As the four individuals rounded the turn and came into view, I imagined myself much like Daniel Day-Lewis in the opening of There Will Be Blood (2007). I was in a A-Frame cotton undershirt, classic corduroy hat, my face splattered with mud, leaning on a shovel and straddling a big load of dirt and chiseled bricks and chiseled concrete; remnants from the Universidad Nacional’s library demolition. I was leveling out this fill manually because we needed a road to our greenhouse, we needed the bricks and gravel to keep it free of two foot deep mud, and we needed it now!
Our predicament was that two feet mud in long stretches of the 400 meter road to our greenhouse would substantially delay the delivery of our waste foods and our transporter would be charging us for it–if he agreed to deliver at all. Realizing even before the transporter came out, I had noticed loads of rock, gravel, dirt and brick leaving the demolition of the university’s library nearby. I mentioned this to Jaime Moreno, the greenhouse chief, and learned that unfortunately for whatever reason, his suggestion to recieve the loads had been shot down. He refused to name to the person so as to keep his job nice and safe–and left the work to me. In his eyes I was the big gringo money man to make the suggestion and make it happen.
I had finally found myself at 4:30pm sitting in the giant cab of an International Dumptruck arriving at the greenhouse compound honking our horn–much to the surprise and amusement of the workers. Two weeks had passed and Ryan had spoken with the engineer at the demolition site, I had obtained a letter from the director of greenhouses, and then passed it to the engineer, who gave it to one of the women in charge of maintenance, who called someone and so on and so forth. These loads had previously been going to the only landfill Bogota has, ‘dona juana,’ and my fellow driver was quite happy to avoid the 45 minute drive at the end of his friday workday. The engineer was quite happy to give us the load because someone (either the university or the construction company) is saving on the lack of a dumping fee, gas, etc. We were now the proud owners of 2-3 loads of rock and dirt a day. But we needed it leveled, and fast!
As the four approached me, I greeted them with a dirty and dusty wave of the hand. One of the younger female professors who I would soon tour through our pilot factory looked at me as if I was an alien species…why was I doing this, why did I not have coveralls like the other workers…her face was a priceless representation of ingrained class distinction. I changed into more appropriate attire and gave the tour.
Returning after the tour, they observed the work I was doing. A small kid who had accompanied the group on the tour was helping by picking up the largest hunks of brick and concrete he could and dumping them in the puddles–getting himself as dirty as possible in the process. He observed me shoveling the dirt and gravel and honestly observed, “you smell like my uncle.” I had one of the largest laughs I’ve had in a long time. I did indeed smell quite special.
After the group departed, Ryan helped out for a while and guided the newly arrived dumptruck in before taking off. The driver who I had ridden out with last Friday helped me considerably more this time by using the weight of the truck to compact the fill after it had been added, as well as dumping small quantities, shoveling, and dumping more small quantities.
Despite all the hassles Ryan and I have encountered in Colombia, there are some bright spots where you see people reach out and help others. This truck driver was a bright spot. He easily could have dumped his load in a single spot (making my work infinitely more difficult) and departed. This would have been an easy 1 hour off his normal schedule. However, he chose to stay with me, do significant amounts of backbreaking shoveling (because of the hidden bricks, there is no simple consistency like standard gravel) and spend time driving his truck back and forth, back and forth over our Inca road smashing and compacting it.
He brought back a second load and helped shovel some more before leaving due to driving restrictions of big trucks after 6pm. I stayed for another hour and finished the 100 meter section I had been working on. I did this by tricking myself as I do in the weight room, saying to myself…I’ll only do this little part…doing it, and then telling myself the same as I take on another little part…until little by little the work is done. As I finished the pile, I was beginning to lose my light. My hands were rubbed raw from working without gloves. My shoulders were already sore. I’d have to come back and work at least a full day to clear the backload of dumped rubble, about 2-4 yards so far. Either that or bribe one of the bobcat operators working at one of three construction sites.
As I walked out, I thought back to the face of the entomologist and then again to the opening shot of Daniel Day-Lewis, digging in the oil well alone, covered in oil, breaking his leg and dragging himself to camp. I refer to the shot again because even though it is so early in the film, it is the peak point of respect for Daniel Day Lewis’ character –the entrepreneur with a theory, doing anything and everything he can to get that theory off the ground with the little resources he has. In a country replete with 15th generation haves and 30th generation have nots, I wonder if my young entomologist friend, as she watched Daniel Day-Lewis’ character struggle, would feel this same respect, or watch with the same strangely alien fascination of horror and surprise.
Judging by the two guys in the group helping to move some larger bricks for a few minutes, I’d guess a little of both. I can almost hear the thought process…so this is really what they’re going to do to build a new business? It’s not just Hollywood?
For those here with money, labor to build storefronts for businesses is cheap, but rarely wasted on a new idea–that’s for corporations to sensibly manage risk. For those without money, a storefront is a nearly impossible goal as it is. Why would anyone (like ryan and myself) waste money trying out an unproven idea if we could just build what has already been built and profit?