Friday, November 5, 2010

It's A Hard Life

As I walk to the hospital I see this man in a stocking hat. His name is Jeremy.

Jeremy, I see you out here each morning with a hammer and chisel. You work hard.
Yes, I am a craftsmen. I am a stone mason.

Jeremy, you are always barefoot Do you not have shoes?
No I have, you see the how the splinters spray (he drives the hammer against the chisel into the rock and chards of stone disperse) into the air. They would infest my shoes. It is better to wear nothing at all.

Do you live here in Kijabe?
No, I live in Nairobi. But I am here from Monday to Saturday. That is my temporary home (he points to a 10 x 20 shipping container in the field) for myself and the others. We work until evening.

Do you have family?
Yes. I have two children and my job as a craftsmen provides for them.

How are you paid?
It is paid by the foot. You see this one here is one foot (gesturing to the rock he just split). I am paid 15 Ksh per foot (about 20 cents). On a good day I can I do 100 foot of stone. But that is just a good day (he points to the quarry of rocks he has completed) when I am feeling strong. But you see these rocks are softer....the other rocks (pointing to a new delivery of rocks) are harder. For those maybe only 50 foot in a day.

How long have you been a stone craftsmen?
15 years. I am 37 years old. Can you help me with something?

Do you want me to hammer a stone? I am a dentist..we do use elevators, chisels, and things like that. I might be good at this. Can I give it a try? (Jeremy nodded in approval. I cradled the stone with my shoes, picked up the hammer, and place the blade of the chisel at a 45 degree angle to the rock. I pounded. Nothing happened. Adjusted the chisel and pounded again. Nothing happened...more force Jeremy said. I kept at it for about 5 minutes banging my knuckles with the hammer as frequently as the chisel. I picked up a new chisel and tried again (maybe the blade was dull?). 5 minutes later the rock looked no different. Jeremy's boss arrived so I handed the chisel and hammer back to him.)

No doctor, I could really use your help with some pain medicine. It is paining here (he points to his shoulders).
Yes, of course. I could imagine your muscles may hurt.

This is what you are building (we looked behind to the new Cure intern housing sixplex)? that I have added.

Jeremy, that is many bricks you have made. And you are an excellent craftsmen.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. (Exodus 1)

Jeremy told me he is a Christian. I imagine he can relate to the struggle of the Israelites differently than I can. With brick and mortar he is building a sitaplex (not a Pyramid). But, Jeremy works voluntarily, earns a reasonable salary, and is proud of his craftsmanship as a stone mason (as he should be). But, could you imagine hammering rocks all day long for 15 years? If this was your life would the Israelites plight look a little different? Would it just be an old story with a few good moral lessons to learn? Or might the book of Exodus really be a living document...that you would identify and claim as your own with every swing of the hammer.


Anonymous said...

Malin, I am pleased that Cure did not buid entirely with cinder block and chose to use stone and hire Jeremy. Harsh labor is either bad for your health, or indentured, or unappreciated. Those descriptions do not fit Jeremy and suggest a market model which should succeed for Kenya. Workers like Jeremy get things built. Dad

Anonymous said...

I will read this post multiple times as it says so much. Jeremy is indeed a craftsman, dedicated, and with the right attitude. I look at that building and my hands and shoulders hurt but my heart says "Thank you, Jeremy, for your commitment to your craft and your attitude toward your labor that is indeed harsh." How many US citizens, out of work and complaining would line up to do this job with pride? I don't see anyone showing up.