Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Construction Across the Street 8/4/08

The Construction Across the Street 
The construction across the street often provides some entertainment and sometimes a look into Russian culture, at least it seems so to me. A case in point is the day the cement truck broke down. Actually, I think it could more accurately be described as the “mortar” truck.

Each morning I noticed that a cement truck would arrive early and dump its load into a large rectangular bin, about the size of a pickup truck bead. The bin was then lifted by a crain to the roof or other area where the masons were laying brick for the day. Not being home during the day, I did not see the mid day activity, but I presumed that the truck came all through the day, supplying the masons with fresh mortar.

One morning I saw the truck arrive as usual, but it did not leave. I never saw whether it dumped its load, but I was struck with the fact that it did not leave by the time Cindy & I left for the office. Having other things to occupy my rather cluttered mind, I didn’t think about the truck until we returned home that afternoon to fix dinner for a companionship of missionaries. There next to the building being constructed was the “mortar” truck; motionless.

Well, not exactly without motion because two young men, 20-somethings-, were sitting on the top of the mixer tank, working on the plate over the inspection port. That seemed a little odd, but I again returned to my own thoughts and needs like finding the huge set of keys in the zippered pocket of my crowded purse (yep, a man-purse . . . very guy in Novo has one) and finding the appropriate magnetic button (I have 3) to press into the receptacle by our door that would release the magnetic lock and let us in through the first of 7 (count them 7) doors we must pass though to get into our apartment. First is the steel security door with the magnetic lock, then two wooden door about 6 feet apart (probably to keep in the warm and out the cold), the elevator door, on the 9th floor a steel security door into a square common hall we share with our neighbors, a steel door covered with tongue-and-groove uunfinished pine, and a solid wood door into our apartment. That doesn’t count the bathroom door at the other end of our entry hall that is usually accessed by Cindy upon arrival.

Back to the truck; as I was changing clothes I noticed the two men again, this time with more interest because they were obviously struggling with the bolts that secured the plate over the inspection port and each of them took turns with the wrench they shared. As I was helping set the table, I saw that they finally got the bolts out, the cover off, and one of them was head-first halfway into the port. This became more interesting by the minute.

It took me only a short time to figure out what was happening. They were dealing with hardened mortar inside the apparently inoperable truck. Normally, if you keep the mortar churning inside the mixer, it will stay semi-liquid for a long time, but if allowed to sit for an extended time, gels would begin to form and quickly the mortar would become the rock from which it was mined. The probable events of the day passed through my imagination and the situation gained a new dimension. If the truck had stalled, they would have been unable to empty the mortar in the normal fashion and they would have had to open the inspection port, roll the mixer by hand, and dump the mortar out the underside of the tank into the bin or onto the ground. If they had simply had a delay and turned off the truck for an extended period of time the mortar would have solidified and stronger measures would have been required. In either case, they had a problem.

First, they tried banging on the outside of the tank with large hammers.

Then one of them crawled inside the tank through the inspection port and I heard more banging. Finally his partner worked his way into the tank from the end where the mortar normally is discharged; more banging. By this time I am leaning out the window with my elbows on the window sill, taking it all in and Cindy is trying to get me to help more with dinner.

As we sat down to eat with the elders, we all heard muffled, rapid banging inside the mixing tank and looking out at the truck we saw a black rope or cord passed into the port and we heard more banging, more banging, more banging; then silence. Suddenly out of the port shoots a load of rocks and gravel, then another load, and another. Now it is clear that they have an electric jackhammer inside the tank and are chiseling out the hardened mortar. All through dinner we hear the sounds of two desperate men.

This went on until about 12:30 am. Finally the noise stopped and I looked out to see what they were doing. They were both crawling out of their respective entry points, shirtless, and covered with sweat and clinging dust, but they were apparently finished for the night. The next morning the truck was gone and I never saw it again. Thereafter, dump trucks would come with the bins already full of mortar on their backs. The crane would just lift them from the trucks and hoist them to the roof.

I wondered what happened to the two young men who worked so hard and so long at this thankless task. I’m sure they were both deaf for a time and probably had to hose themselves off outside before showering in their homes because the mortar dust on them would surely have clogged the 70 year old plumbing in most apartment buildings and that would have been another long story.

I think that I observed several important things worth noting. On the prevention side, first, the problem could have been solved or minimized with a little quick ingenuity and initiative. Second, if the truck had been maintained it would not have stalled (and I’m sure that was the case because I never saw it again). Third, if they just turned it off for some reason, hopefully they won’t do that again.

On the problem solving side, first these men did not give up. They worked at whatever level of expertise they had with whatever tools they had for as long at it took to get that truck cleaned out. They never gave up. Second, they did not consider their own safety, the long-term harm to themselves, or the discomfort while doing the job. That tank must have been absolutely filled with mortar dust from the coating they had on them. They breathed that stuff for hours in that hot tank and the noise must have been mind-numbing, not to mention damaging. They either didn’t consider their own wellbeing or knowingly sacrificed themselves to get the job done.

In either case, this demonstrated to me what a tough, hardworking people they are, willing to sacrifice themselves for the task, and willing to work until it is done. They may or may not be doing it right, or well, or effectively, but they aren’t afraid to work.

What a country


1 comment:

Belva said...

Good Morning Doug (and Cindy),
love your paint a great picture of your mission and the unusual surroundings that you have such a great eye in observing. (probably not great english)

You and Cindy have been created for such a task as this. Your talents, skills, enthusiasm, and positive outlook have brought to your mission- the spirit of the Simmons. We miss you here. It has taken us a long time to find a "social life" without you. The Henshaws and the wrights went to Marie Callendars after stake conference with us- on Sat night. Along with the pie, we enjoyed talking about your adventures and wishing you were here to tell us more.

Thank you for sharing with us the details and pictures. What a treasure to have recorded your thoughts and observations for posterity and for all of us.

Our papers went in about a week ago. We don't know if we're headed to Burley idaho or Tim-buck-too (if there is such a place). It is hard to wait for someone to plan the next 18 months of your life. Keep up the great work that you are doing...and thank you again for sharing it with us. We love you, Belva