We had a long list of things to start on before we could get started with construction. Get the materials, finding the yak dung, finding the mysterious “white dirt”, design the structure, finish the foundation, find and clean recycled bottles, and find the frame materials. We had a pretty full day of making plans and cleaning bottles.
The hostel had been collecting bottles for us for a few weeks so we had plenty to go through. We bought bins and started washing the bottles to be used on the structure. The reason that we had to clean the bottles was because if there were any organic matter, like stickers, the materials would rot once inside the building. Also, since the bottle bases would be facing outside of the structure they should at least look clean.
It was a little disheartening at first thinking about how many bottles we would need to clean to reach our goal. Washing the bottles was very time consuming and we started wondering if we would have enough time to build this structure in just five weeks. We calculated that we needed a total of 500 bottles.
We found a lot of the bottles in the steam. Unfortunately, people do not understand the adverse effects of litter in streams so the streams are filled with dumped trash. I have even seen some young monks throw litter in the stream. Of course, here it is not seen as ‘wrong’ to litter like it is in the United States. According to Palzang, people do not have a concept for what trash is at all. He thinks this is because up until a few years ago there were only biodegradable materials being used. Even our translator, who understands the issue of trash and cares a lot about our project, does not fully understand about the concept of what makes something compostable. He saw me throw an apple core into some bushes and he gasped and pointed at me – indicating that I had littered.
Cleaning the streams was also a benefit since people would see us cleaning up the rivers and would give us ‘thumbs-ups’ or gasp in shock. It was initiating the conversation about trash and would get people to start thinking about river water quality.
Community members also helped us gather bottles. We collected bottles from restaurants, hostels, and the monastery. In fact, I wasn’t there but I heard that Maddy was dramatically and mysteriously taken away into a car up to the monastery where monks on a roof kicked off mounds of recyclable trash that they had been saving for some unknown reason. We brought them back and celebrated by how much trash we had accumulated in our hostel courtyard.
Cleaning bottles was a spectacle for many. People would spend hours staring at us through the window and coming out to get a closer look. Monks were the most curious and seemed to have the most patience for watching us with curious faces and often laughing in our direction. After about a week of work – we finally got the number we were looking for and rented a truck to carry them up to the construction site. We were one step closer to building our structure.