The activity, which I could easily watch through my apartment's big factory windows, made for a fitting transition between worlds. Pouring is a common project on North Caicos, where every structure is made from block and reinforced concrete.
The process, however, is vastly different between the two countries.
On North Caicos, it begins with piles of crushed rock and sand and a pyramid of cement bags. Next to them squats a cement mixer about the size of a large washing machine. (Two mixers if the builder is a prosperous one. Mixers in the yard are a sort of status symbol in the islands, somewhat equivalent to owning a swimming pool in the suburbs.)
Here in the city, pouring day starts with a lineup of ready-mix trucks along the street, churning away while the boom of the pump truck is put into place. When it all begins, spectators are treated to a marvelous ballet of coordinated movement, with jeans and hard hats replacing the tutus.
North Caicos pouring is also entertaining, but it's more circus than ballet. About 8 to 12 Haitian men struggle to understand what's expected of them while the contractor shouts, points, pantomimes and often grabs his head in frustration and disbelief.
The flattening and removal of air pockets, processes known as screeding and floating, are also quite different. On North the men use rakes, brooms and poles for the job, reaching in from the sides or balancing on planks placed across the area. Here there are machines that do much of the work; I enjoyed watching several men zooming around on what looked like miniature Zambonis to do the finishing work.
One might think that all North Caicos needs to move from "Send in the Clowns" to "Swan Lake" is a few of these handy-dandy trucks and machines. Well, not quite. For a brief time, the island had a concrete company with the ready mix and pump trucks. Contractor Bobby Ball gave it a try at one house he was building.
Well, you can add machines to the island, but you're still in the islands. The pump truck got stuck in the sand and had to be leveled using rocks and boards. Then the pump itself broke down and there was a rush to fix it before the concrete inside hardened. Then one of the drivers of the two ready-mix trucks went to the wrong job site, prompting frantic phone calls while the Haitians stood around. Poor Bobby paced, swore heartily in his Liverpudlian accent and kept quoting the costs that were adding up. He has since gone back to the washing-machine mixers.
But hey, it works. Tom and I weren't around when the concrete work for our house was done, but I know Clifford used the same method in pouring a lot of concrete: slabs for each of three floors, pillars, weight-bearing walls and tie beams. Thirteen years and several hurricanes later, Aloe House has the strength to rival any number of these city structures.
There's more than one way to pour concrete. I wonder if these guys across the street could do it without their machines.