It’s early in the morning, 6.45am, I’m on the way to our construction side of Elevate Campus. It used to take me double of the time to ride there, but nowadays I need only a few minutes to fly over the dusty, bumpy, holey “street”. I know it too well and could possibly drive there in my sleep. Behind me, a red fireball is rising. It’s already hot, probably over 30°C, or even over 40°C and the blue sky promises no pity. Likely to see a tornado today. Just like yesterday. And the day before. And last week.
At one corner of our selfmade lake, around 70 workers are slowly gathering. As soon as most of them are here, I call out their names and mark on my list who is missing. Even after dozens of times, I don’t know the exact pronunciation. “Haun, Haoun, Ha-o-un, Ha-u-on ??” – Lots of laughter. Somehow, we always get it sorted out – even though the only words they know in English is “no” and “okay”. I am thankful that my Khmer is way better than their English. Right after the registration they start working at the shoreline and I hurry to the other side of our land.
We need to secure the walls of the lake for what we use Rip-Rap – a system of columns, beams, stones and cement. Furthermore, there’s gonna be a cement way all the way around and a “hill” on which we want to build hang out places.
The truck and excavator drivers always greet me with a wide but sleepy smile. First, we check if the level of their tanks is the same as the evening before. This we do for security reason, to make sure, nobody steals diesel. Trust is good, but control is sometimes better. Usually, Channa (an employee of ICF) is doing that. Afterwards, I tell her about the working plan for the day and she translates it into Khmer. However, she’s not always here. Furthermore, sometimes our plans change during the day. In those cases, I try to tell them by myself, with Bora or if really necessary ask their boss – who’s usually playing golf or so.
Every now and then I see Chamroeun, the site foreman for our house. He’s got an incredible trust in my Khmer skills and always starts talking without hesitation, explaining me, what is on the daily schedule or what he needs from me. Actually, he owns the great talent to be understandable enough, so that we don’t need a translator.
During the day itself, we – I and/or Camil – walk around and check the work/ers, organize whatever is needed, have meetings with Koni, Bora and Co. and so on. We’re not there 100% because we also have other work to do. But we try to be there as often as possible – control is definitely important – especially, because none has ever built something like that before and of course we place a high value on exact work. It can be so nerve-racking. What you’ve told them yesterday, you have to repeat today. And most likely in two days again… Furthermore, we have to stress on things like making smaller teams, correct work procedure, … .
A bit before 1pm, we have another registration of the workers at the shoreline. At 5pm we open the container with the diesel and within about 3/4-1.5h the drivers refill their tanks. We do this simple: we lift the barrel with the excavator and then we fill with a hose. Additionally, I check and sign their working hours as well as take the measures of the diesel level in their tanks.
On Elevate, we work Monday-Saturday, 7-11am, 1-5pm/resp. ~6pm for the drivers.
Key people on Elevate
BORA. Khmer. 29 years old. Has a wife. The only one (external) who speaks English. Is unique. Whatever we need – toilet house, renovations, installations, new windows, etc. – he can find the right people and do it for great price/quality conditions. He’s the boss of the ~70 people working on the shoreline of our lake. Bora is responsible for the material as well as that they make everything according to our wishes. I have lots of meetings with him concerning receipts, quality and other claims. He’s not always on Elevate, that’s why we have two Khmer leaders there, Turk and his younger brother Ark. They lead the workers on-site and are often my contacts.
KONI. Our superbrain. Challenging boss. He’s mostly responsible for seeing the BIIIIG picture, having crazy ideas and dreaming wild. But also for seeing where we can optimize, change, improve. And he’s the one having that indescribable trust in me since he wanted me to do this job. Together we brainstorm and discuss. And he works a lot in the background, gathering quotes, calculating, finding solutions, ……………..
CAMIL. Can fix almost ANYTHING. Has a lot of technical knowledge. The best right hand I can imagine. He’s been in Cambodia for a few weeks now. He organizes things like stone slide, generator, water pump, pipes, etc.
We share a lot of work and responsibility: Registration before 7am and 1pm, checking the work at the shoreline, some meetings with Koni, and whatever comes.
CHANNA. Employee of ICF. Superwoman. Only 20 years young. Translator most mornings. Handles the drivers very well. Responsible to order thousands of liters of diesel.
Oh and there is me. VIVI. Or: ELEVATE MOMMY. Leader of the construction side – right after Koni. The workers are not just my workers but a part of my Elevate family, kinda feels like that at least. The vehicles and machines are just like “children” – with a lot of fantasy. 😉 I’m responsible for Human Resources: Every second week, I take the attendance of every single worker from the registration list and put it in a detailed salary roll. Moreover, I go to the bank and change hundreds of Dollars into smaller bills so that I can pay every single salary in cash. All in all, takes a few hours for more than 60 workers. Explanations and instructions, seeing and solving mistakes and problems, uncountable meetings, discussions, decisions and whatever else is going on there (it’s a loooong list), belong also to my job. I’m in our desert for many hours a day, changing my working place from there to the city and back again.
None of us really has. Koni used to be electrician in Switzerland and he has a lot of life experience of course. But I guess that’s it. I used to work in the office of an industrial lighting company – the only thing connecting me with a construction side in my earlier life were maybe the deliveries going to the new office building in XY. Or having some engineers at the phone, yelling at me that they want warranty for something they broke. Or seeing the CAT-excavator in the James Bond movie “Skyfall”.
All it needs is passion – and that one we have. Heaps of it. I LOVE the construction side. I LOVE the big machines and vehicles, the dirt and dust. I’m still fascinated by the immense power of an excavator which can move the heavy, wet earth as if it was a piece of cake. I LOVE my Elevate family and I have a lot of respect for every single one of them. Working daily in that crazy heat – it’s not easy.
Or like Koni loves to say: “All you need is human sense and that’s what you have. You can do this job.” Full stop.