The Mudbrick Shuffle

I remember my mother always reminding me “Don’t play in the mud.”

At New Life, mud takes on a whole new meaning and begins with “Please, Play in the Mud!”

The mudbricks team begins its day doing exactly that, playing in the mud, which continues for the whole shift. We roll our pants up our legs, remove our shoes and step into the clay dirt and water and begin the “Mudbrick Shuffle”. Like the stomping of grapes to produce fine wine, we stomp the mud with our feet in preparation for building homes.

As the mud begins to soften under our feet and is the consistency to make mud patties, we add rice husks, the chaff from rice as it is separated to reveal its core. We continue to stomp until all the husks are incorporated and a smooth mixture is attained. As the team of “stompers” continue to stomp, another team prepare the mudbrick molds by wiping the insides with water. Then the shoveling begins. Into the tubs go the shovels and a pile of mud is lifted from its depths, the sweaty backs of men and muscle glisten in the hot sun as the contents are poured into the frame. Others on the team bend down and push the mud into the corners of the mold, making sure no air remains, our hands and feet now covered in this black earth that when dried cakes onto our skin in a pale golden color.

When the molds are full, we flatten the tops and remove any remaining access with a trowel, leveling all the molds evenly, throwing the remainder back into the tubs. Two team members then slowly lift the mold together and five new mudbricks are born, glistening in the sun.

Is it hard work, yes, it is. Is it rewarding work, yes, it is. Is it fun work, yes, it is. We all work hard, we laugh hard and play together a team. Some of us cover our skin with the mud to prevent sunburn, others laugh as mud is splashed onto their face. We work as the sun bakes our bodies, our muscles tone against the push and pull needed to exert our bodies to create the bricks. It is rewarding work, at the end of our shift, we look back at a long line of completed bricks and are satisfied with a gratifying hard days’ work.

We sporadically move the mudbricks to either supply the team building the home or store them so that they will be dry during the rainy season. It is wonderful to see the labor of our hands and backs being stacked one upon another with more mud between them as they begin to form a new home for one of our long-term volunteers. Slowly, slowly, the stack of bricks begins to shape a wall, then a door and a window take shape, until after a few weeks of planning and stacking all the walls are completed and the roof is ready to be attached. From dirt and water to a beautiful home is amazing to see, watch and be a part of Birth!

by Zev Beck

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