Africa – Part 3

The hill to the jobsite – that’s me 4th from the back, probably complaining.

They call Rwanda ‘the land of 1,000 hills”.  It is a pretty fitting name.  Most of the country is pretty mountainous with rolling (large) hills as far as the eye can see.  One of the ladies on our team called them the ‘quilted mountains’.  I thought that was so clever.  They were a patchwork of farmed fields, dirt and trees.

The quilted hills of Southern Rwanda

Even though I have sent the last almost 20 years working for a construction company, I haven’t been physically working on construction sites, ie: swinging a hammer, using a shovel, etc.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) I have spent most of my time behind a desk in the job trailer or walking and driving around in the field observing/supervising/planning…mostly acting important.  I know that the work is hard and have an overflowing amount of respect for the people who work day in and day out in the field in our industry

When we left for Rwanda, I was the most out of shape that I have been in the past 15 years.  I wasn’t prepared in the slightest for the physical labor that we were getting into, but I made it through.  Our minds and bodies are capable of so much when we are determined.  I was pretty surprised with myself.

Getting to the jobsite from our accommodation was about a 30 minute drive, followed by a 20-ish minute hike to the site.  The hike was entirely on a steep hill.  Side note:  I don’t think Rwandans use switchbacks in their trail designs.  They get from point a to b in a pretty straight line up or down a hill.  The hike down wasn’t a big deal, but the hike up had me breathing loudly and sweating like crazy.  The local kids would follow me out and mimic my breathing and laugh.  (so, yes, kids are brats everywhere).  At first we were convinced that the hill was at least a couple of miles long, until one of our team members mapped it on her Garmin.  Yep…it was only a half mile.  The longest half mile ever.  It also never got easier in the 2 weeks that we were there.

It was our responsibility to put together a schedule for the project and stick to it.  We all were given assignments and tasks that we had to do and we stuck to them.  Prior to getting there, the local Bridge Committee and the B2P foreman had been working onsite for over a month.  They had taken care of a lot of the hard stuff.  They mobilized everything to site, our tool tent, cook shack, tools, materials, etc.  They also had already built the abutments and towers and had crushed/hauled the rocks, one by one, by hand from across the river.

The Bridge Committee built the abutments, towers and hauled and crushed all of the rocks (by hand) before we got there.

Our job was to finish the bridge in the two weeks we were there.  We started off with hanging the cables.  The Bridge is a suspended bridge, so it is held up by 4 cables that span the towers and are anchored into concrete below the abutment ramps. 

One by one, as a team with the community members, we hauled the cables down the ‘hill’.  The cable weighed about 3 lbs/ft and each of us had about a 20′ section to carry on our shoulder.  I’d like to note that the cable was really greasy, so not only was it hard physically, it was a dirty process.

Note:  my dirty shoulders.

Once we got the cables down the hill, we set them to the designed sag and were ready to start getting this thing looking like a bridge.  In order to get started, we had to do a lot of work in the fab area.  We liked to call it ‘Fab Yard Inc.’ and I still think it was the most important part of the project.  😉  This is where we cut all of the wood to length and pre-drilled all of the holes in the lumber…and did the nasty job of staining the wood.

Part of B2P’s program is to train the local communtiy members on  the use of tools and construction methods.  So it was our job to teach the locals as much as we could and let them participate in the build.  This part was especially challenging for me.  Not because I didn’t want to show the local people how to use construction tools, but because I had a very difficult time communicating with them.  I do/did not speak any Kinyarwandan, with the exceptions of a couple of words, and the local people didnt speak any English.  I barely know how to run a skill saw myself and combine that with the fact that I’m sort of a nervous (and controlling) person…AND the community members had NEVER seen power tools nor understood they were dangerous, it made it really frustrating and hard for me to train.  INstead of trying to share my knowledge, I tried to do it all myself.  I was a little surprised and dissapointed with myself on this part. 

Hand gestures and ‘skits’ were the best form of communication.

By the 2nd day in the fab yard,  I got much more comfortable and we were able to train almost all of our team how to use a skil saw, drills, tape measure, etc.  It was astually pretty fun to see them learn and start to understand what we were doing.  We got in a rythym and were able to get everything completed smoothly and without an incident.

Once we got the cables hung and the parts and pieces fabbed, we started to hang the swings and it started to look like a bridge.

its beginning to come together.

Stay tuned for Part 4…the rest of the build.