Friday, March 4, 2011

Making my house a home.

My House
In the middle of August there was the Peace Corps placement ceremony where I received an envelope to find out where I would be for the next two years. I was somewhat surprised to read that I would have a small two bedroom house with a living room/ kitchen and indoor “shower” in a small town with electricity and running water. When I arrived, I found that was NOT the case at all. In fact I am in a small village next to that small town. There is no electricity or running water in this village but the house is bigger than advertised. It clearly used to have running water because there is a small kitchen with a sink and the stub of a water pipe. The hole in the sink, however, would drain onto the floor if I did not have a big bowl under it. In the indoor bathroom there is a nice shower stall, again with the remains of a water pipe, but no water. From marks on the floor you can see that there used to be a sink and a toilet. In fact the water tank for the toilet is still hanging up on the wall, overheard, as in old fashioned toilets you may have seen in old houses. In addition there are three bedrooms, not two. There is way more space than I need, but I am not complaining. It is good for having company.

One thing the community must do when asking for a volunteer is to agree to provide free housing. Volunteers really don’t have much choice about where they are going to live. There are, however, several Peace Corps regulations about houses provided to the volunteers. They must not have bats, and they must have a private latrine and shower, a hangar or other shady place, and be in a courtyard, surrounded by a wall. Here people live mostly outdoors, so the courtyard is their living room, dining room and kitchen and you need a wall so you are not living “on the street”. As you have read, I had bats. There was a private latrine and shower for my house, but no walled courtyard and no hangar. Gradually all of those things have been corrected so there are no bats and I have a wall and a hangar for shade.

When I first looked at the inside the house I thought it was filthy. After careful examination I discovered that it was not dirty, but that people had scrubbed the walls clean and in the process they had removed the paint. As a result the concrete walls showed through on all the corners where there had been dirty little finger prints. It still looked like there were the marks of dirty hands, but really it was the result of scrubbing dirt off. Furthermore, there were water marks on most of the walls from rain leaking through the roof and down the walls, picking up bat poop on the way. In a word, it was revolting. Here is a picture of what the water damage looked like. It was like this if all of the rooms in the house.

This house has a tin roof with enough room between it and the walls for a kind of ceiling made out of thin pieces of plywood. Every day I would sweep around the edges of the walls and remove bat droppings and dust that had sifted down from the attic in the night. This continued even after the bats were eliminated. When the Pershings came at Christmas they brought a calking gun and a number s tubes of calk. Jonathan sealed the edges of the ceiling in the living room, kitchen and bathroom, and, later on, I did the bedrooms. It is amazing what a difference that has made. The only thing to sweep up now is the dust that blows in through the windows. In addition to calking, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the Pershing family painted the living room and kitchen. What a difference! Here is the "after" picture of the same wall:

This picture also caught the corner of my mosquito net incase you are wondering what that thing is in the right of the picture. I no longer feel like I am living in slum housing. I have continued the painting project and now all the rooms are finished. I have hung a few decorations on the walls of the living area, and it now feels like a home.

The paint here is interesting. It comes in 30 liter cans, costing about $22 a can. That is a lot more paint than you could get for $22 in the states! It is very thick and cleans up with plain water. It is easy to wipe up drops of paint that get past the drop cloth, even after they are dry. I used a bowl to put paint in and, when the paint dried on it. I thought it would be a total loss. I left it in a bucket of water over night and the paint slid right off. On the other hand, I will not be able to wash the walls or I will wash off the paint, like when the folks cleaned up my house before I arrived. I am trying very hard not to touch the walls!

I mentioned that I now have a hangar, which, for my house, is a kind of roof over the “front porch” of the house. It is a frame of tree branches covered with checo (pronounced seko), big mats woven of grass. The checo is used for roofing material in traditional houses, covering for the stalls where people sell things at the market, storage bins for grain, and, of course hangars. After the grain is harvested there are tall grasses (6 feet or so tall) that people go out a collect, then weave into these mats. Here is an example of checo used almost like a wall.

The fact that one layer of checo would not keep the rain off is not an issue since there is never rain this time of year. What you want is shade! If you were using it for the roof of a house you would use several layers and it would only leak a little bit. Almost all the houses in my region have tin roofs but the rooms we stayed in when we went to the animal park at Arly had roofs made of 6 or 8 layers of checo.

My hangar

The hangar was built with branches cut right off the tree, not given any time to dry out. Not surprisingly, the weight of the checo has bent the branches a bit and I had trouble opening my front door. Fortunately my Burkinabè son, Prosper, and one of his friends figured out how to correct the problem. First they stuck other branches up on top of those used originally to raise the roof a bit, but after a week of two, the door was hitting the branches again. The current solution has been to add a new prop to hold the whole thing up. It is a forked branch sitting in a can that used to hold dry milk. We shall see how long that works. It is really great to have someone who takes care of me as if I were his mother!

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