A fundi is the Swahili word for a skilled craftsman, be it a carpenter, mechanic, plumber, repair man, whatever. A few weeks ago my friend Daniel and I (Jamie) decided we would try our hand at the art of the fundi. Our friend James, a carpenter (or fundi if you will) and bus driver at Rosslyn, has a prison ministry that he operates (I previously posted about visiting a prison with James…click here for details). James recently approached us about a vision that he has to build a larger home so that he can move his family outside of the city. The extra space will also allow him to have an office for his prison ministry, a place to conduct bible studies, and have an extra bedroom for former inmates to begin the process of reintegration with society. We agreed to contribute to this project financially, but we also decided to give a day to assist James in the building process. So one Saturday morning we woke up early, checked out a school van, stopped by Java House to get a double cappuccino (mandatory requirement), and drove across town to meet James. Our first stop was at a local lumberyard where we loaded supplies. Then we stopped by James’ place to meet his wife and have a cup of chai. The apartment James, his wife, and their three children are currently living in is roughly 25’ X 15’ divided into two rooms (kitchen/bedroom and living room/bedroom). Seeing their situation confirmed to us that this was a worthwhile project to invest into. From there we drove a few kilometers outside of the city to a beautiful plot surrounded by coffee fields where the new house will be built. We unloaded the materials and began building, which involved hanging pieces of mabati (sheet metal) like vinyl siding. The framing of the house was already complete, so the task seemed simple enough. It didn’t take me long to realize that I am no fundi. The whole morning we felt as if we were being more of a burden than helpful. Now, this came as a bit of a surprise because both of our fathers are carpenters and we both grew up around it. My Dad is a very gifted carpenter and owns his own cabinet business and I like to think that some of his skills were passed on to me. Now, I admit that building has never been a natural gifting of mine. My Dad has this gift in abundance and my brother even has some natural ability, but I have never been as skilled. Still, I have always been able to at least complete a task when assigned. Well, growing up playing in sawdust in my Dad’s shop did very little to prepare for this task. Everything, from the quality of tools to the building methods, left my production lacking. Something as simple as hammering a nail took several attempts because missing the head even slightly would cause the weak nail to crumple and bend over itself several times, like trying to drive a flexi straw into a 2×4. I attempted to saw wood but my speed was hindered by the fact that the saw had the consistency of a piece of construction paper. When a piece of iron would not fit properly onto the framing, and my experience would tell me that the framing was off, they would come up and beat the mess out of the sheet until it fit properly….or bang on the framing until it lowered or raised to the appropriate height required (who knew that’s all it took??). All of this contributed to the realization that I was hindering the progress more than moving it along and it only gave the other workers the idea that we were hopeless. It didn’t matter that by noon we had a decent handle on the process and were making strides….the impressions had been made. It was just a different style of building than we were used to. It requires immense skill, but it is a different type of skill and knowledge. Now, someone like my Dad has enough experience that he could have easily adjusted and contributed greatly, but for a guy of average skill like myself…..that’s a different story. It was a bit of a humbling experience for me. I had to keep reminding myself that I had contributed to the project in other pivotal ways (financially, providing transportation, and doing the bulk of the heavy lifting when loading and unloading materials) even if during the actual building I was more of a liability. In the end it was a great experience and something I would gladly do again, even if the experience did leave me feeling like a child who is still in need of a grown up to hold his hand. Then again, perhaps realizing how childlike we are is a reminder we all need from time to time.