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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Constructing Dreams

For the first six weeks of 2016, I am participating in Blogging Abroad’s Blog Boot Camp Challenge. This post is part of that program.

I wrote about my own home in Lesotho last year in Heise, Sweet Heise. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so and to check out Thatch to Patch, a post about the failed attempt to repair my leaking roof.

Despite my preference for the traditional “mud” (actually a cow dung concoction) homes with thatched roofs, most Basotho dream of building homes out of cement bricks. This is partly as a status symbol but also because the mud huts require “mudding” or a fresh application of the cow dung annually.

Abuti Sama's new home will enjoy my favorite village vista.
In the last week, my friend Abuti Sama started construction on his new brick home. In his mid-thirties, Abuti Sama has been renting the large one-room home that adjoins his shop. As it is furnished and is connected to his work, it has been the perfect bachelor pad. He is due to marry later this year, but when asked if this influenced his timing on construction, he said no. “I need to have my own house. I don’t need to be ruled, I rule myself,” he explained.

Building a home in Lesotho is profoundly different then in the United States and other Western nations. It begins with visits to the village chief and area community council. All lands belong to the village. Land is given to villagers as needed for their homes; however, they may not sell their land. If they no longer need the land, they can either rent their property to someone else or return the land to the village.

After being given land, construction can begin at any time, typically as funds allow. The supply list for a two room cement brick house is not long:
700 Cement Bricks
7,700 Maloti
30 Bags of Cement
2,310 Maloti
2 Door Frames (one interior, one exterior)
500 Maloti
2 Doors (one interior, one exterior)
1,300 Maloti
Leveling Wires
2,400 Maloti
8 Lintels for Doors and Windows
3,200 Maloti
2 Doorknobs and Locks
240 Maloti
4 Windows and Frames (2 small, 2 large)
4,200 Maloti
10 Corrugated Tin Sheets for Roofing
3,500 Maloti
Planks, Nails, and Silicone for Roofing
1,200 Maloti (estimated)
26,550 Maloti

Abuti Sama edges the wet cement.
With friends providing free labor, land gifted by the Chief, and around 4,000L of water gathered from the local tap, it is possible to build a new two room home in under two weeks for under 30,000 Maloti. For Abuti Sama and most Basotho; however, it takes much more time than that. According to the World Bank (data.worldbank.org/country/Lesotho), the 2014 average annual income in Lesotho was $1330 USD. Based upon 2014 exchange rates, that is only 13,300 Maloti annually.

As a result, the process of building a new home in a rural village can take years. Abuti Sama bought 600 of his 700 bricks over a year ago. Now, after only four days of construction, his walls are nearly complete and his brick supply is exhausted.

Once he can afford to buy more, he will finish the remaining wall. Then, he will make his cement floors, cover the interior walls with cement, and add the tin roof, doors, and windows. He is hoping to complete the home by July. Before he moves in, he will need to buy some furniture as well. Most Basotho consider a table and chairs, kitchen cabinets, a bed (which may only actually be a thin foam mattress on the floor), and a wardrobe as a minimum.

Over time, as people can afford it, the interior walls are painted, a tile or linoleum is added to the cement floors, and a dropped ceiling helps insulate against the cold Lesotho winters. Gutters and metal drums or plastic cisterns are added to collect summer rains and reduce trips to the village water tap. Additional rooms may be constructed as a family grows, or, if a family is truly blessed, they may purchase roofing sheets to cover the corrugated tin further insulating the family from winter’s chill and softening the sounds of heavy rains.

The things people in the Western world hire experts-plumbers, electricians, architects, carpenters, etc-for are not of concern here. People will either buy a pre-made tin latrine or construct one out of cement bricks. Otherwise, basins and buckets replace plumbing, candles, small solar panels, and paraffin lamps replace electricity, Most Basotho cook outside on open fires and do laundry in rivers, natural springs, or at the village taps.

Exterior walls quickly take shape as the spots for interior
walls are visible in this multi-room home being constructed.
Abuti Sama is not the only one engaged in construction in my village at the moment. Another family has recently torn down a mud home to construct a comparatively huge multi-room brick house. Like Sama, the bricks have been waiting on their lot for over a year. Construction is chugging along. After only five days, the room divisions are clearly visible and the back wall of the house is on its way to completion. The mother of the family who will live there excitedly shares their progress every time I pass and I look forward to seeing its completion almost as much as she does!

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