Sailors, Djiboutians Build Understanding with Walls
Sailors operating from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) participated in an exchange of masonry knowledge with local skilled laborers January 7 as part of an ongoing U.S.-Djiboutian joint construction project.
A team of two Navy construction workers, commonly called Seabees, from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 74 and an engineer from CJTF-HOA spent their day laying bricks with 20 Djiboutians on a 45-foot section of wall at the site of a future medical clinic in Chebelley.
"I like to come out to projects on a regular basis so we can see if there is a way we can work with (the Djiboutians) to build the best building possible," said U.S. Navy Lt. John Mietus, an electrical engineer who examines joint projects like thi for the task force.
Mietus visits sites throughout Djibouti to look for anything that could lead to an unsafe structure.
"Last time I was here, there were a lot of walls built, but they weren't level,” Mietus said. “We had them torn down and we came back today with some Seabees to see how they were doing things.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Woodman Fleurizard said he saw the opportunity not to come out and build walls, but to tear down cultural barriers.
"Working with (Djiboutians) is amazing," said the Port-au-Prince, Haiti, native whose ability to speak French made it easier for him to interact with the Djiboutian workers. "They would show me how they would do something, then I would show them my way and tell them to decide how they want to do it."
Fellow Seabee Builder Constructionman Brian Casey enjoyed his first project working directly with locals, despite the inability to speak their tongue.
"I don't know their language, but we both seemed to point and use basic communication to work together," Casey said, adding that his time at the project gained him an appreciation for his coworkers' skills. "I would work by myself for a while and come back to find maybe one thing wrong – the rest was perfect."
Participating in joint construction projects, like the Chebelley clinic, builds much more than physical structures, according to Mietus.
"Just myself, I've learned a lot of cultural aspects in my time here,” Mietus said. “Even though I made his workers tear down the walls here, the contractor invited me to his son's wedding because he understands I'm looking at it from an engineering standpoint--not a personal one.”
The project's foreman Egueh Kahin said he sees the Americans in a similar light.
"I believe they are here to work with us, which allows us both to expand our knowledge and appreciate each other," said Kahin through an interpreter. "We are family. If the U.S. takes care of us, we will take care of them."
When completed, the clinic will include doctor's quarters, a nursery and provide prenatal care. Kahin said he expects the amenities will attract more people to move to Chebelley, a town of roughly 1,000 people located seven miles from the capital city of Djibouti.