By Travis Hughbanks
Off the beaten path from all of the trekking routes of the Solukhumbu, the village of Khastav in the VDC of Basa is very secluded. Things are starting to change, though. Over the past few years efforts have been made to construct a road through the mountainous terrain that will eventually pass near the village. While the road itself is still years from being an accessible route for even the most off-road of vehicles, the excavator that was tasked to rough out the road has made its way deep into the mountains. We were fortunate enough that our construction was scheduled when the excavator was working nearby, and the villagers agreed to allow the “dozer” (the local term for the excavator) to descend through their terraced fields to the project site to speed up the site clearing.
The first motorized vehicle in the village was a definite attraction; children cried (a bit scared by the noise), livestock scattered and the workers were eager for the chance to play with the new machine. While the dozer worked at leveling the project site it quickly became a race for the workers to see who could save the most and largest of the unearthed stones.
First, you have to understand that throughout the VDC of Basa rocks for buildings are in short supply and are considered very valuable, hence why earthbags can be a great solution to building needs in the area. Typically for construction, stones have to be cut from remote areas of the mountainside and hauled down to building sites by people. So, introducing a 19-year-old excavator operator driving a machine that indiscriminately buries tree limbs, garbage, and rocks alike as he levels the site makes for an interesting scenario. Workers and villagers were darting from left to right trying to rescue stones that weigh up to 100 pounds each.
As workers tried to role flat stones down the hillside the dozer operator would quickly pivot the steel shovel directly over their heads in a attempt to claim dominance of the work site. You would think that after the first person was accidentally knocked to the ground, uninjured, the game would have found a victor. Not a chance. The taunting from the young operator continued and the villagers refused to back down. Eventually a mutual respect was gained. By mid-afternoon, the dozer scope would rest momentarily on the ground as the workers loaded it with surfaced stones which would be deposited in a pile off to the side for future use.
After 3 days of work with the volunteers, we had both doors in place and four courses of bags laid for the walls. Happily, we are a week ahead of schedule and hope to be finished with the earthbag walls of the first building by March 26th. Excavation is complete for the second building and the retaining wall is under construction. Below are some photos and more updates to follow.