The "CKY Corner" Series continues this week with a segment called, "Breaking Ground and Building" which shares WACAI’s personal story of breaking ground on their land and building the foundation to their future cultural arts center. Click the links to learn more about the premise, purpose and backstory of this fun, fascinating, and factual online series and check out FB and IG for corresponding photos and videoclips!
Purchasing land in Guinea to build a future cultural arts center has been a long-term goal of WACAI spanning over ten years time. Through fundraising events, generous public donations, and designated program income WACAI was able to save up and buy a piece of land in an undeveloped area within Conakry’s city limits that is located close to a beautiful and expansive beachfront. This amazing area was affordable because it is on the brink of development and resembles more of an agricultural village than a suburb. Checkout the “Village Life” blog to learn more about this astounding area and the tenacious people who live off the land there.
We are fortunate to know someone who bought a bunch of property in the area at the moment when the government started making progress on widening a foot path into a motor vehicle road and building a bridge that connects the village area to its neighboring suburb. In Guinea it is customary to break ground and start building a foundation shortly after the land is purchased, but due to the travel limitations created by the pandemic we were forced to wait until those restrictions were lifted and that time frame fell just shy of when the rainy season was due to begin. This, of course, was not ideal timing, but we did not think it wise to wait any longer or put off establishing our property line with something more permanent than a rope around its perimeter. This week’s “CKY Corner” Series’ theme entitled “Breaking Ground and Building” is meant to highlight parts of the construction process that we were able to capture as well as the obstacles that we faced due to the challenges of wet weather and building in an undeveloped location.
The process of breaking ground and building a permanent structure around the property was so fascinating to observe and very challenging to achieve! It started with meeting up with the engineer, negotiating a fee for labor costs and the transportation of materials and ended with agreeing to share the responsibility of gathering materials in an effort to get the actual building started before the heavy rains set in. The principal engineer put together a team of the local villagers to dig out the foundation around the property and transport the building materials from the place where the motor vehicle road ended and bridge construction began to our site many kilometers away through a one-track path meandering through marshy agricultural land. Transporting these heavy materials through this landscape was the most challenging factor that we had to grapple with which was intensified by the ticking clock of the impending rainy season. The manner in which this was achieved was nothing short of miraculous and is a testament to the grit and resourcefulness of the Guinean people who made it happen.
In Guinea there is a strong tradition that before any building or big projects get under way a sacrifice is performed on site to ensure its success. Honoring this traditional practice is extremely important and became an imperative for us as well. This tradition, in short, involves buying either a sheep or a cow, summoning the Iman to read from the Koran and say prayers to bless the project, slaughtering the animal in the Halal manner which requires that all the animal’s blood is drained from its body onto the earth, and distributing the meat which is deftly butchered on the spot to neighboring families. The practice also operates on the belief that the animal must spend some time in the presence of the people doing the sacrifice so that they can care for the animal in its final days as well as imbue their wishes and desires for the intended outcome into the creature. Our lamb who had a sweet disposition and was covered with a pure white coat stayed tethered for a day and a night on our balcony where we would sit together in the cool of the evening to drink a sweet tea called Attaya and commune with the gentle beast. Parting with this sheep was bittersweet and we are very grateful for this offering as well as the opportunity to connect more deeply with this cultural tradition and the people who are our future neighbors.
The bridge that was under construction at the time of our project’s groundbreaking was designed to connect the closest suburb to the neighboring area slated for development. This point was also a hub of several other construction crews who were building on the land delineated by the newly expanded road as well as a material drop for all building projects in the area, including ours. Truckloads of sand, granite, cement, rebar, wood, and other materials were deposited just at the foot of the bridge which was the exact point where the main road ended and the single-track foot path to our site began. This is where the tenacity and ingeniousness of our crew really came into practice because all our materials had to be transported either on the back of a fleet of motorcycles or by a little boat that could navigate through the low-level water of the marshes. Thirty-two wooden boards, ten feet in length were strapped two by two to the backs of motorcycles and dragged on the ground of a very windy and narrow path all the way to our site. Forty something bars of rebar were also delivered in the same fashion as well as literally tons of bagged cement and piles of sand and granite that were shoveled into rice bags enabling them to be transported similarly. As you can imagine observing this process was quite a sight to behold and really defies all verbal explanations. Sadly, and much to our personal and organizational chagrin the video footage that captured these feats of transportation were lost in the transfer process from my phone to my laptop. Hopefully, you will not need to see it to believe it because it’s incredible, but true!
The collection of all the materials and the construction of our foundation was a very interesting process which taught us a lot. We had a great team of engineers, masons, wood and iron workers who all brought their expertise to the project and remained patient and flexible as the materials arrived on the site in dribs and drabs and as the rain fell at times, in torrents. Through all of these trials and tribulations we were successful in completing 85% of the foundation and securely storing our equipment and remaining materials in a location just on the edge of WACAI’s future home. Reflecting on the magnitude of this project fills us with awe and appreciation for the innovation and teamwork involved and knowing that the progress of the bridge and corresponding road will make this process so much easier the next time around fills us with gratitude and a sense of relief.