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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