Looking back, how can I actually describe today – it had bits of everything in it really but everything was influenced by the overwhelming and searing heat. Both Liz and I felt like we had somewhat acclimatised to the heat as we had been out in SE Asia a good three months now but no this was normal heat folks, this was the hottest part of the year for Tacloban and that meant hot, very, very hot.
The day started off okay we had something of a breakfast although the choice was somewhat limited – Marmalade, Watered down Peanut Butter or Jam on toast or bread and a cup of tea, which if you were unlucky you had to drink from a jar but it filled the belly enough to start the day on. After brekky we went downstairs and put on our new shiny workboots and went to meet our team leader Oletta a young lady from London, she showed us our transport and told us which tools we would be needing – just shovels and away we went. Even in the Jeepney (with no windows) it was still red hot and as I said Tacloban being like a building site – everywhere was covered in a liberal coating of dust. On our team was our roomate Edwin but also an Italian guy called Miguel plus possibly another (Sophie Ann?) events of the day make my remembering of it now much later, a bit hazy to say the least.
The Barangay when we reached it was great though, all the kids knew the All Hands crew, a lot of them by name. Me and Liz being new, each of the kids we met would say ‘Hello, what is your name?’ in order that they would then learn our names too. The littlest kids even if they could not say much at least gave us a big wave it was enough to melt the heart of even the most cynical of people and I like to think I was not quite at that level.
Then the work began and it was an absolute killer. The heat was excruciating but this was more than matched by the work which was a killer. In my younger days I used to mix concrete and cement but the day’s heat put this on an entirely different level. On a number of occasions I felt like I would faint such was the heat and me and Liz did not seem to be the only ones struggling but it was possibly hitting us hardest. The only thing that got me through the day I think was the attitude of everyone on our team and out of it – everyone wanted to make sure we were okay and not just because we were old but simply because that is what they do at All Hands. Another thing which helped me through were the sugary drinks called Cobra, which was like drinking liquid sugar but it boosted the energy levels up just enough so that you could carry on. To be fair the rest of the Mixing team carried us this day so how they coped I have no idea but Edwin, Miguel and Oletta all worked liked machines.
The dinner was okay but it was difficult to enjoy anything as we simply concentrated on getting as much rest as we could in order to be ready for the afternoon. The afternoon though was no better and Oletta kept making sure both me and Liz took plenty of water breaks and had as easy a ride as we could.
Back at base there was no water in the upstairs showers so we had to get water from a pump in the yard downstairs – which made showering a really tedious affair – let alone a very cold one too but after the heat of the day this was almost a relief. We felt totally knackered but after the evening’s meeting, during tea everyone we spoke to who had been there a while said they too had struggled with the workload and the heat early on as well but they also said that as you go on it does actually get better. Our only worry was that it needed to get better quite quickly so that we would actually feel like we were of any use to the team because after day one we certainly felt not too much better than spare parts. Only at the end of the day with a beer in our hands did we start to feel a little bit better but this was somewhat tempered by the fact that we seemed to be demoted from the mixers to the pourers so we hoped this job would give us time to ‘find our feet’ on the job.