Project Phongsali: Far from home, we can’t let missing tools or lack of supplies slow us down!

April 11, 2010

The guys on our team are all county folk raised in villages. They learned early in life to make do with whatever tools and supplies are on hand.

Day 69

In Laos, if you have a problem complete strangers will jump in to help.  If you lack a tool, people will readily loan you one of theirs.

The other side of the coin is that if someone is in need you’d feel guilty walking by and not stopping to lend a hand or put your shoulder to the wheel.  And, if you have the tool that someone lacks, you’d feel selfish not loaning it out.  (Assuming the person who needs your tool even bothers to ask for the loan; often people just help them selves to any tool that appears to be residing in the public domain).

This community spirit and impulse to share has a downside, in as much as, commonly, people don’t exert themselves to keep track of tools, to repair shared equipment, or to return borrowed tools to where they found them.  The ethic of sharing property is strong; the ethic of sharing responsibility is weak.

Case in point, hammers.  We must have bought enough hammers over the years for every deminer to have one for each hand and a spare tucked in a belt loop.  How many can we find when we need one?  Zip.

Case in point.  Yesterday, the team had to chisel lettering into the top of some concrete markers.  When I came upon the guys at work, they were using nails in place of chisles and rocks in place of hammers. I stopped to take a picture but didn’t even ask.

I guess we should adjust our list of the improvements we’ve brought to the village.  We’ve removed 105 pieces of life-threatening ordnance, led three visually impaired villagers to eye care, conveyed five physically handicapped people to rehabilitation, put legs on a couple of amputees, and added at least four hammers to the village tool chest.

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