How to Build a Community Center in Mozambique

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Africa » Mozambique » Central » Beira
July 19th 2008
Published: August 16th 2008
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Today was interesting again. Maybe not as good as yesterday, but good. The first thing we did in the morning was go to work at the village where we had the long discussion I told you about before. We went out to work on the machessa, which is a community center that will serve as a place for community meetings, health stuff, and whatnot. It’s about 20 feet by 50 feet. I worked mostly on the roof, nailing bamboo pieces to the wood frame.
I’ve decided that one way to gauge the difference in development between countries is to compare their types of building materials. In the US, you have carefully measured lumber. In Peru, our lumber was measured plus or minus 1/4” in each dimension, which was a huge pain to deal with. In Mozambique, they don’t build with lumber. You buy large sticks maybe 12 feet long, still with the bark on, that are about three inches in diameter and more or less straight. Roofing materials follow the same pattern. In the US, you can get anything. In Peru we used clay tiles with mud for mortar. In Mozambique we use thatched grass woven together.
For Care

One family's food prep/washing area. The tables made of sticks are pretty common here--the only furniture some people have.
for Life’s machessas, we build the frame out of those sticks, and then do bamboo cross-members about every foot or so on the roof, and then put big thatches of grass on top of that. The materials cost about $600, and the theory is that Care for Life springs for that amount if the villagers help. Many of them did today, which is good—particularly given the grudging reaction that we got from many of them at our last meeting. When building the walls, you nail horizontal sticks of bamboo about four inches apart on all the walls. The bamboo is attached on the inside and outside of the wood frame. Then you fill that three-inch gap between the bamboo with mud and rocks, and maybe cover the outside with mud plaster if you really want to get fancy.
Tonight for dinner we went to the fanciest place in town. I understand that it’s the only nice place in town, and it’s pretty nice—nice enough that I was shocked it was in Beira. I’m told that a room there costs $150 a night, which is about twice what a normal job here pays for a month. We had pizza that
Making corn flourMaking corn flourMaking corn flour

Theirs is much finer than the corn meal you see in the US. They use it to make "shima," a paste-like staple.
was actually pretty good. I was impressed. The girl on our team that got a curly black hair in her pizza was not impressed, though, and I don’t blame her for that. Eww.
Speaking of job, in our English class the other day I asked the guys if they have jobs. They said no. I asked why. They said they didn’t have money. I said, huh? They said that jobs are in such demand that you have to pay a big up-front fee to get one. They said that a typical job would pay about 1,500 meticais ($60) a month, and in order to get that job they’d have to pay an up-front fee of 1,000 meticais, which is completely impossible.
Until today we’ve been getting around in a cramped minivan. But on the weekends I guess we don’t get the minivan. We have to use our pickup, in which we all sit in the back, under a shell, facing each other and bouncing around. For some reason I can’t fathom, I haven’t gotten significantly carsick as we bounce around on rutty dirt roads in that thing. Tender mercy, I suppose.
Hmm, let me think of everything

They loved to use my pen to make a few marks on my note pad.
I can remember from the village today. Kids followed me everywhere, especially after I take a picture of them and show them on the back of my camera. I showed them my little notebook that I take notes in throughout the day, and I let them write in it. They had all glee doing that. I brought my printer in the truck but didn’t get it out because the leaders were there and had recommended against it because they said a million kids would show up and it would be pandemonium. Plus I was working for most of the time and kind of didn’t feel like dealing with it anyway.
I haven’t seen anyone here who really looks like they’re starving. Some skinny people, but not emaciated like Ethopians on TV or anything. I have seen a couple of people laying pathetically on the ground under blankets, with or without the blanket covering their heads and with or without hacking coughs. I assume that they have tuberculosis and/or AIDS. But given the infection rates, I’ve been a little surprised that I haven’t seen more sick people. I think that given the stigma, they probably stay indoors mostly. I’ve been

This friendly woman seemed to be one of the more prosperous people in the village--two dwellings, wood windows, chairs.
in a couple orphanages, but never a villager’s house. Never have got up the guts to ask. It seems pretty intrusive and unnecessary. Can’t imagine there’s much in there anyway. The great majority of these people live in simple mud huts with one or maybe two rooms. They have some dishes, some clothes, and presumably some bedding. I’m not sure there’d be much else to see.
You can see what the villagers eat by what’s around. Today a woman was making corn meal. I’ve seen them beating and husking rice. There are manioc plants all over (thank heavens for Mozambique those are so easy to grow—you cut a stick and put it in the ground and another manioc plant will sprout right up). And they grow sweet potatoes. They also eat bananas, papayas, coconuts and oranges. And I’ve seen a lot of chickens around. I think that about sums it up as far as food goes, unless you count alcohol, which there’s a lot of. Oh, wait, I’ve seen cashews for sale too. Haven’t tried any—they actually look a bit iffy. Not exactly the equivalent of Planter’s.
Yesterday when I was in the village a 19-year old guy
Making a thatch roofMaking a thatch roofMaking a thatch roof

Not too hard, but monotonous.
followed me around and chatted me up as I took pictures of kids and the guys I was with met with villagers. Well, chatted me up as well as you can given my lousy Portuguese (which actually I have to say has surprised people with how decent it is, but still I hardly understand anything). After a while, he asked one of the guys I was with to ask me in English if I would take him to America. It was sad. I didn’t want to tell him no outright, so I asked him if he had exit papers. He didn’t even know what they were, so the guy with me explained that you need lots of documents and they cost lots of money. That took care of that. But it’s really sad that they seem to have smarts and some of the young ones at least seem to have drive. There’s just absolutely nothing that they can do in this economy to significantly pull themselves up.
Their soil in their family gardens looks to be really fertile. I think that if they had some way to do some more sophisticated agricultural methods, they’d be a whole lot better
No, I wouldn't pet itNo, I wouldn't pet itNo, I wouldn't pet it

Gotta love those spiders.
off. Any number of reasons why that’s not the case, I suppose. But I don’t understand why they don’t dig a well in the high part of the village, dig irrigation ditches to the various places, bring more land under cultivation and make money doing so. I’m sure there are reasons but sheesh.
Water comes from community wells about 15 feet deep. I’ve heard that in the dry season they go dry and it’s a huge nightmare because people have to go a long way to get water and then carry it home. They lose most of their crops during that time of the year. And I assume that they spend a huge amount of their time on that as well. Why don’t they pitch in and dig a deep one for the community to use during the dry season? I don’t know.
They are ingenious toy-makers. Some of the boys have push cars made of wire and the ends of pop cans. They’re pretty impressive. I have some pictures.
Tonight it was a little warm in the apartment so we opened our window and went into the main room for a little while. When we came
Weekend transportationWeekend transportationWeekend transportation

Never have I so missed our cruddy minivan as when we had to ride in the back of our way-more-crowded pickup truck.
back someone had burned a big pile of trash nearby, so my room ain’t smelling really great at this point. I’m getting a sore throat, too (got it from Tucker, I think), so the smoke isn’t feeling good.
This afternoon we went to an orphanage to work and play with the kids. A previous team of volunteers had built shelves in the orphans’ wretched closets (and I mean wretched—broken drawers, water damage throughout, mold all over). I built wire “curtain rods” hung on nails over the closet so that we could make drapes to cover the closets. I understand that wood doors are a real luxury here, and no way could any orphanage afford to have a door on a closet. One little guy helped me for a while until he got tired of it. It really stunk in those bedrooms—the pee was soaked into beds and into the concrete floor. While I was in there, I went into the bathroom to check it out. Oh my gosh. I’m not sure I’ve never seen any more disgusting bathroom. I don’t think the toilets flush, but people still seem to be using them nonetheless. The reek was unbelievable. And the bathroom in general was just really dirty. I took some neat/sad photos of the orphanage, and I suspect that you’ll be glad to hear that the interior of the toilet was not among them.
We also spent time playing with the kids. That’s mostly what Tucker did at the orphanage while I was working. He does enjoy playing with the young’uns.
Tomorrow is church.


8th June 2009

thanks soo much for ur mozambique info! it was very very helpful!

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