Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush Tech, not High Tech

Somehow, when you live in the bush like we do, it tends to feel like you got stuck in a time warp (at times I figure we must be somewhere near the ‘Iron Age’). At least as far as technology goes. During our whole rock-breaking adventure, I’m sure I read somewhere about use of pulsed lasers to break rock. Now THAT would be easier!

Take THAT you tough old rock! Actually, we’re just about finished rock smashing. One more fire ought to do it. I believe that will bring the total of fires required up to 5 or 6. All that banging takes a toll on the tools though.

Before we can start pouring concrete for the house foundation, all the iron rods for the pillars have to be prepared. The iron rods are sort of like one’s skeletal system. They make sure things that get raised…stay standing! The first step is to find the right size iron rods in Chimoio (45 minute drive) and purchase them. Then the truck goes to town to pick them up. Next, the bricklayers measure and cut them into the prescribed sizes (just like our engineer-friend told us to). Then, find a comfy spot ‘cause all that bending…

And tying the pieces together is going to take a LONG time!

Below, a widow with her orphaned grandchild stands by mud bricks she has had to make herself. She carries the water 20 litres at a time from a well that is far away (besides the water she needs for cooking/washing each day). She has dug a hole in her yard and this is where she mixes the water with the soil to make mud bricks. Then she pats the mud into a mould, two bricks at a time! That’s quite the assembly line. And with 2 small kids to care for, she certainly doesn’t have the luxury of ‘sick days’. Her old home made out of sticks burned down in a recent brush fire. The mission is pitching in to help her rebuild her home and raise her 2 grandkids.

Here’s another widow who cares for her orphaned grandkids and who has been helped by the mission for about 4 years now. Recently she requested to have a latrine built. We hired a young man from another needy family, and Voila! She’s very happy with the end result. She even got busy and found an old cement latrine cover which we purchased for her. We had to pay a local guy to haul it to her home by ox cart. It was too heavy and it was too far for even several men to try to carry. I’m sure she is now the envy of the neighbourhood!

Is it any wonder why, when we come back home, we walk around building supply stores with eyes wide with wonder and mouths agape? After much drooling and dreaming of just how much we could get done with such wonderful tools though, comes the thought, “How could we get this to fit inside a suitcase? Maybe we could dismantle it…, or not.” Or, “God, how about a very long bridge that spans the gap (ie half the world)? Then we could send our truck!” *Sigh* I guess we’ll just have to stick with Bush Technology!

Our life-saving truck...can you see the mission name above the windshield? Mushu always chases it and but when it’s standing still he’s not sure WHAT to do with it! He looks like he expects it to jump out and bite him here.

Oh yes, and these kids. They come by the house everyday while their mom is at work, to ask for cookies. They call me “grandma”. It’s rather cute.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Home Alone

(We're still burning the rock. Here's a night shot and if you look closely you can see the spark trails.)

This week I’ve been a ‘grass widow’. That’s what my mom-in-law would call it when Dwight’s dad had to travel to churches for weeks at a time while she stayed home. This week Dwight is traveling north to Tete as well as other places I won't bother to list. I could have gone of course. But somehow the idea of not knowing where I’d lay my head at night then spending all day in seminars with only men...didn’t exactly appeal to me. I told Dwight I’d go with him. Just not THIS time J. You could say I’m home alone in our house if you don’t count 2 dogs, a cat, and a few mice that the first 3 are after! Work-wise, the mission staff, Nat, Salena and I have been holding the fort down. Things started out with a bang on our first day as the generator began to make a ‘funny sound’ about the time Dwight was heading out. Great. Our lives revolve around the generator so this was not a good start! Then we hit a few bumps with the river pump pipes bursting. Thankfully we’ve got good help and they’re great at patching things up. We also had a fire cross our boundary onto the farm so had to summon all staff to go put out the fire for the better part of an afternoon. After those initial bigger crises, I basically rotated from one work site to the next checking on progress and trying to solve problems. I really don’t like trying to solve problems that I don’t have a clue about, like cow shots and finding engine bearing numbers. But I’m learning. Hopefully I’ll never need this information again!

This week we also were supposed to get the health post spiffed up for the Health Dept’s Vice-Minister’s visit . The whole community got to work cleaning up around the school and central water well too. We were busy as bees. We painted our health post’s bed white (upon request), repainted the walls (white as well since that was what we had), put in shelves and painted them, hung new curtains and even got some crisp new linen from the district hospital!

Wow. The place looked real snazzy by the time we were done. Then on the appointed day, we sat and waited for our VIP visit. While we waited, we treated the sick. And treated the sick some more. At one point 3 little boys came in and sat on our freshly painted white cement bench. They were very dirty and I cringed as they sat down and squirmed around as little boys do. But a health post is for treating the sick, not for staying spotlessly white. Especially here where we live in the dirt! Our important visitor never did come that day, or on the following 2 days. I guess he got busy elsewhere. Who knows, maybe he’ll come yet. In the meantime, we’re enjoying the new look!

I had to get a shot of these brothers. Their mom has just moved into the area and arrived basically with the clothes on her back. She has a piece of land, but is starting her life anew from scratch. We’ve been giving her odd jobs here (below: in the garden) and there so she can earn some cash. She works half days and while she works, they stroll around and play in the shade. I give them cookies or cupcakes when I have them and their faces always light up at the sight of treats, of course! Now even the little one greets me with a smile.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Breaking Rock

This week we’ve run into some ‘interesting’ snags while working on our house foundation. First, we discovered that due to the degree of slope we’re building on, if the back corner of the house is level with the ground, the front end veranda would be about 2 meters off the ground! Yikes! There will be several levels in the house anyway, but rather than add even more, we decided to sink the whole house plus 5 meters of the back yard. This means we now have to build a retention wall. We’ve never built one of those before, so here goes another learning curve.

There are a lot of rocks in this area, and as luck would have it, there are some large ones right where we need to dig our foundation. At first the guys tackled it with sledge hammers and picks (we don’t have a rock-crusher or jackhammer out here). But the rock was steadfast and they only managed to pulverise surface. The rock stood its ground! One of the workers suggested we light a fire on it to heat it up, then, pour water over it. So we did. We built a nice bonfire, let it burn several hours, then sprayed it out with a garden hose. The guys went to work pounding again, but to no avail. They wailed and smashed with all their might, but the hammers just bounced off. That rock was invincible! Then a structural engineer told us we had done the right thing, but we have to light a VERY HOT FIRE on it (a whole lot hotter-than-hot-has-got type fire). Then dump LOTS of cold water on it. “It’ll crack every time…” So at 8:00 the next morning, we made the hottest fire we could with special flammable materials only we in the African bush have (very hard wood), and let it burn all day. Next, we were to DOUSE it with water, lots. Forget the garden hose sprinkle. So we got five 25 litre buckets and filled them with water. At 4 p.m. the logs were pulled off and the guys dumped water on the rock as quickly as they could. Well, the first 5 buckets were quick. After that it we were back down to sprinkley hose speed.

After a lot of sizzling, hissing and thick clouds of smoke and steam, it was time to check things out…first with a hammer of course, then a shovel. Sure enough, the rock had cracked under pressure! Just the top few inches could be chiselled away, but hey, it was a victory nonetheless! So, what do we do with the remaining rock? We’ll build another VERY HOT FIRE, douse, and pound some more. This could take awhile.

BTW, I found some old pictures yesterday that should have gone in the blog post (July) about our Toyota bakkie.
Fixing it again. This was on our move to Mozambique, about the time our engine troubles started.

Hauling precious cargo on one of our many moves in Maputo, Mozambique. Cute kids!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Season of Fire

I call the months of June-September here the “Season of Fire”. Africa is a continent well known for its vast shrubby grasslands. In the summer months, the field grass grows thick and often as high as 2.5 metres. (I’ve been lost in it once...believe me, it can get real thick and real tall!) During the dry winter though, lush green turns to crisp brown. This essentially transforms the once wonderful grazing areas into fields of tinder just waiting for a careless flame or ember to start a frenzied, rushing fire. And that’s exactly what happens every year. Fires sweep uncontrollably across fields and often set alight the thatched roofs of village huts.

These fires will travel many kilometres, and for days at a time before they peter out or meet a barrier that stops them. These are not accidental fires, they are intentionally lit. “But why?” we ask. We’re told it’s to “clear fields for farming, and to make hunting wildlife easier.” Drastic measures if you ask me!

Last week we had several fires to put out on the boundaries of the mission farm. Six huts were burned to the ground in one day alone. The man who apparently started it accidentally has been charged around $1000 in damages (by villagers). But he’s poor, like everyone here is, and he won’t be able to pay. Sadly, what is lost is simply gone. Ernesto, Salena and I visited a home that burned recently. It belonged to a family that the mission has helped through the health post’s (infant) milk program. This lady who is raising 2 of her grandchildren lost everything in her home plus some of her year’s food supply. We and church members will help her son rebuild her home.

It’s illegal to start an uncontrolled burn here. If the perpetrator is caught, he/she can be handcuffed, taken to the police and face government imposed fines as well as compensation for those who have lost homes and crops. None of these measures seem to reduce the fires each year when the Season of Fire rolls around though. They’re almost more predictable than the rain in summer! And speaking of rain, we got a nice downpour a few days ago. So for now, all the fires are out!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Who's Comin' and Who's Goin'

...judging from these tracks, I’d have to say a bird, a dog, a barefooted person, someone in runners (me), and a bicycle or two.

And what could have possibly made this track?? Hm. A ski? A large garden hose? No and no. That, would be a snake track. Likely some kind of adder (pit viper) judging from the caterpillar-type straight line. Most other snakes (that make that serpentine motion) leave a squiggly line. My guess is this was a big, fat Puff Adder. This wasn’t very far from Francois and Alta’s house, so keep your eyes peeled guys.

Others who came and went last week were a group of monitors (from churches both near and far) for the July Intensive Seminar. Dwight, Francois and Joao did the bulk of the teaching.
I participated in 2 sessions on preventive health (what part the local church can play), and Alta shared with them the importance of women’s ministry.

Fernando cooking for the gang.
On Wednesday afternoon, Alta, Salena, Eunice and I went to the ‘old farm’ to conduct an introductory session on preventive and women’s health to the ladies of the area. This is the location where the ladies ministry was birthed originally, although the facility was certainly shabbier way back then! It was nice to see my old friends still participating in the classes. Like me, they’re also getting older and their kids are now grown up too.

And last but not least, I had to get a very red sun going down

And a rather orange moon coming up. This is the Season of Fire (as I call it) and on the day these were taken, there must have been 5 fires burning in the surrounding area. The haze left by the smoke adds some unusual effects to these normally bright lights in the sky! I’ll write more about the fires in my next blog.