Well, there isn’t going to be much of Derrida here, but… there is some major deconstruction going on on my street this week. Last Friday night (Saturday morning?) I was awakened by the faint familiar sound of a brick hammer, Tink, Tink, Tink. It’s familiar because, as you may remember, I spent a day a few months ago breaking bricks into brick chunks for Habitat. Brick chunks are a hot building commodity here in Dhaka.
Within a few minutes, the Tink-Tink was replaced with the also familiar sound of Thunk, Thunk, Thunk. It’s a strangely ambiguous noise, particularly in the dead of night. Is it the sound of fresh bricks hitting a metal slide? Is it the sound of the rebar truck unloaders dropping metal on the street? What could it be?
For several days the sounds continued, haunting me. The workers seemed to produce the noises in 4 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. They’d Tink-Tink and Thunk-Thunk for about 3 hours, take an hour off, and then begin again. It was certainly not making for good sleep on my part, and I can only imagine what it is like for them, who live on site.
What was readily identifiable was the location, a concrete carcass of a building. Or perhaps—because it was a new, unfinished one, rather than an abandoned husk—the skeleton of a building, that had sat silent and empty, surrounded by flashy posters promising glorious condos available in the indefinite future. Occasional changes to the burlap sacking between the few semi-completed interior walls hinted that there were squatters of some sort, but no action on adding additional walls or other permanence.
The Americans who live on the street debated whether we’d soon have more new neighbors and new traffic. But, no, the sounds were sounds of deconstruction, and this is where we get to the meat of the story. In the US, the deconstruction of a 6-7 story building would largely be accomplished with the assistance of machinery, but here in Dhaka, it’s all human power. With machines, it’s somewhat rational to start at the top of the carcass, and work your way down, thus preventing sudden collapse and disaster. Here, however, you start at the bottom and work your way up, sleeping one floor above an empty, unstable hole.
Why? So that you don’t have to cart the detritus of the destruction down the stairs in a basket on your head. If you completely gut the first story, leaving only a web of rebar (usually short and unattached to anything stable), you can then shove the chunks of concrete from upper floors through the holes in the web, allowing it to drop to the ground, where the peons* can pick it up in baskets and cart it out to the street, ready to break into small chunks for another project somewhere.
Thus, the building across the street is now 6 stories high, but only one of those has any concrete holding the support columns together. Soon it will be a giant, but not so attractive or permanent, Stonehenge. I’d like to be there when they finish gutting the floor of the 6th and 7th (i.e. roof) levels. Will the columns begin to lean toward each other slowly? Will the net of woven, disconnected, rebar be enough to scramble down before the whole thing falls in a heap of metal and dust?
*Peon is a technical employment term here, and I am probably applying it a long way beneath it’s actual social status, as many “peon” jobs are listed in the online employment search engines. The Peon appears to be a kind of intern or gofer. They copy things, get coffee and arrange chairs in meeting rooms.