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70 Buckets and Wheelbarrows February–March 2012 Afive-gallon bucket measures 11.5 inches in diameter by 14 inches tall. When filled with concrete, it weighs over 120 pounds. We mix concrete by pouring the basic ingredients of gravel, sand, cement, and water into a rotating drum according to proportions that SGH developed for consistent strength. The drum deposits the mixture into a ten-foot-square shallow trough that we built on the west side of the BLB orphanage site. It reminds me of a large sandbox. Four guys in hip boots shovel fresh concrete, which is called ‘green’, into five-gallon buckets. They fill them about half full. Workers form a line and hand the buckets from one to another across the yard and up a ladder. Another guy hoists the bucket on his shoulder and balances sixty pounds of concrete along a grid of steel to the far end of the building where he dumps the bucket. Over the next two weeks we will repeat this process over nineteen thousand times as we pour BLB’s second floor slab, working our way from east to west, back toward the ladder and the concrete mixer. Throughout our first week of pouring concrete at BLB, our productivity increases every day. By the start of the second week our crew of sixty Haitians pours thirty-eight cubic yards of concrete in less than six hours. In the United States a handful of guys could pour the same amount of concrete with five ready-mix trucks and a pump, but that feat wouldn’t be half so impressive. Here, spirited cooperation compensates for rudimentary tools. We start at 6:30 a.m. Two laborers chip away at the key joint from yesterday’s pour while another guy uses a hand broom and a Shop-Vac to clean out the formwork from the 1,100-square-foot 71 Buckets and Wheelbarrows area we plan to pour today. The finisher snaps lines that determine the top of the floor slab. Down on the ground five guys arrange plastic buckets against piles of sand; another five set up for gravel, two men stack bags of cement, another gets the concrete mixer rolling, while Felix hoses out the inside of the drum. When Boss Pepe gives the signal, workers converge on the mixer with their materials while Boss Pepe counts: twenty-one buckets of sand; twenty-one buckets of gravel; five and a half bags of cement. Felix keeps the mix moist by adding water in an amount that has more to do with Boss Pepe’s intuition than SGH’s calculations. Once combined, the mixer dumps a cubic yard of concrete into the trough where four monstrously strong men use long-handled spades to shovel it into waiting wheelbarrows. Concrete by wheelbarrow is our new innovation. After two days of pouring concrete by bucket alone we realized that we could take advantage of the site’s slope. We built a bridge from the back hill right onto the second floor slab. Now, twelve guys snake their barrows up the steep hill, roll them across the plank bridge, wheel over to the pour area, dump the concrete, and loop back down to get another load. The wheelbarrow guys love their gig. They sing and run up and down the hill all day. Meanwhile, we still have a bucket brigade that passes concrete up the stairs. Sometimes the two groups compete for speed. After the material is dumped, a mason vibrates the fresh concrete to make sure it fills in around the reinforcing and into the corners of the formwork. Once the buckets and barrows fill the nine-inch-thick slab depth over an area fifty to sixty feet square, two finishers trowel the slab, making it smooth and level. Watching the concrete pour from the top of the hill is a bit like observing Cirque du Soleil visit Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Buckets of concrete move fast; the empties arc through the air like trapeze fliers, and wheelbarrows follow a convoluted route up and over and back. There is a blur of motion, yet closer inspection reveals that the “wheelbarrowers” are the only people who take more than one or two steps. Everyone else is arm’s length from his mate in the sequence. When I lift my eyes just a few degrees all the activity falls away and I am staring out to sea. The shrouded hump of La Gonave seems a distant, surreal landscape...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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