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Doing the (sometimes) heavy lifting

Indonesia, October 12, 2009

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The trucks arrived at night, pulling up at our warehouse one by one. They had driven for four full days from Jakarta, pausing only to sleep from 1 A.M. to 5 A.M. in the truck on the side of the road.

Our warehouse, on the road from Padang to Bukit Tinggi, is a large restaurant that was slightly damaged in the quake and now stands completely empty, its traditional curving roof and empty plate glass window the only reminders of its former use. The drivers set to work unlocking the doors of the truck, and then we started unloading its contents:

  • Plastic sacks with three jerry cans a piece inside (at least jerry cans are light!)
  • Rolls of blankets and sarongs
  • Boxes full of sanitary napkins (also light!)
  • Bundles of crowbars (very, very heavy)

With the drivers, we formed an ever-moving distribution line, receiving goods from the back of the truck and walking them into the restaurant/warehouse, to where the logistics and warehouse staff were stacking them neatly in the back. As I carried (the drivers kept warning me how heavy things were, as if I wasn’t already aware) I thought about the things I was carrying.

The jerry cans — for collecting and holding water, the most important thing there was. The blankets — I had already noticed, despite the heat of midday, rainy nights were chilly, especially if the rain was falling directly on you, if you had nowhere to get inside. Or if you were terrified of being inside.

The hoes, hammers, and crowbars — much better than bare hands for moving the fallen pieces of a house, and starting to put them back together.

The physical exertion felt good. After so much time spent in front of my computer or riding in a car to field sites up to four hours away, lifting and hauling reactivated me. It probably wasn’t the most useful thing I could have done in that hour, comparative advantages considered (the drivers were all very good at carrying things). But it did remind me why we are working so hard, in all our different ways of working.