…but in order to give my own unique view so far on Sabah that would provide something a bit light-hearted to think about, I have decided to write about a topic I experience everyday…builders.
It is interesting to make you aware that this is in fact my first experience of working on a building site. During my working year out from studying Architecture back in the UK I never left the office so my first encounter with working alongside builders has occurred here in Sepilok! Whether this is a good or bad introduction to the daily life of a construction site remains to be seen!
To paint the picture I’m going to compare the general rules and stereotypical habits of builders in the UK to the builders here, who in fact originate from the Philippines.
Now imagine this in Sabah; The builder’s protection on their feet (if any) is flip flops. I haven’t actually seen a helmet since I have been here. The only thing they wear on their heads are large sombreros. The scaffolding platform they are clambering up and balancing on top of is swaying with every swing of the hammer they take. The closest thing to a safety harness they have seems to be a cigarette in their mouth as no-one would dare be up there without one. It also seems to help them balance. So imagine a builder two storeys up; he is swinging away at the nails whilst puffing away on his fag and carefully balancing in his flip flops which are almost falling off his feet, all whilst on top of the jelly scaffolding!
On a typical British building site there are heavy rules about no children allowed on site. Here, there are not only children on site, but they are actually the builder’s daughters! One of the girls, who can’t be any older than 5, quite freely walks around the nails and bits of stray material, barefoot, beneath the scaffolding. If she gets a little bored she’ll pick up a hammer and start nailing something, all in the proud eye of her father!
From all these comparisons there are two characteristics British and Malaysian builders have in common.
The first involves females. It is in fact in the small print of builders’ rights that at any stage should a member of the opposite sex come into sight, then all work can pause. During the construction of the Biogas Digester on site, we had eight female volunteers from Camps International. Before the girls could pick up a brick I realised that the eyes of three sets of builders were directed at them; the guys working directly next to us, a group near the gate working on the new orang-utan nursery and another at the top of the hill. All tools were laid down, wheelbarrows dumped and engines switched off to admire the girls! Unlike the British way of approaching girls, there were no wolf-whistling or sexist comments but simply a calm stare!
Above all I would like to stress that working with the local builders is a pleasure. They always have a smile on their face, will always greet you and say goodbye and will share any English they know with you. Through all the tricky conditions they face, they get on with their work to a high level and all for a very minimal wage. They also gladly get involved with helping the sun bear volunteers when they can see we’re struggling and are happy to share their knowledge and tools.
* Billy Dunn is the assistant of our architect Ian Hall from UK