Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to all!
My older daughter, Janet, her husband Jonathan, and their three children, Abby, Ellie and Jamie will be here for a ten day visit over the holidays so I won’t be posting again until after the New Year. I am really looking forward to a lot of hugs and family time. We will spend some time in my village and some time seeing the sights, so I will probably have a lot to tell you all about after they leave.
Change in the weather
At the beginning of December there was a sudden change in the weather. It started getting cool, even cold, at night. It feels quite nice to step outside after sunset and feel a cool breeze, but if I have my windows open, I am actually cold at night. In any case, I am glad I brought a fleece jacket and a sweater. It warms up as soon as the sun comes up, but is not so beastly hot as in October, and I am not sweating off all my liquids during the day any more. I guess this beautiful weather lasts only about three months and then it goes back to hot, hotter and hottest for the rest of the year. I am trying to enjoy this while I have it.
The windows here do not have glass in them but are simply metal louvered shutters. When you close them they keep out the rain, and they do help keep the heat in the house at night now. They also darken the room and provide privacy, but the dust and dirt still come through. On a normal house, so do the insects. One of the requirements of Peace Corps housing is screens on the windows, so the insects do not get in through the windows at my house.
With the end of the rain and with the crops in, it is time to do the building. People mix straw and mud, fill rectangular forms with the mess, and set them in the sun to dry. In a couple of days you have mud bricks, like these:
To build a house or a wall, you get a bunch of these bricks, map out the size of the thing you want to build, and start laying them, like ordinary bricks. For a house you might have a concrete floor, but maybe not. The wall is simple set out on the ground. For mortar, all you use is more mud. Here is an example of a wall, in progress:
To keep the whole thing from washing away when it rains during the summer, you cover it with another layer of mud, this time mixed with concrete or some other, stronger material, kind of like spreading stucco on a house. This layer has to be refreshed every few years, or your wall or house will wash away.
They also make concrete blocks in much the same way. Get your sack of concrete, mix it on the ground with sand and water, dump the mixture in a form, wait a bit, and let it dry in the sun. If you are making concrete block, you have to water the blocks so they don’t dry too fast and crack.
Another thing you want to have here for most of the year is a good shady place. If you don’t happen to have shade from trees, or if your trees drop their leaves in the hot season, as most of them do, you build a hangar. This is just shelter made out of poles and woven grass mats. The mats are quite pretty and this is quite effective, but the material degrades over time and has to be replaced every couple of years, of course.
A typical house will be in a courtyard. There may be only one house, or several houses inside a wall. The houses usually consist of just a couple of rooms. In a typical, more modern one, there is a living room and one or two bedrooms with an indoor place to take a bucket bath, AKA shower. There may be several houses like this for family members, and some may consist of as little as a single room. Most of the living goes on in the courtyard, however, where cooking is done over a fire built under a pot sitting on three rocks.
When a visitor arrives (like me) the kids run into the house to get “a place” (chair) for you, and put it in the shade. To make a courtyard, you need a wall. This serves the purpose of delimiting you more or less private space and may keep animals in at night, or out during the day
Sheep vs Goats
Speaking of animals, can you tell which of these is a sheep and which is a goat?
There are some that look even more similar than the ones in these pictures. Do notice that there is not much wool on the sheep, and this is winter! No, I have not taken up raising animals. These guys belong to my neighbors. You can see their wall, covered with the protective coating, and how big this corner of their court yard is. This is about ¼ of their courtyard. They keep about 15 sheep and goats, a flock of chickens, a flock of guinea fowl, a couple of dogs and a cat. Good thing they have some space.