Mud Bricks

Cracked, dry hands that don’t resemble the two you once had. Sore back. Coming home each day looking like you’ve had a serious mud fight–and lost. These are the realities of being a brick layer, or “brickie” as the Kiwis call it. A mud brick-layer to be more exact. And that’s just what I found myself being for five weeks in and around November. I enjoyed the look on people’s faces (particularly curmudgeonly old Kiwi blokes) upon hearing the news that yes indeed, a GIRL could be a brick layer.

Solid Earth is an earth building company based in Nelson, NZ. I met the owner at a strawbale wall-raising workshop earlier in the year, so I was happy to hear from her again. And this time she brought news of paid work building a mud brick house in Motueka. Readers may recall that this was where I spent two and a half months wwoofing at Atamai Eco Village early in the year, and one of my host families was kind and generous enough to offer me free room and board in exchange for a few hours of farm work on the weekends and some evenings.

It was certainly a very full-on five weeks. My days started with a six mile bike ride to the building site, followed by eight or nine hours of lugging wheelbarrows full of mortar and 50-pound mud bricks back and forth, biking home, scarfing down dinner, then helping my host dad move sheep and cattle to new pasture. After my first day, I fell asleep at 8pm.

After a few weeks of this, I was promoted from simply moving the bricks to actually getting to lay them, which was much more fun. A few days in and I was even laying bricks in my sleep. It was all I could see when I closed my eyes. The house was like one big puzzle with bricks needing to be cut and drilled and mortared into place. Before my eyes, a house was emerging. This became especially evident once we got up onto scaffolding and I could no longer see over the walls from room to room.

The first few courses were slow going.

The first few courses were slow going.

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But things started to progress quickly once we got into it.

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And I found myself enjoying a new vantage point.

Brick laying is definitely hard work, but my days were mostly pleasant. Except having to suffer through Radio Hauraki’s constant playing of Marilyn Manson’s sorry excuse for a song called Third Day of a Seven Day Binge. I would pay money to never have to hear this song again. But it’s okay–Friday knockoff ginger beers made up for this assault on my ear drums. As did my weekly excursions to Motueka’s Arcadia Cafe, serving up amazingly delicious and generous portions of Hare Krishna food for $5 a plate. I don’t know about the whole weird shaved ponytail thing, but those folks can cook.

I was both relieved and sad to end my work before the house was finished, but my working holiday visa expired and I didn’t have much choice in the matter. All I can hope is to see a photo of the finished product. Here’s what it looked like when I left. Not a bad view from the office.

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