From the scene – week no. 13
What is happening on the construction site?
We continue with the concreting, we have the lower parts of all the columns, but we are still finishing the upper part and the lintels. The prepared molds are slowly being filled with concrete and we are taking good care of it. However, the regular watering to ensure the concrete is curing properly is an adrenaline rush. Balancing on a three-metre-high structure with a full bucket of water in a strong wind isn't for the faint of heart. Luckily, after lunch break, the construction manager Honza came up with an idea. Over time we've got used to him drawing all sorts of sketches at his desk to ease our work. Last time it was an easy-to-make scaffold, which simplified our work in tying the reinforcement and in pouring the concrete. Now pouring concrete is made much easier with a long bamboo and a piece of canister drilled in several places. In the next few days, we have been "showering" the concrete from the safety of solid ground and our nurse Katie was relieved.
The building is already shaping up nicely, and therefore we need to start thinking about the fillings of the gaps. We had the gate, the main entrance to the building, made a few weeks ago in Lusaka, and Vasek is responsible for the windows. With Lucy's help, the cutting of the steel window profiles is quickly done, but the welding is a bigger challenge. All the saws, drills and mixers we need on the site, the generator has so far managed. But together with the welding machine, though, it's too much. Therefore, Vasek moved the welding machine to the electricity source at our house. Unfortunately, even the local electricity is not enough, and we need to find an alternative solution. In the meantime, when there is no need for a generator to power the other machines, Vasek can weld the window. And Bornface, the head of a local NGO, will get someone in a town to finish the other 6 pieces according to the model.
On Tuesday, 6/9/23 , we are done with the bricks. We tried to motivate our local partners and within a week they went from 300 bricks a day to over 600 a day. And how did we all do it? The volunteers were impatient, often doing the procedure differently than we said they would. We had to check and re-explain everything carefully. So, the beginning was slow. We gradually started to optimise the whole process and it was necessary to include regular cleaning and oiling of the machines in the production. By the end of the first week, we had perfected the process. We need 6100 bricks - half of them to be made with a small admixture of cement, and the other half will be cement-free. We'll need a half-size for the brickwork, which the brick press can also produce with a slight modification. In order to finish the building before we leave, we calculate a minimum production rate of 500 bricks per day. We got to 503 on about the fourth day. Volunteers were making bricks themselves over the weekend to make up for the loss of the first few days. In the next week, the motivation comes. We've promised them Coke, Sprite, Fanta. And behold, we're up to over 600 bricks a day. But there was also the occasional complication, like when the lever on the brick press broke and we had to weld it. But then we offered the volunteers time off after reaching the agreed number. They managed as many as 700 pieces in a morning shift. So, we were done. But at the end of the day, there was still training on how to change the molds in the brick press and how to look after it properly.
There was also a mid-week training session on bricklaying. Peter explained to the locals, and indeed to us, how the brick press would be done and how important it would be to be careful, so the bricks fit together nicely. To help us we have a local foreman who has just been working nearby. We approached him to see if he wanted to help us. He was interested in our bricks, so he didn't hesitate. And a few days later, we were very happy. We started with the gable walls, which will be load-bearing. We were using bricks with 10% cement and cement mortar. The first and second bays consist of two rows of bricks in a row, and the third bay consists of bricks turned across to make the wall well-reinforced. It takes a lot of work to get the right amount of mortar to make the whole row straight and then make the bricks fit together. But the Zambian master bricklayer had it in his eye after a while and everything was moving quickly. He was giving us, and our volunteers valuable advice and we just hope that we will soon get into the rhythm.
How we started
As part of the filming of interesting stuff from Kashitu, we also looked at how a lesson in the nursery is conducted. We marvelled at how the little heathens, usually causing mischief in our front yard, sat outside in their mini desks and listened to their teacher. Elisabeth was just teaching the children to count. They are counting in English, and we were amazed by the eagerness of the pupils. The lesson was hilarious and the children were engaged. They are learning outside for now as we are using their nursery as a bit of a warehouse, but no one minds. On the contrary, they cheerfully always take out their tables and chairs and then come back to the classroom after the lesson.
At school, it was a bit more serious. In one class, we just saw a math lesson. The teacher was explaining the sequences and when he started calling the students to the blackboard, we discreetly left. In the other classroom just across the hall, there was complete silence. The students were copying the material from the blackboard into their notebooks. Meanwhile, children from another class were outside playing dodgeball. Instead of a ball, they had a number of plastic bags and cloth rolled into a ball.
Then Joe talked to us for a while. He teaches English and Maths at the school and is also a PTA member (Parent Teacher Association). He's like a liaison between the school and the parents. He tries to boost school spirit and raise funds for activities that the school can't cover. For example, through this they learn how to make bricks and how to make their own ball. We also learnt that the tests are in the form of questions written on wooden boards. Or that they get weekly homework in each subject, some for longer periods of time. Like making your cooking utensils. And his final sentence says it all: "If I couldn't bring some benefit to the community, my education would be useless."
At the market
We also went to the local market. Don't be fooled, Kashitu is quite a large, sprawling area, so got in the car and drove for a nice 20-30 minutes. There were vegetables to buy, especially tangerines, which we were running low on and starting to have withdrawal symptoms. We also bought the fabrics we were looking forward to and the more adventurous ones bought local soap. It seemed like a good idea at the market, but at home, the intense "smell" was discouraging. (The soap went out of the house later that day. However, we may have figured out how the locals can get their clothes so super clean from construction while hand washing them.) Before we left home, we popped into the "bakery", a small shop where the lady had a few toasted breads, eggs and other snacks. Among other things, Mirinda (Fanta). The last 4 pieces and we took them all.
On Friday, Lucka, Terka, Vasek, who are already flying home, together with Katka and Honza, who need to extend their visas and do some shopping left to Lusaka. Plus they have one big task, to get a guitar for Maxwell! Maxwell is a local volunteer who cannot hear or speak. Despite this he has always managed to get along with everyone on site and has been one of the best workers. When we interviewed him, it turned out that he made his own guitar using stretched wires and playing chords on it. He can feel the vibrations and finds playing fun and fulfilling. After the interview, we all said the same thing, "we need to get a guitar!" But we'll be sure to write more about Maxwell. It's worth the story alone.On the way to Natwange, a hotel in Lusaka, we stopped at a roastery we found to buy some coffee for a fund-raising sale. We made quite a large purchase, so the owner took us in and gave us a little lecture as well. She drives around the coffee plantations in Zambia herself and chooses carefully. We've already tasted the coffee and it's great. Then we quickly went to immigration to have our visa extended.
On Saturday morning Katka and Honza drove back to Kashita. Lucka, Terka and Vasek went to the market in Lusaka, where they needed to buy things for the fund-raising sale. As Vasek's departure to the airport is approaching, they discovered that he was not flying on Saturday, but on Monday. Oh well, the dates kept changing before the flights, so we forgive him. Anyway, what now? And there's a quick idea to drive to Victoria Falls in one day. 500km wouldn't be too bad but here but in Zambia? They rented a car at the last minute on Saturday night and left at 4 a.m. on Sunday. Vasek and Lucy took turns behind the wheel. In Zambia, people drive on the left side and signs like stop signs or solid lines seem to be just for fun. There is also a lot of honking in Zambia, but it is for fun. You honk when you're overtaking when you're manoeuvring, when you want the truck driver to know you're there, and just for the hell of it. Pretty soon they realised they couldn't really do the 500 km in the 5 hours as the GPS says. Although the roads to the falls are much better than northbound, there are still parts where the roads are full of potholes, where you meet trucks that won't and won't pass you, and where goats or cows just cross the road. Not to mention the checkpoints, places where you are checked by the local police, and you have to
turn on your blinkers in front of them. And speed bumps that are in the colour of the road, certainly no warning anywhere beforehand and several times higher than any top speed bump in the country. It is not worth it to drive fast on them. Especially if you don't have a big car. You're basically asking for complete destruction. But got to Livingston and by 1 pm they were being greeted by the local free-roaming baboons. It's indescribable. Since they had to go back the same day, after two hours, they were on the road again. I mean, a quick visit to the statue of Emil Holub is a must. I prefer not to comment the route back. An endless eight hours of driving, testing seat belts every minute. It's dark early, public lighting is non-existent and everyone around you is shining their high beams. It was a hell, but it was worth it. By midnight, they all go to sleep with fatigue.
On Monday, before leaving for the airport, our travellers meet Marta and Anezka. They're the last ones going to Kashitu. And it won't be easy. But that's another week and for another article.
And a little bit of life in Kashitu…