerful Copper Kings of Butte and Anaconda.  My exposure to the South was limited to the pages in our history texts that talked about the Civil War.  So when a friend called in February and asked me to join her in Georgia for a Global Village team leader training weekend, I jumped at the chance.  Visions of fried food and porch rocking chairs danced through my head.

As we arrived in Americus, a rural town that just happens to be the headquarters for Habitat for Humanity, I wasn't disappointed.

We found lots of fried foods,

just in time for fried pickles

fried grits

I didn't try the scramble dogs and I don't know what they are, but I'm sure they're fried!

Porches with rocking chairs

These chairs looked so inviting that we just went up on the porch to try them out....A bit embarrassing when the owner came out!

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And peaches (of sorts) and cotton.

lots of peach references in GA

the first cotton field I've ever seen!

Over the weekend, I learned a lot more about HFH (over 1.75 million people helped since 1976), how to build team unity (trivia games with Pepto-Bismol as prizes are a hit, evidently) and what to do just in case a civil war breaks out while on a build abroad...I must admit that I was starting to think about dinner when that last one was discussed so hopefully this will never happen when I'm in charge!

We toured the Global Village & Discovery Center's exhibit on inadequate housing around the world,

along with their exhibit showing model homes HFH volunteers have built around the world.

We visited the HFH main buildings.

some pretty big hands to fill

And we had some downtime to just sit on the front porch swing at the HFH volunteer house and watch the neighborhood kids playing outside

while the neighborhood cat watched over us.

At the end of the weekend, I probably didn't learn anything new about the history of the South and I'll always be more interested in Sacagawea than in a southern belle.  However, I did fall in love with praline pecans and I probably still have some grease from fried grits coursing through my arteries.  Best of all, I qualified to be a GV team leader and signed on to lead a build in Brazil at the end of July.

If only we had spent a little more time studying Brazil back in Montana!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not Your Uncle's Typical Slideshow

  One month from tomorrow, I'll be sitting on an airplane, heading to my latest HFH build in Brazil.  I'm soooo excited for my upcoming adventure, but before I get wrapped up in visa applications and Amazon trek guidebooks, I want to take some time again to reflect on last November's trip to Haiti.  Want to join me?  I promise that it won't be like your uncle's typical slideshow!

our chartered plane to Port-Au-Prince courtesy of Delta

just outside Port-Au-Prince airport

tent camp outside airport & presidential billboard

no infrastructure

creative businessmen

on the road to Leogane

so many people standing everywhere!

Haitian transportation:  tap taps

dismal living conditions

not sure what he's selling, but love the creativity

market in Port-Au-Prince

Our home for the week was a compound of tents surrounded by high wall with barbed wire.  It was fantastic.  Really!

our camp in Leogane

tents everywhere

Tent #6 roomies
cots & itchy netting in tents

we had sinks

and showers (HUGE spiders were a bonus)

water tanks in camp

the dining hall

Irish dinners served by Haven, a fantastic Irish NGO

the school next door to our camp...notice the  barbed wire!

drop-off at school

rocking his uniform


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on the road to the build site

barbed wire was everywhere!

washing & bathing in the river

or an open pipe

remains of a building

ash and dust covered everything

lots of small rubble still to be cleaned up

some roadside businesses

They were sitting sooo close to the road!

more Haitian transportation

the stairs to nowhere

makeshift homes along the way

a huge community of tent homes sprang up near the build site when word of the project got out

future homeowners

my street address growing up and our house number for the build...It was meant to be!

At the build site, we found lots of lumber

and hurricane clips and nails

and water bottles with electrolyte powder

and the water cooler (!)

and interesting scaffolding

and lots of siding

and lots of security

As I said, there was lots of security!

There were goats to chase

and sugar cane to gnaw on

but once we met the future homeowners

and neighborhood kids

we got right to work,

literally raising the roof!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

The House Dedication

Sad to be leaving the build site on the last day, we knew that soon it would look like


and this

and this!
It wasn't all work and no play, though.  HFH knew that we would need something to take our minds off all we had seen, so in the evenings they arranged for

a fireside chat with the Carters.  JC is as sharp as a tack!

A little concert from Garth and Trisha (who were building during the day),

Irish bonfire sing-alongs

crazy fire dancers

and an outdoor pub hosted by the Irish crew

enjoying some Prestige

hanging with the Secret Service....No scandals on this trip!
 All too soon, it was time to leave our things
donations left behind
 and fly back home.
shaking JC's hand again!