Service In Shaxi
I first want to start by apologizing for the long span between the last update and this one. My connection to WiFi has been very rare (with my last connection being on Sunday when I last updated) as I don’t have access at the home base and there is a strict no electronic policy during service work. The only time that I had been able to gain access was when we visited a cafe and that has only occurred once.
After arriving in Shaxi, the majority of our time during the day has been dedicated to both service work and secondary community projects. The rest of the time that we have during the day (which is sparse considering the work we are doing) is mostly dedicated to group activities run by the director and mentors of the program.
One of the first projects that we participated in was the restoration of Shaxi’s local temple and surrounding historical sites. Because of the lack of wealth and able bodied workers with free time in the surrounding valley, construction work at sites such as this often progresses very slowly or never gets done all together. Therefore, it had been our job during the last two times we had visited to build the mud bricks that they would use for the construction of the new cultural center at the temple site.
Normally after about a 30 minutes walk from our home base near the center of Shaxi, we would arrive at the temple site where we would be put into three groups. One group would mix the mud and straw together to make the mud mixture, one group would transport that mud, and the last group would pack the mud into molds and make the bricks. These would be the groups we would be in for the next 3-4 hours. It was a lot of physical labor in the process, but it is all worth it when you remember why you are doing it. Our groups plan is to visit the site to do more work again for a third time next Monday.
Besides the brick making, another large project that we had partaken in was done in combination with the local preschool. We visited there on Tuesday morning, and upon arrival we were met with what you would expect, a large group of noisy, energetic children. However something was very different with these children compared to their American counterparts. These children were raised to be very well disciplined, showing this in their almost unexplainable ability to organize themselves and follow instructions. This was shown during their “morning routines” where they spent about 25-30 minutes dancing to memorized routines to different songs, which ranged from counting songs with sign language to what I presumed was one about following house rules. However, they were still normal children, and this was made clearly obvious when we gained control of different groups of them. At that point, they were again noisy, boisterous children who loved to run around play games with both us and each other. The only difficult thing about the entire experience was that they spoke neither English nor Chinese. Instead they spoke their local Bai dialect, so almost all communication was through body language or expression.
The last larger type of service work which we have participated in so far has been enzyme and compost making at one of the local farms. Because the residents of shaxi rely so heavily on agriculture for their income, the use of pesticides and fertilizers has always been an issue in the area. For this reason, some farms have developed new techniques of using enzymes made from their unused, decomposing crops to supplement the use of fertilizers and pesticides. By mixing crops such as rotten plums with water and unprocessed sugar (basically molasses) and then storing it for long periods of time, they are able to create compounds which they can then use on their crops. After the almost two hour walk from home base, this was the type of work which we conducted while there. It was quite the interesting (and enjoyable) experience to work with these local farmers in this way because I was not only able to better understand how these people lived on a daily basis, but also because I knew that I was directly helping to build a better, more eco friendly environment. The plan is to visit the farm again on Wednesday ay. (On a side note, not only did some of the cured enzymes smell nice, either having the sent of candied plums or apple vinegar, but I also now found out that these enzymes have other uses such as laundry detergent.)
Outside of this regular service work, we also participated in other projects throughout the week. Ranging from cultural experiences to extra labor, they were all rather interesting.
On one particular day (the same day we went to the organic farm if I recall correctly) we went numb berry picking. For reference, numb berries are small green or red berries (about the size of your pinky fingernail) that have a small seed in the center. Originally, we were told that if we wanted to try the fresh berries when they are slightly more potent, that we should slightly lick the berry to give it a taste. I did not understand how potent these small berries were. I don’t know if I was being adventurous or just plain stupid, but after just biting into the berry my lips and the entire tip of my young went numb (hence the name numb berry). 45 minutes and 16 berries later my entire mouth and throat was numb, and I can say now that it was quite the experience.
Outside of these things, we had a few other odd end experiences. We visited a few temples, saw some old houses in the adjacent towns, and we even got some lessons from the locals. All in all it has been a great experience so far and I cannot express enough how thankful I am for your support in getting me to where I am now. The goal of this blog has been to try to bring you along with me on the journey, and I hope that I have been able to do that so far. Thank you for your continued support as my journey through China continues, and I hope to tell all of you about it when I return.