Home Improvements

Reading this week:

  • Gilgamesh, Stephen Mitchell version
  • Arabian Nights, Barnes and Noble Classics Edition

One of the big goals of the Community Entry period is to fix up your house so it is comfortable to live in. Making the place liveable has taken up a good chunk of my time, and I think things have turned out well.

The first things I did were a bunch of little things to help make the place functional. It’s best to keep things off the floor, so my first few days were spent putting in a whole bunch of nails to hang things off of. This was augmented by bending “soft wire” (think coat hanger wire but a little thicker) into various useful shapes. To hang pots and pans, I put two nails in the wall, strung some soft wire between them, and then bent up some hooks to string on the soft wire.

My kitchen area (though I cook outside). Usually that wire mesh isn’t there.

Soft wire is useful for a whole bevy of projects. My most ambitious soft wire project is a typing stand that I convinced myself I needed, which comes with a little bar that snaps down courtesy of a rubber band to hold up whatever it is you’re looking at. I also made hangers for my solar light that I put up in convenient spots. Another way to keep things off of the floor is to hang a soft wire hook from a piece of string suspended from a nail in the roof. That’s how I keep my eggs and potatoes off the floor.

I designed it to be converted into a guest bed. I subjected only one guest to this.

Bigger projects include a coffee table and a couch. The couch is made from brick as supports with planks on top. On top of these are cushions, the cases for which I sewed from chitenge. I had quite the cushion-sewing spree there and I could barely stop myself. The coffee table is banged together from some planks and logs I found in the forest. I try to avoid cutting down trees myself, but fortunately (or unfortunately) when they make charcoal they tend to leave a lot of sticks laying around, so I just head into the woods and pick those up.

Under-construction oven.

I also built an oven. This has dramatically increased my sugar consumption as I bake cookies, cupcakes, and banana bread (I also gave sweet potato bread a go; eh). The oven is made of brick. For both the oven and the couch, the mortar is just mud. That makes me feel better about building these things myself, because I have never been a bricklayer before and I figure, since it’s just made of mud, if it is terrible I can just take it apart and redo it. The oven works pretty well; you put fire in the bottom, and then there is a metal sheet separating the fire space from the baking space, and into the baking space you put whatever you are baking. The local kids seem to like my cookies.

The last important home improvement project I undertook was putting up some art. Fortunately, the Moto Moto Museum is nearby, and they have a gift shop with some artisan crafts. Otherwise I haven’t found much art. I got a picture of elephants, and another of giraffes, and hung those up. I have a carved wooden man and some small carved wooden animals that sit on my desk. From Chishimba falls I got a rather large fish so that’s sitting on top of one of my dividing walls. As an accent piece, I also hung up a fish-themed piece of chitenge on the wall. I’m an aquaculture volunteer, so I figured the house should look the part.

A selection of my art.

Fish Pondery

Not a fish pond, but a small dam leading to a furrow which will supply the fish ponds with water, also it is pretty.

Reading this Week: Still working on Arabian Nights. It might in fact take me 1001 days to finish.
This week has been pretty solidly spent on constructing fish ponds. This is exciting, because doing fish pond stuff is the whole reason I am here.

I am now up to two farmers in the active process of building fish ponds. The previous pond we staked is nearly completed, and we staked a second pond adjacent to the first:

In addition to those two ponds, we have staked another farmer’s first pond. The impetus for this work is that I am leaving for training soon, and although I will be back in a matter of weeks Farmer #1 there wanted to get the second pond staked. Farmer #2, I think, got jealous that Farmer #1 was barrelling towards fish farming that he wanted in on the action, which is a-okay as far as I am concerned.
Having multiple fish ponds per farmer is ideal, and having multiple farmers with multiple fish ponds is extremely beneficial. The fish we grow (usually, in this area, the Lake Tangynika Bream) generally have a six-month harvest cycle. Six months after fingerlings are stocked, full-sized fish are harvested and sold. If a farmer has six ponds, that means they can stagger stocking and harvesting times so that they harvest a pond every month throughout the year, providing a relatively steady stream of income.

Since most of these farmers rather tautologically farm, they receive a large chunk of income only about once a year when the fields are harvested. This leads to times with little money and potentially little food towards the end of the year before the fields are harvested again. One of the advantages of fish farming is therefore that fish can be stocked so that the farmer is making money all year, instead of just once.

Additionally, having several farmers nearby provides security when it comes to resources, and improves the overall quality of fish farming. Small rural farmers rely on restocking fingerlings produced by the fish stocked in the pond. If a pond fails to produce fingerlings, nearby farmers provide a potential source to get more fingerlings, as each pond will produce more fingerlings than can be restocked. Having multiple stocks also provides genetic diversity. Nearby farmers, when they work together, also learn from each other and share techniques so that fish farming is improved throughout a community.

So that’s been this week in fish farming. If I had been up to anything more exciting I would have talked about that, but every day this week has been spent with the farmers helping them make sure the ponds have been built correctly. We hope to fill them with water and begin fertilization soon, to develop a plankton bloom before stocking. Fish!

Half a Funeral and Munada

Reading this week: Working on Arabian Nights. I don’t think it’ll take me 1001 nights but it is kinda long. So far I can’t tell if spending all my money entertaining fake friends is a good idea or not.

This week I went to half a funeral and munada. The funeral was for my host father’s brother. Funerals in Zambia are community events are you are supposed to make an appearance. The funeral was to begin at approximately 0900 and I was told to show up at the Mbala hospital then. The hospital has a main entrance and then a back gate that opens up into a green space. I got directed to the back gate and found a large number of people milling about. As I spotted people I knew from the village, it dawned on me that the rather large crowd was all there for the funeral.

At 0900 a small contingent went through the back gate and into the hospital, carrying the casket to retrieve the body. Women started wailing at this point, on cue. The rest of everybody just sort of milled around. I spotted a professional photographer going around at this point, so I suppose I could have gotten my picture taken (last time I saw these guys they had a little portable printer for on-demand snaps, as they’re called). Eventually they came back out with the casket and the wailing really picked up.

They didn’t have a hearse, but the casket was loaded into the back of an old-style Land Cruiser with a Ministry of Health logo on the side. After the casket was loaded, people started hopping into the back of two canters, which are largeish flatbed trucks. Once everyone was loaded up, they set off to the sound of sirens. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to accompany the crowd based on some unclear directions I got from my host father, so I stayed and didn’t see the burial. I don’t know how standard any of these things are, but I think this was a slightly up-scale funeral. The brother was buried in a cemetary a few kilometers out of town, as opposed to outside the village somewhere.

So instead I went over to munada. Munada is an open-air market held twice a month. This was the first time I happened to be in town for it, so I visited. The merchandise is unfortunately pretty similar to what you can get any other day in town, but it was concentrated and I am sure there are deals to be had if you’re good at haggling. The vegetable and produce selection was probably a bit wider than normal, due to the larger range of people attracted to the market, so that was cool.

But there was still lots to see. One thing was the piles and piles of clothes. Thrift store cast-offs are shipped here in massive tightly-packed blocks and sold by the kilo. At events like these they bust some of those open and you can sort through the piles of random clothes to find something that might fit for pretty cheap. Towards the back of munada were the meat sellers. You could tell the meat was fresh because right below the side of beef was usually the skin. They would chop you off a chunk with an axe (the exact same kind they use for cutting wood, etc). Besides going home with some raw beef, there were plenty of vendors cooking and selling meat. I regret not getting any. My favorite thing was not one but at least two different people running the shell game in the middle of the paths between vendors. That just seemed old-timey and quaint to me. Just like the movies!

So anyways those were the highlights of my Tuesday. Hope you enjoyed them!