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The Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo by Chelsea Ferrel.

The First Time I used my City Hands

Building houses using mud is an ancient tradition that belongs to many different cultures around the world. The mud is ideal for the many variations of weather during the year, especially in a country like Bhutan. In summer where the Himalayan sun strikes the valleys, the walls of these houses remain cool and bring down the temperature inside. The opposite happens in the winter months; the snow grows feet deep and the mud keeps the warmth inside, shielding families for these brutal months. The science behind these houses is unclear to me. What I do know is that as soon as the temperature back home in Sao Paulo, Brazil drops to its minimum of 13 degrees Celsius the heater in my concrete house is turned on until we swap it for the AC as soon as the unbearable tropical heat rushes back.

I woke up excited to spend the day covered in mud. We were going back to the nunnery where we had spent the previous day, but this time we weren’t going to learn about traditional Tibetan medicine or a about Chenrigzin, the god of compassion, we went to learn first-hand about mud ramming! We were greeted by the Bhutanese workers, with a mud rammer on my left hand and my right hand gripping the wooden stairs I reached my assigned box on top of the wall. Fresh dirt was placed at my feet, which I later smoothed and began stomping the rammer to compact the dirt into the wall. After an hour and a half of constantly stomping, the rhythm of the rammer took over my mind, “one, two, one, two, one….”. I spent the whole morning sweating, and once I left my section of the wall to eat lunch, and when I turned back to see my work there wasn’t any visible difference. My hands burned all through lunch and I was finally able to understand the patience, dedication, time, and precision that goes into building a single centimeter of these walls.