Bridging the Gap

My eyes shot open a minute before my alarm went off. I couldn’t tell you what kind of bird was screaming but it sounded like it was afraid of heights. I peeled myself off the sticky mattress, washed my face and threw on my community clothes. Today’s the big day.

A couple two-bite bananas later and Raksha, Natassja and I were crammed into a rickshaw. The driver sparked a couple of wires together and we had a fan. Luxury. We got to Zuarinagar and were met with the usual crowd of curious faces. As we measured the gutter separating a row of houses from the children’s playground, the kids hopped back and forth, dodging goats in a parkour-like fashion. We had been inspired to start this project after witnessing a boy fumble his footing and land in the gutter, cutting his knee and dripping in sewage. By bridging this gap in a literal way, we hoped we could also metaphorically bridge the gap in this community that lacked a connection to each other or the land that they shared.

Back into the rickshaw, we drove down the highway to a yard where we could purchase slabs of cement. After crunching some numbers, we realized we wouldn’t be able to cover the initial opening of the gutter because the area was too wide and unstable, but we’d still be able to create a bridge over the two main entry points. Slightly dismayed but not discouraged, we purchased the slabs and arranged for delivery with just enough time to make it back for a lunch of rice and dahl.

Natassja headed back to the site to supervise delivery and installation while we prepared for the evening ahead. We met her at the site -just as the final stones were set in place- equipped with 5kg of rice flour, signs and prizes for our rangoli competition that we would be hosting. The Magic Bus group gathered the kids and chanted their new song they had written about community cleanup, and we watched as children marched around the playground, singing and cleaning the garbage. Members of the community gathered around the bridge, jumping on the stones to test them then nodding approvingly to each other. We admired our handiwork, it was rewarding to see what a difference a stack of cement blocks could make.

As the Magic Bus group wrapped up their session with the kids, we arranged rows of chairs around the new bridge and tested the sound system. The children immediately ran screaming with excitement, dancing up on the speakers and filling the chairs. We had a captive audience awaiting our event. With the help of Raksha translating, I announced that we would be holding a rangoli competition along the newly built bridge and had enough space for 13 women to compete. We had decided on rangoli because it’s a traditional art form practiced by the women that welcomes prosperity, inaugurates new beginnings and is a symbol of cleanliness and good fortune. The theme of the competition was community clean up and we used a line from the children’s new song to inspire the women’s designs. The line roughly translates to “this community is ours, just like our home, we are going to keep it clean.” Trust me, it sounds better in Hindi.

Good vibes and smiles pulsed through the community as the women and young girls began their rice flour designs. Some were in the traditional geometric designs, while others took the quote more literally and depicted a flourishing community situated around the temple. The children danced Bollywood style while the men and elders stood watching at the foot of the bridge. Before we knew it, all 22 blocks had been covered -an extra 9 women had snuck into the contest.

We attempted a communal vote by handing out 150 voting chips, but kids were caught cheating and trying to throw the vote. A fight almost broke out, but it was quickly diffused by Raksha, our trusty translator. An executive decision was made that as a team of designers we’d collectively decide the winners, and after a few minutes of deliberation we announced 1st, 2nd and 3rd and handed out consolation prizes. The celebrations continued, and we were humbled by a beautiful gesture of flowers from the community as they thanked us for the work we had done over the past 3 weeks. Bombarded with requests for photos, our cheeks hurt from smiling as we loaded back onto the bus with a trail of kids following behind, offering us high fives and secret handshakes, excitedly hopping up and down and waving us off until we drove out of sight.

Back to Heaven Goa for a long night of work translating the winning design into a symbol for phase 2 of the project; to be utilized within the infrastructural waste management system that the other group was working on. Only one more day to go.