Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building a house in Africa

Curious how it's done?

My friend shows us the site next door where his oldest daughter and her new husband are building their home.  It will be a simple house, maybe about three hundred square feet.

Here, his daughter and son-in-law carry beams from the local sawmill to the building site.  You buy what you can afford, build with what you have.  Buy and build more later.

 They'll store the material in poppa's front yard where it will be watched over.

Construction is a friends & family type event.

This is the local lumber yard, about a quarter-mile from their site.  The nearest sawmill is another mile down the road, I think.

Individual boards are priced from about $1.50 to $7.50 here.  The local equivalent of a 4x4 costs about $10.

To give you an idea of the timeline, this photo is from last October.  Friends of ours walk past the site where the younger one will build a new home with her husband.

Here, 6 months later, the posts and frame are mostly in place.  It's the rainy season; a neighbor stops and poses on her way over to visit.
In August after perhaps 6-8 months of work, the house is in place.  This is quite a nice home for the area.  The metal roof will last perhaps 20 years, the unpainted wood maybe not so long.

These folks are fairly well off by community standards.  They have a water spigot (lower left in the photo) just a few meters from the porch.

The yellow vans are wrecked taxis they hope to repair and use to generate income.  It's a difficult prospect at best as parts must come from Europe.
You can see where the boys have replaced the boards on grandma's house.  Maintenance is pretty much a continuous process, like it is for us in some ways.  It helps having a number of competent men in the family that can do the labor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Visible Progress in Africa?

From Sao Tome & Principe, one of the world's (and Africa's) smallest countries; still, it's a nation with the same difficulties to face as the others.  I've been here regularly since '07.

Political and public events of interest in Sao Tome & Principe: With recent election results now confirmed by the courts, there has been a change of government with a popular mandate for fiscal accountability and reform, at least according to the word on the street. I’m told that the incoming prime minister was ousted in a preceding government because he insisted on strong accountability measures in the budget processes. Now, perhaps, he has a chance to push hard on the issue again with a cooperative cabinet and national assembly.

Numerous road construction projects are visible in areas we’ve not seen served since our program’s inception. They seem generally to be significant efforts including new concrete curbs and ditches, short seawall borders for roads along the beach, significant amounts of material, and so on.

The three photos here show examples of major road work above and below Santana and of a new seawall at Ribeira Afonso. There’s a new secondary school in final construction just above Trinidade and due to open in November; capacity perhaps 600 or so. All encouraging developments, particularly to those of us who have been driving these roads with heretofore epic potholes!

Embassy staff tells me there’s a new power plant in operation that is now being integrated into the national grid. Until that is complete rural community power is still just a few hours a day.

All of these efforts precede the election and continue afterward.

Schools have textbooks as of last September. I'm told it covers the entire school system. Impressive.

Health care remains unnerving for a westerner, and difficult for the local folks to access. I had occasion to rush a lady to the hospital; she’d been in an encounter at the community water spigot; she had her nose split and broken by a blow from a water jug; thirty-six stitches and some impressive swelling. The hospital was an uncomfortable flurry of activity when we were there, late afternoon.

The Seabees, always well received and appreciated here, are working on security fencing at the airport. Although an essential for the country, this particular project is less popular with some of the locals (photo) since they walk across the airport to get to the nearest water, to school, etc. On the upside, the airport authority is building a water tank for the affected community on the far side of the airport. That should ease the imposition somewhat.

For regular folks, life remains difficult for all but a small, wealthy percentage. In schools, the failure rate at the critical 6th and 9th grade levels remains above 70%, precluding advancement for most. Under-nutrition in children persists at around the 35% level.

Some accuse Africans of being lazy, and in doing so illustrate their misunderstanding of the plight of many. It doesn't matter how far they walk or how hard they work, they'll get little to nothing for their efforts. My African friends including their children work harder than I do, but there are few who will pay them for their efforts. Fishing and garden agriculture produce a bare subsistence. It remains a difficult world.

To keep the people and culture in perspective, these fine folks in the last picture are a Catholic volunteer organization working in a community to restore their fields to productivity. They spent a couple of weeks working in a hillside community, lending a hand where it's needed. It wasn't easy work. I met them through three of their guys wheel-barrowing drums of water along the road and up the hillside. We put the water in the back of my truck, went up the hill, and met the rest of the crowd. Nice folks. Came back a few hours later with cold cases of soft drinks. Big hit; got a standing ovation.

Intelligence, perseverance, a strong work ethic, and grace, all evident in the folks here.  It's a pleasure to work with them and heartbreaking to experience the difficulties that are part of their lives every day.

Home again, home again....

A loose schedule gave us time to visit friends. Two of my teen-aged friends and I were invited to lunch with Sebastiana's family. A larger number of the men were there this time, so the conversation was largely wine and guy talk. The several men sat at the table while the ladies stood and ate elsewhere in the room. The children were supposed to eat on the floor in the kitchen, but a few brought their plates into the main room and sat where they could watch the men and their guests. Several glasses of wine into the meal, I discover that African men just don't cook! Ever... except for this one fellow from Cabo Verde, but he spoke French, so... They didn't know how to respond when they discovered that I can cook and do so regularly. It was an uncomfortable moment in the conversation.

I spent time with each of our families, chatting about the kids and work.

With the help of a friend in the states, the family here has built this kiosk on the road in front of their house; they sell some things they raise in their garden along with a few items they buy in the city. It generates a little income for the family. Dad lost his job when an accident cost him his arm, so the kiosk provides their only income at the moment.

Portrait photos like this are often serious looking; it's a cultural thing. They smiled and laughed with us during our visits, however.

They knew we were coming, so they cooked a couple of fish on the family stove for us to eat as thanks. For our visit, dad walked down to the shore about a mile away to buy the fish from the local fishermen. Called concon locally, the fish are unfamiliar but quite good, cooked with lime, salt, and pepper.

All four of their children finished the school year successfully! It's a big deal for the oldest son; he passed the achievement tests at the end of the 6th grade. About 80% of kids fail that test. Passing means he gets to keep going to school next year. He'll begin studying English, so we brought some book in Portuguese and English for him.

Mediocre self-photo of coconut chalice, caught Dad here disposing of fish bones of which there were plenty. He embraced me as we made our departure and sends his thanks to his American friends.