Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Thatch to Patch

My thatcher inspecting the roof. 
Nearly a decade of sailing professionally trained me well. I learned to sleep deeply through a variety of sounds and weather; trusting my subconscious to hear when a sound was not right so I could rise and deal with the problem. Thus, I could sleep soundly through the squeaking of a fender being squished and rubbed between the ship and the dock but immediately awaken when that sound changed to the quieter, insidious sound of the wooden vessel scraping against the dock.

This skill has served me well through many overnight thunderstorms during the rainy season here in Lesotho. With up to a dozen leaky spots in my thatch roof, I would have quickly exhausted myself trying to ensure drips were benignly landing in basins and buckets. Instead, I usually slept well, trusting my sleeping self to hear the differences in sound between drips landing on plastic laminate, the plastic tarp saving my bed from becoming a waterbed, the plastic topped table, and the aforementioned plastic basins and buckets already catching rain. It was amazing how quickly I became alert when a new drip started on the table or floor, hopping out of bed with my headlight to find where the new drip sound originated.

Hopefully, this skill will now get a well-deserved break both because the dry season is upon us and my thatch is being patched!

Neither my host family nor my host organization had the resources to pay a man to repair the roof, so Peace Corps stepped in to help. The women in my organization gathered the joang or grasses used, my oldest brother, Ntate Sekila, helped with the labor, and Peace Corp paid the thatcher.

Despite having seen both the incredible mess created in my sister's American attic when she reroofed her house and the dark thatch dust that settles daily in my hut, I was unprepared for just how invasive patching my roof would be.

My mostly empty home.
On Saturday, I learned the roofing might happen on Monday, but nothing else. Sunday night, my nkhono (grandmother) came and explained in Sesotho that I would need to cover or move everything. When Abuti Thabo arrived, he elaborated in English. My Monday morning would be spent basically moving out of my home. Considering I also needed to spend a few hours at the spring doing laundry,, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

As usual, sleep helped and Monday I arose before the sun but full of anticipation. I packed things into my wardrobe before covering it with the tarp that had been protecting my bed. Flags, curtains, and my mosquito net came down. Everything not in the wardrobe or under sheets in the kitchen cabinet-even my bed, table, and chairs-was brought outside onto my family's covered porch.

Ladder Extending
After Ntate Sekila and the thatcher arrived, it took a while to actually start thatching. First, I had to speak to each about where the many leaks were. Then, the thatcher looked at the roof and explained what he thought needed to happen and why it was leaking so badly. Then, I was told to ask the chief for his ladder but I quickly learned he does not have a ladder, so I sent Abuti Mokhesue to ask a neighbor I knew had one from putting up a new roof in October (hooray for integration!). It turned out the ladder was not tall enough for this job, so the guys added a few feet and rungs to it.

Finally, they removed the metal cap and began work. My nkhono and Abuti Mokhesuoe separated the joang bundles into smaller bundles. These were then thrown onto the roof. The thatcher took these bundles and untied them, placing the thatch where he wanted it. Then, he and Ntate Sekila basically sewed the thatch into place using twine as thread.

Ntate Sekila "sewing" my roof.
The needle in this case is a long, skinny stick, maybe 10-12 feet long, with a large eye at one end for the twine to pass through. With Ntate Sekile inside the hut, the thatcher passed the needle through the thatch to be threaded with twine, the pulled back up. Next it was passed back down in a new spot, Ntate Sekila unthreaded it, and the thatcher pulled it back up to repeat the whole process again. In addition to threading and unthreading the needle, Ntate Sekila maintained tension on the twine the entire time. Each pass of the needle and each movement of the twine rained down thatch dust and debris.

Two different men optimistically told me it would be a quick job with me able to clean and move back into my house by mid afternoon. However, when the thatcher headed home at 4, the job was only half done. As he had an appointment on Tuesday, we agreed the job would be finished on Wednesday.

This is why I had to move so much out!
Abuti Thabo and his best friend helped me sweep and move back in. I desperately wanted to mop as the floor was still covered in the fine black dust, but with work starting up again on Wednesday, it did not make sense. Neither did unpacking much, so my hut stayed spartan.


Wednesday, we started the process again before figuring out we did not have enough joang to finish the job. As a result, thatching concluded around 2, giving me time to sweep and mop twice before moving back in. Since I will be out of the village for most of the next two weeks, the plan is to finish this “one day job” in two to three weeks.  

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You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn