by Audrey Hertzberg
Participant, Mitzvah Corps of the South
Hearing the phrase “today it’ll be 95 – not too bad!” isn’t something spoken often back at home in New Jersey. That’s exactly what I heard on our first day of Habitat for Humanity. It was Wednesday, and after a six hour bus ride from Louisiana, we finally arrived at our worksite in Birmingham. The house belonged to a man named Hussein and his family. Hussein and his wife moved to the United States after leaving Jordan about twenty years ago, and they started a family here which now includes their children, ages 3, 4, and 7. My first day was filled with screwing on the doors and their hinges in the home, and I finished up the day constructing cabinets for the kitchen. I left the house pretty tired, but part of that was from the long ride to ‘Bama.
The next day, I got to the house energized and pumped to work. After finishing building cabinets, I moved on to focus on the outer structure of the house. Admittedly, part of my desire to get outside was driven by the enticing possibility of a nice tan, but I was also hankering for work on the construction. I ended up bumping (literally) into Hussein. “Oh hello!” he grinned at me. After our introductions, I noticed that he was taping the bottom of the siding to avoid paint on the home, and I offered to help him. I stood there, wildly impressed, while he taught me the meticulous task of covering the siding without wasting tape. He described how to cover the vents, and the importance of the angle of the tape when doing so. There was no hidden artifice in his talents; the man was well informed and assured in his skills.
I knew that Habitat home owners needed to put in a certain number hours of work on their own homes and others, in order to teach them to be good handymen and women. Until I met Hussein however, I wasn’t aware of how extensive his expertise was required to be. It was inspiring to see this man, this father and husband, working with great care on a home that he was proud to move in to.
On the 8th, when I return home, I’ll certainly look at my house with new vision. I’ll see every hinge screwed in and know that someone somewhere had to mount that door. In the morning when I take out a bowl for cereal, I’ll be reminded that it took manpower to assemble and mount each cabinet. My father is a builder and developer, and I love to see the houses he produces in their many stages. When I think of how happy I am to see his finished masterpieces, I’ll reminisce about my small part in the house that will serve Hussein and his family. And I’ll know that the happiness I feel is tripled for Hussein himself, a man who built his own home and will live his whole life in it.