A Drop of Kindness, a Well of Gratitude

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” — Scott Adams

I’m becoming more convinced each day that the real benefit of travel, or expat living, or even tourism (although it’s a challenge to slow down enough as a tourist) — is the small everyday kindnesses shared among people who essentially are strangers.

In the following example, we have recently become friends (but only days ago — strangers) with our housekeeper. Kadeh is a young Balinese woman who cleans the four rooms where we rent. She is diligent and friendly and a genuinely lovely person. She also gets paid below the standard wage, from a Balinese owner, and her husband has to work in a town that’s too far away from their home. Fortunately her two kids are taken care of by her extended family and village and so Kadeh can see her children at the end of each day. She also, like many workers in Bali, works six days a week.

Photo: the author, his wife Shelly, and Kadeh, our new friend

One day Kadeh was talking with Shelly and somehow during the conversation Kadeh mentioned that she hasn’t gone shopping in ages. She neither has the extra time nor the money. And so I asked Shelly if she would take Kadeh shopping. After she chose one item (a blouse) for about 55,000 rupiah ($3.78 USD) Kadeh said she was done. Shelly said to pick another item. Then Shelly, with some convincing, helped Kadeh pick a third item (a total for the three items of $10 or $11 USD). At that point Kadeh became emotional and said it was too much. We were being too generous.

Those who make compassion an essential part of their lives find the joy of life. Kindness deepens the spirit and produces rewards that cannot be completely explained in words. It is an experience more powerful than words. To become acquainted with kindness one must be prepared to learn new things and feel new feelings. Kindness is more than a philosophy of the mind. It is a philosophy of the spirit. — Robert J. Furey

The next morning Kadeh thanked me and cried. We hugged and I mentioned that I was happy to help out.

Shelly and I have done some other, modest giving to the workers on our building project and the reaction is the same: a tremendous amount of gratitude for what, to most foreigners, is a very small amount of money.

The reality is that when you spend time in a developing country you realize that the majority of the world lives very modestly, and for the most part, happily. To participate in it, to get some joy from it, to change yourself a bit, reach out with a warm smile. See the other as an equal, in the sense that we are on the same planet, orbiting a blazingly hot sun in a terrifyingly cold universe. The stranger handing you your lovely beverage at the boutique cafe most likely cannot buy one for herself.

You don’t have to do much. Just be a small drop and let the ripple flow.

Week #22 — Staircases, finishing concrete, and more

The structure is changing rapidly now and it’s exciting to see the development on a daily basis. There were months when the progress was like this: holes dug in the ground, mud, then more holes, more mud; concrete and steel going into the holes, then more concrete and steel (don’t forget the mud); and finally a slab of concrete that covered up the holes and… lo and behold — a future parking area/basement.

Now we see brick walls and ceilings being covered with a form of cement plaster that will either go untouched or painted. We see stairs connecting one level to another. We see beams and plywood forms going into place for a flat concrete roof. And an electrical pole going in for our very own electricity.

Things are happening dude.

Applying “plaster” cement

There’s a lot to learn when you are forced to switch what you know about building from the West, to Asia. Here in Indonesia there tends to be teams of workers who all support each other with a set of skills that define the group. For example, builders get the structure physically into place, but they don’t finish walls in order for them to be ready for paint. Another example: laying a concrete floor. In this case the builders get the columns, beams, steel rebar and wire mesh into place. They build wooden forms that will hold the wet concrete in place. Then the floor pouring team arrives and within five hours the floor is poured and most of the evidence of maybe a dozen or more crew members having been on your site is gone.

Currently there are two teams at our site: builders and cement finishers. The cement finishers are doing a good job of trying to get a feel for what kind of end result I want.

To understand the material involved, we need to separate concrete from cement. You use cement to make concrete, by mixing sand, crushed rock and water. Cement is a binder, usually using lime, and the hydrologic cement we use requires water to harden, with the addition of sand.

The “plaster” part of the process is the application of cement to a wall or ceiling in order to make it smooth. When concrete is poured during construction it sometimes adheres to the wooden forms that held it in place, and so small chunks tear away. In addition cement has a different appearance than concrete, as concrete has pebbles and cement has sand. Using a wet sponge on a fresh cement layer as a final “coat” makes the wall or ceiling feel smooth to the touch. Missing chunks can be filled and wall edges can be smoothed out. Depending on the style you’re after it can be appealing to:

  1. leave the surface alone
  2. add wax to shine it up
  3. add a clear coating to make the it stain resistant
  4. or paint / wallpaper the dry, smooth surface

Photo above: plumbing and electrical wiring is installed alongside “finished” cement walls. In this case the walls will enclose a basement room for the electrical panel and backup generator.