Another posting after 3 weeks

Well it has been a while since my last update!!!! I think part of the reason is that the internet connection I have is so slow, it makes dial-up look like an F1 racing driver.

Things have been progressing. Not at the speed I would have liked but then this is Africa and it is Botswana. Sometimes I wish I had Zimbabwe workers but I must live with what I have and I think things have gone remarkably well considering that I am using totally unskilled labor most of whom their previous way to make a living was fishing from the lagoon. It can be frustrating sometimes but I think we are moving along.

Gosh I have just been reading my last posting …………………………….. Heck was I optimistic or what??? I still haven’t got around to getting my Botswana Drivers licence. The walls to the 1st cottage have not gone up and the plastering of the storeroom has taken longer than I thought.  But the roof and the doors are on the storeroom which means we can lock tools, pumps and other stuff up at night instead of hauling it all back to the tents.

Lets start with the stuff that seemed to go relatively well. The security fence is up around the house site and the guy did a pretty good job. With the storeroom and a fence now, it doesn’t prevent theft, it just makes it a little harder!!!!

We found a number of inactive termite mounds and the women (2) got started on that. It seems like things happen when I am around and not running into town for different things. I thought they were going to be done in a short period of time because they seemed to be moving along quite well Then we ran into a serious slowdown for some reason. My original plasterer had cut her hand and was off and she sent her young 20 year old daughter to help my other woman. Well a young girl was not really ready to get her hands full of cow manure, termite clay and the rest……………………….. so she used to chat on her mobile phone to the boyfriend/s or whatever. I was very happy to see her mother when she returned.

Staff toilets have also been plastered now and the 1st plastering of the storeroom is complete – filling all the crevasses between the bags.

As far as the 1st cottage is concerned  – I think I was being over optimistic with them filling 50kgs bags. They are too heavy and the work was slow. We then moved 40 cubic metres of soil by hand to fill the inside of the foundation walls. THAT WAS SLOW, TEDIOUS and VERY TIME CONSUMING. Once it was filled we packed it down with a compactor. The workers had fun running that machine. We then installed the door frame for a sliding glass door that we finally found that we like – it has to be ordered from South Africa and we need 2-3 weeks lead time. So we have 2 great gumpoles cemented into the ground 1 metre deep. Now it was time for the damp course to go on and the expanded metal mesh (reinforcing rebar for the bathroom and bedroom)

The damp course has been an issue that has been up for discussion with so many people. Do we need it??? Because if the water ever gets up to creating an issue for us, then half of Botswana will probably be underwater. However, as Penny said…………………………….. if you don’t put it in, probably somewhere down the road you will say I wish we had. So the damp course went on!!! We used a bitumen based rubber paint to hold it in place and we tucked it under the top course of sandbags. It worked out very well. Next the rebar was cut to fit and carefully laid on top of the damp course so as not to puncture it. And finally the 1st course of the walls was put on top of the rebar.

Now the next issue…………………………….. if we are going to be building these walls and whatever, we cannot have the workers walking across the rebar as we could have an injury and someone seriously hurt or we could puncture the damp course. Well since the bathroom is going to be tiled that was no big deal – lay a concrete slab over the rebar. But what about the bedroom where we want an earth floor??? The plastering women were called to the rescue and the 1st very rough course of the bedroom has been laid out of termite clay and cow manure. And I know it is a very rough course – not level or finished but I can’t wait to see the whole thing when it is done and sealed. Gosh it looks good – I just love the colors.

In the mean time we had guys out on the cleared land burning roots and stumps. Again it does take a while to do 20 hectares.

A small crew started the foundations for the 2nd cottage. But we made some significant changes to the way we built these foundations. We used 2 layers side by side as we built the foundation and have started the wall base which will hold the damp course. I have to admit, it has gone a lot quicker and with the land clearing people here this week, I will have them use the backhoe to fill the foundation. It will be so much quicker and easier and we can focus on some other things……………………… like getting the walls up on Cottage #1

I am very excited about getting these walls started. Although that does come with some additional hassles – siting of pipes for the toilet, the water inlets, the windows, electrical sockets etc. But man I can’t wait to get this rolling. Sometimes I wonder WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? But that recedes when I get pumped up over this stuff. I want to get the cottage finished and moved out of the tents and living on my land in something I built.

In the mean time we are having fun trying to locate thatch for the roof. The best thatch and thatchers in the region come out of Zimbabwe and we have finally found the thatcher but he is having to work on permits to import the thatch into Botswana. As mentioned earlier, the doors have a lead time of 2-3 weeks and they have to come from South Africa. So as they say …………………………… Nothing in Africa is easy and this isn’t a place for sissies.

A individual here in Maun referred me to a guy doing solar power and installation. And I have been wrestling with all the suppliers as the first requirement is how much power do all your appliances use?? I understand the need to have batteries and all the rest especially if you are doing like we are planning …. Being off grid. Anyway, I called the guy up and I remembered in high school there was a youngster who had 2 very pretty sisters with the same name. Well it turns out that they are his sisters and he has been here for about 5 years.  And he gave me the right answers to my questions. And he is a local guy for any backup maintenance etc. SO maaaaybe he can do the installation. WHAT A SMALL WORLD???

Penny was out for 2 weeks which was wonderful but then she had to go back to Zimbabwe to sort out the exporting of cars, trailers and furniture. All that has to have Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe clearance certificates before you are allowed to ship them. The cars also have to have Interpol clearance to prove they have not been stolen. There was a rash of new cars that were brought into Zimbabwe a couple of years back that had been stolen in Dubai and South Africa. And all this takes time.

The weather has been incredibly cooperative where the day time temperatures have been hovering around 28/29C but the nights have been cool 8 – 10C. This week we are in for a serious cold snap on Tuesday and Wednesday where the high will reach 18C and the low 0C. Not great when you are living in a tent. But by Friday we will be 31C and 14C. So all is not bad.

On another front, I was a bit disappointed with the service of workmanship on an ATV I had bought. Yes we got it for a song but I had asked them to do a whole bunch of work on it and it now sits in pieces outside as I wait for some spare parts. Oh well WHAT CAN I SAY??? We are the new kids on the block and I do have a tendency to give everyone the benefit and opportunity to shaft me a couple of times. Bad habit I have!!!! I also reversed Penny car into one of the trees on the farm and messed up the tailgate a bit……… OK more than a bit but it is supposed to be ready this week.  All you wise asses out there.

And so the battle continues ………………………………………………. In a wonderful place with a wonderful view, building a dream with the most amazing woman and our ever faithful dog Portia aka Porkchop Sometimes life is harsh but most of the time I am having a blast.

Til the next update………………………….. yo’all stay out of trouble!!!

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Photos of the past 2 weeks

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Sense of Humor Failure or NOT

Well………………… it has been two weeks since I last updated the blog and a lot has happened in that short period of time.

Our building of the storeroom continued and it surprised me as to how quick it went along. I think even the labor were surprised at the speed this building was going up and they certainly seemed to have the hang of it down pat after a couple of days. We had 2 crews working on digging sand, filling bag and building walls. Penny was on her way back from Harare to Maun with her daughter and I was going to start eating regular meals AGAIN.

A quick word on cooking for one………………………………… it stinks. For some reason, it doesn’t taste the same, there is no company to share your day with and it is boring. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Penny was due to arrive Wednesday afternoon and I was hoping that we would finish the storeroom except for plastering and the roof while she was here. Because she had to go back to Harare to sort out Reserve bank clearances etc., and was only going to be on site for a couple of days. Well knock my cotton pickin socks off if …………………………………………………………………… disaster didn’t strike on Wednesday morning.

Apparently at around 4.00am, the back wall of the storeroom decided to fall over………………… not completely but enough to set us back a few days. It was the drive up to the site and I could sort of see what had happened and the labor were standing there waiting for me to explode. It was a case of WTF  and I needed to try to make light of the situation which I did when I climbed out the truck and just went MY BOBO. That sort of broke the ice and they started laughing. So that was a setback and a sense of humor failure. However that all dissipated when I saw the fencing people. They had thought it was a herd of elephants coming through the site and didn’t know where they could hide. The interesting part of the deal was that as soon as I saw it, I knew what had happened. We had a 10 metre long wall going up 2.4 metres and had NO BUTRESSING and certainly not enough rebar.

And Penny is arriving at lunchtime!!!!!!!!

Well we started fixing the problem. A whole bunch of rebar and BUTRESSES tied into the wall with more rebar and …………………………….. this time I was making sure that this sort of disaster wasn’t going to happen again. So we were back on course AGAIN. I have to admit that the barbed wire as an anchor works. There were bags hanging in mid air on barbed wire. I was impressed to say the least.

As this was all going on my plastering lady came and did her bit with the water tank stand and I have to admit we did get that right and it looks amazing. I love the color and the rough adobe look. Now I have to find a way to seal it from dripping water. And yes it probably is not the prettiest tank stank in town but it is as solid as a rock but most of all……………………………… it is UNIQUE!!!!! And I like that

On Monday this week, the building foreman arrived at work to tell me that he had been offered a sub contract job with a friend and that he was leaving for 2 months. What can you say??? Not a lot really and before I could blink…………………………….. he was gone. What to do???? As I mentioned we had 2 crews working and the leader of the 2nd crew stepped up to the plate and took over. And up went the walls and the buttresses and in went the rebar and we got to roof height. So this next week the roof is going on, the door is going to be hung and we should then be ready to rock and roll.

We also started the 1st cottage this week – marking it out which happened 3 times before I was happy with its location, digging out the foundations and then laying the 50 kg fertilizer bags down as the foundation. This part goes very slow as those bags are heavy and as mentioned before, very cumbersome. But they do work as our foundation base. We are raising the fist cottage up off base level by 0.8 metres. So there is a lot of large sandbags to be filled to get to that point before we switch to the regular building bags. The 2nd crew are building the privacy screen for the toilets. We have done this in a spiral and I think it looks pretty cool.

Penny left on Sunday to head back to Harare and I will admit……………………………………. I don’t do very well those 1st couple of days. They are very hard for me and at times are very lonely. But she has had her hands full dealing with all the Zimbabwe Government bureaucracy as she moves from Zimbabwe to here. And all of that stuff is time consuming and some of it actually stupid.

It has meant that I have been a madman for this past week as I have had to go into town regularly to fetch supplies, do payroll, try to work on the farm side as much as I can and also deal with bureaucracy here too.

This week I have to go get my Botswana licence………………………………… which in all reality is not a big deal except for the fact that I have to drive 40 kms to town and be there by 5.00am to join the queque. And that still doesn’t guarantee that I will get dealt with by 5.00pm

So the goals for this week are to get the roof and the doors on the storeroom and have my plastering lady come back maybe with a couple of her friends as there is a lot of plastering to get done on the store room. We need to get the privacy wall for staff toilets up and the plasterers need to get started on that and then the most important one of all is get the first cottage up. Certainly by the end of the week,the cottage should be finished as far as the walls are concerned.

Plastering and roof – that I don’t think so. I better start looking for some dead termite mounds for the plaster. I have said that we would look at a proper cement plaster for the inside walls. I guess the 1st cottage will be the sample run.

There are a whole bunch of pictures…………………………….. Collapsed walls, plastering, privacy wall, cottage foundations and the storeroom with all the workers. I am going to try to upload them today, but if not when I get to town I know I will

Yo’all stay safe, work hard, play hard and trust me, sometimes you have to take the risk. Trust that you will have what you need at the exact time you need it.


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As promised the photos are here

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View from our tent

View from our tent

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And the building has started

Our adventure has certainly had its ups and downs along with surprises, disappointments and occasionally a serious “sense of humor failure”.  But all in all it has been quite a journey to get to here.

Our poor dog Portia, did not know what had happened to her. She went from a lovely gated golf course community with nicely grassed fairways and greens to……………………….. the desert – where there are thorns, funny creatures like dung beetles, stink bugs and spiders. Shame she did have a bit of a torrid time but has settled in extremely well and loves the huge open space she now gets to call home.

As for us ………………………………… finally we finished working on the tented camp, installed hot (70 meters of black poly pipe coiled on the ground) and cold running water and solar power, installed a laundry tub and a kitchen sink and have made our little camp quite live able.  Not perfect but we can survive while we do the other things on the house and farm.

The land clearing phase of the house site went very quickly and we moved the loader across onto the farm. So for 2 weeks I was trudging through the sand keeping track of what it and the driver were up to while trying desperately to sort out fertilizer bags for our buildings. Finally, thanks to my cousin Kevin, in South Africa, we got hold of a supplier and were able to buy bags and have them shipped at a reasonable price. A strange thing about this place – used bags available locally are more expensive than new bags imported. Go figure.

We conducted a number of test trials to see what would work for us and having filled a 50kg fertilizer bag with 5  x 10 litre buckets of sand………………………………… we got a fright. Those things were heavy and that was dry sand not wet. Fortunately the supplier had sent 4 other sample bags along with the 1000 fertilizer bags and we did a test fill on them. 2 buckets of sand and even the locals can pick them up. And they are a better, stronger, tighter weave than the fertilizer bags.  My thanks must go out to all the responses I received on a number of queries as a result of our tests. I posted a question on Talking Natural Homes, a Facebook page. Wow, the responses were thick and fast and created even more confusion and more dilemmas. So we finally just followed our gut and WE STARTED!!!!

However, in my infinite wisdom, I decided that our 1st project in sand bag construction was to be a water tank stand and that we would use the 50 kg fertilizer bags. This was to be our learning curve – The labor and I. HMMMMMMMMM Talk about a hard learning curve!!!!! Lifting bags took two people and that was ok up to a metre. But we were going to 1.5 metres. And managing the labor here who want to be paid but don’t want to do anything for it.

I estimated 2 days to build the tank stand. After day one, I was seriously disappointed. We had only laid 3 courses. And I also want to build a main house, 2 cottages, a storeroom and staff accommodation. As well as get the farm moving……………………………….. WHAT WAS I THINKING?? Are you out of your cotton picking mind???? You have taken on big projects before but this………………………. I have to admit that there were some serious doubts at this point. Even though I knew we were going to a smaller bag after the tank stand was complete. Talk about “Doubting Thomas” …………………………… I was worse. And I was not about to tell Penny either. I have always been so convinced that this is going to work and NOW!!! WHAT???

Well Day 2 got started and we did improve and get 4 courses laid. And it was becoming more difficult because the higher we went, the further they had to lift bags. So now we have 7 courses laid and we are past my estimated time frame. Day 3 dawns and my stress levels are a little high because how long is it going to take to build a house. I was one day behind schedule We completed the bag work in 3 days. And filled the center with sand. Now all it needs to have done to it is be plastered and it is finished. So our first project was behind us. Not exactly pretty!!!! But pretty darn strong and secure and easily capable of hold 2 x 5000 litre tanks. And we all learnt from it. And I know that my water tank stand is easily capable of withstanding any full front assault by any military force.

I had disappeared off to get some stuff from the tents and when I came back, the labor had figured out how to lay the barb wire straight, and keep it from bouncing back at them without using any weights. Sometimes you are surprised at the ingenuity of the locals in Africa. Once it is plastered, it will blend in with its surrounds I hope!!!

While the water tank stand is being built the fencing man arrives on site with all his guys and then proceeds to ask me where all the material is. Well the blood pressure rose in a heartbeat. After suitably admonishing him and telling him that he had not provided me with a materials list or quotes, he got packed off to town to get quotes………………………. Which gave me another rise in BP.  My poor old ticker…… as if I haven’t given it enough stress over the years. So now the fencing man and his workers and camp followers who just arrived are erecting a security fence around the farm house.

On Friday we changed bags and started on the storeroom. Well the labor were very happy. 1 guy can carry 2 bags. But we wont do that as we might get finished too quickly So we only carry one bag at a time. And of course, smaller bag, less sand. Only 2 buckets in these bags… So bags are being filled much quicker. And things seem to be moving along very well. Plus the work force all got uniforms yesterday which has boosted their  morale even higher and they got paid which seems to be a bit of an issue in these parts. So as the week closed, I was a little less apprehensive and a little more confident about the projects in front of me. And as Penny is fond of saying to me “How do you eat an elephant??? ONE BITE AT A TIME!!!!!!’

One of the interesting things that is coming out of this exercise is the local interest it has generated. The initial comments were very similar to what we faced in Zimbabwe when we said we were going to Botswana and were going to build the house out of sandbags. Comments like “Now I know you have lost your marbles” to “are you stupid”, You are crazy, Why do you want to do that”. These have now changed somewhat and now the comments are “Please teach me how to do this; I want to come back and see this when it is all finished; Please can you sell me bags so I can do this at my house. So things are changing and I hope that Penny and I can be a catalyst for that change and that we can show others that despite being unconventional in design and construction, it can be cool, inviting and welcoming.

And so “A luta continua” ………………………….. and so the struggle goes on!!!!

On a personal level, my son Chris was involved in a car accident in Mutare. Fortunately he was OK apart from slamming his mouth on the steering wheel and breaking his front teeth. But his is not very happy about what happened. Also no one else was injured in the accident . So other lessons learnt by family. Remember son……………………. These things are sent to us to teach us and to help us grow into adults. However I am so very glad and grateful that the injuries are fairly minor although painful and it was not more serious.

Penny left for Harare yesterday on her little sojourn to go back and get more “stuff” aka household goods and a small generator too. She has to take the vehicles out and bring them back under her resident permit. So she will be driving about 4000kms in the next couple of days. However, she will be in Harare during the coldest weather here and in a nice warm house that doesn’t flap when the wind blows.

Pictures tomorrow before the inverter battery runs down

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We have arrived

Well I have admit to being very slack on my postings but life has been very busy. WE HAVE ARRIVED IN/ON OUR LITTLE PATCH OF THE KALAHARI.
After an 1100 km drive from Harare with the dog morris chairs a double bed tools stand having to go through all the various police road blocks in Zimbabwe we crossed the border into Botswana and made our way to Maun and the farm.
Our arrival at the farm and Xyga camp was not unexpected for Africa The place was locked up and no one there to open up. SO out came the proverbial African key……. A set of bolt cutters and we let ourselves in to our new home. No water no power nothing but our tents.
So we got to work making the tents livable and comfortable especially since they are home for the next 6 months We filled the water tank installed a solar panel got hot water into the shower anxious fixed the gas freezer. None of these happened overnight and some with some considerable drama. There have been a couple of times were tools have gone flying the language has been incredibly colorful and I have ended up with a major cut gash and blood oozing from some part of my body. But we hung in there and now we have black poly pipe on the ground for hot water in the showers laundry and kitchen.We have rigged the water pump that it is now a simple start we have installed a solar panel that runs our small fridge and an inverter to charge cell phones and laptops.So things are looking up
Land clearing for the Squoggly house started last week and this week we started on the farm side SANDBAGS have been a problem as suppliers have let us down unfortunately But we think we have a reliable supplier now Test bags are going to be done this week So lots happening which is keeping me out of trouble.
Our poor dog Portal who endured the 2 day drive and left a very nice green garden to be dumped in the desert has settled in very well Albeit not without the odd thorn in her paw. She has become a great her dog chasing out the cows goats and donkeys

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