As Assistant Coordinator of AVN Senegal I am in charge of research and development on training and technical issues and co-manage deployment in the field while assisting with strategy and networking.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Back to Work

Hermit house

I decided to build myself a hut out at my garden. I already spend so much time here working on my plants and trees that I thought it would be great to have another cool, shady retreat for the hot part of the day and a comfortable shelter for spending the night when I don't feel like leaving the the tranquility of the bush. I also just love building forts, so it wasn't a hard sell.

 Stage one of my cob hut. A shady spot with a commanding view of my garden, the water, and the distant fields and forest. The plan is to dig down inside while building up, using the excavated sandy soil mixed with clay from a nearby termite mound as building material. End goal is a building half submerged underground and with thick (12-18inch) walls to keep the inside cool even on the 110+ degree days.

 Progressing slowly, or "ndank ndank" as we say here. Working by myself is really fun and relaxed but definitely incremental.

 Getting help from another volunteer, Tracy, who hung out for a few days before she left for Dakar and then on to other adventures, her two years in Senegal finished. The four separate pits in the bottom are all for mixing cob. My mixture is four buckets of clay (~50 liters) hacked from the termite mound mixed with roughly equal parts sandy subsoil carved out of the floor and walls of my hut, ~20 liters water, and an armful of chopped straw.

 Using a half of a steel barrel as support for the arch over the doorway. Also planted two papaya trees out front to give shade and fruit.

 Cob stomping laborers are always welcome!

 I had a whole crew working for me this day so I set up of chain of kids to pass the cob out of the pits and up on to the tops of the walls. At this point the side walls are finished, just the front and back remain, to set up for an A frame roof. The roof will be a series of eucalyptus rafters covered by a layer of millet stalks and then all covered completely with cob, leaving an air-tight cob-insulated

Current status: walls almost complete. Have cut roof beams and rafters and left them to dry while I finish up the walls and inner excavation. My efforts have drawn increasing interest from my community and surrounding villages. A surprising number of people come out to the farm I work on to visit with my grandfather who spends all day out there keeping birds from eating the ripening rice. Now that word has spread of the strange creations of the white man almost all these visitors cross the water to my side of the garden to satisfy their curiosity. While the cob hut is undoubtedly the main attraction it provides a great chance for me to share the other projects I'm working on, including cob oven, terraced beds of fruits and veggies, mango trees I've recently pruned and grafted, and the various other tree species interspersed throughout my garden.

 After-rain remodeling

The rainy season left me with a lot of weeding and repair work to rebuild what Bevan and I had created by the end of last dry season. But having the outline all in place helped significantly. Many of our cob berms needed only a fresh layer of cob, having held up to the rain quite well. The beds closer to the water, however, are still saturated and have succumbed almost entirely to weeds and swampiness. I can only wait for the water level to recede before reclaiming these lower beds.

Enlisting Andalla's help to re-cob the inside of the oven. The wet season didn't harm my oven too much but after a season of baking and then months of rain it needed a remodel. This kid was gutsy (and small) enough to slide inside the oven on his belly and plaster wet mud all over the walls and ceiling.

 Re-finished oven, outside and in. Ready for another season of baking

 The new coterie of clay heads I made to disturb and fascinate any visitors. I found I can scrape rust out of my barrels and mix with water for orange and brown paint, and use powered charcoal for black.

 Sunset on my walk home after another day of work in the garden

Other exploits

Another new hobby while out in the bush is slingshot hunting. This was a beautiful iridescent blue-purple bird that I just stunned and caught before letting it go. Other less flashy and larger breasted birds like bush pigeons don't get away so easy and usually end up as a tasty snack if I manage to hit them.

 Some kids and me spending an afternoon drawing and coloring my wall with chalk

 The bird I drew. Unfortunately it's inevitable that tiny eager child fingers will smear the colorful chalk into oblivion and carve unintelligibly over it with blunt hunks of charcoal. Metaphors for Peace Corps service are ubiquitous.

My yard. Recent boundary disputes and political wrangling resulted in my substantial gain of 10 square meters of ground, where my new cement rabbit hutches now reside (visible in background). My five papaya trees have been growing like crazy, they are already 10-15 feet tall and putting out fruit, yet not even 10 months old. Their broad-leafed canopies and two vigorously spreading passion fruit vines--which have spread between the tops of all my trees already (seed from Brazil, thanks mom)--combine to provide my yard with cool dappled shade. I hope that as I continue to water consistently through the dry season I'll have a mini oasis of shade and greenery encompassing my yard.

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