Building a house in the Linda Miller community

While waiting for our official teaching jobs to begin, Jana and I were asked if we wanted to help build a house. It sounded like fun and a great way to get to know some of the people here, so we were excited. When we first arrived, a wall had been laid around the house (for where the walls would go), but nothing else – great, practically the beginning.

We started with simple jobs, moving dirt, carrying cinder blocks, and moving wood. Nothing too exciting, but we (Jana and I) didn’t really know what we were doing. On the second or third day, Jana had a migraine and had to leave early, after which one of the guys cracked a joke about it being “man’s work”. I told him to never say that to a woman from the US, because many would take that as a challenge. When I told Jana about it, she decided that instead she could bake treats and bring them during breaks instead. This gave her the opportunity to share cookies and other goodies with many of the other houses in the community.

It was very interesting watching how the house went together. The first few days involved moving lots of blocks and dirt and wood, but then they started mixing concrete. For me, this was an amazing process because in the US I have only seen pre-mixed concrete in bags, or delivered from a truck. Instead they have a great process – 2 wheelbarrows of gravel, 2 wheelbarrows of sand, and 2 bags of cement. Using shovels they turn the pile over into a big mound that kind of looks like snow topped mountain. Then they hollow out the mountain into a ring (it then looks like Mt. St. Helens today) and they pour two buckets of water in the middle. Working from the outside, they slowly shovel the mix on top of itself until it is completely mixed. And voila, concrete.

Once the concrete was mixed, the foundation was poured in two days. Its kind of funny that it took two days to complete the foundation, but they only had enough wood to make forms for half of the house at a time. The foundation sat for a few days before the next step – cinder blocks.

It turns our that putting the cinder blocks in place seems to be the easiest part of the process, but getting ready for the blocks is the hard part. First, we setup 2×4’s in each corner of the house and took extra care to ensure they were 100% vertical. Then, they were measured and marks were made every 10 inches or so, and then a fishing line was run from one pole to the other based on the marks. This seemed to take for ever, and I have to admit was fairly boring because I didn’t know what was happening, and therefore couldn’t help. However, once the fishing line was done, down went a layer of mortar and the first row or blocks.

Once all the corners were squared, the walls started going up quickly. I learned how to screen sand so the mortar can be made, and I moved a lot of cinder blocks. At first the blocks were a little far from the house, and needed to be closer, so I moved them to the front of the house. Then it turns out that the people putting up the walls are working from the inside, so I begin moving the blocks inside the house. Then, it turns our that the blocks need to be cleaned (rough edges from the extraction process needing scraped off), so I moved the blocks again, cleaning each one as it happened. My arms were getting sore, but I was glad that it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.

The most recent task however, is prepping the floor. Right now its dirt, and with a shovel and rake we made it somewhat flat (not really, but there aren’t mountains of rock anywhere). Then I see one of the guys carrying what looks like the drive-train from a car, with a flat piece of metal welded to the end – a home-made tamper. I have seen people use tampers before and figured it couldn’t be that difficult, but the guys here are finally seeing the limits of my strength. The tamper probably weighs close to 50 pounds, and after 10 or 20 times using it, I was seriously wondering what it would take to rent a gas-powered unit.
I decided I was going to work as hard as I could, and do everything I can to avoid using the tamper (there is only one, so as long as I am busy, I can let someone else do it). I started moving the blocks again (this time out of the house, since all the walls are done), shoveling dirt like crazy, and helping level the floor with the rake while someone else is tamping.

So far its a lot of work, but I am really looking forward to seeing it finished. If we keep up the pace, both the floor and roof should be done by the end of the month. The interior walls will be built with drywall, which means electricity, water, doors and windows are the only outstanding items.

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