Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My African h-o-m… h-o-m… HOUSE

Ok, ok, I just can’t say it. It has been suggested that I begin to think of my African life as my h-o-m… h-o-m… h-o-m… I just can’t say it. I’m not sure I’ll ever think of Africa as my HOME. There, I said it.

But I am falling in love with my HOUSE.

I absolutely love my new house.

A friend has mentioned that she envies my “simpler lifestyle.” I never really think of my life here in Africa as simple, but I guess comparatively speaking, it is.

For one thing, I am much more conscious of resources and of two specifically: water and electricity.

The water pressure in my home is very low. This means that it takes a long time for things to fill: kettles, cooking pots, washing basins, bathtubs… It also means that I can't try to run two faucets at once.  For example, I can’t run the tub and fill a kettle at the kitchen sink. Is this complaining? Heck no! I just have a lot of time to sit by a running faucet feeling grateful for it.

Also, my toilet doesn’t flush. I flush it by dumping a bucket (or two, or three) of water into the bowl to flush it. In this way, I’m constantly horrified to see (and know!) how much fresh water it takes to flush a toilet bowl. Every time I flush, I’m reminded what a wasteful process we have in place to remove our waste.

And lastly, the water on campus is shut off on a regular basis. I can go without water for as little as a couple of hours to the record-to-date: six days. (This was the notorious water outage I experienced upon arriving to site: when I had swine flu!! Yuck! It's really nice to have running water--and a flush toilet--when your sick!)

Each morning when I’m washing my hands, I’m reminded how nice it is to have HOT water coming out of a tap. I’m reminded of this because I only have cold water running out of my tap. When living in Louisville, I worked for an employer who rented our office space in an old building. For awhile, the boiler was out, and I remember grumbling about how painful it is to wash my hands in cold water. I was grumpy enough to write a commentary about it that aired on our local public radio station! To think, I would be grumpy about washing my hands in cold water!

Welcome to rural South Africa!!

So I try to be grateful as I heat the kettle that heats my water for the basin I’ll pour to wash my hands.

I’m very, very, very grateful to have running taps in my house, as I know that many PC volunteers haul their water from a community tap. I’m a lucky girl.

Another consumable resource I’m constantly reminded of is electricity.

In the hostel room where I was staying, the college provided—paid for—my electricity. It was one of the perks I lost when I moved to the trailer. (Believe me, the trade off was worth it!!) I now pay for my electricity and I put money on a meter inside my trailer. I buy electricity from various vendors in my shopping town, they issue a receipt with a code, and I punch the code into my meter when I return home. The meter lets me see how much electricity I’m using so I always feel anxious when I’m cooking, heating water for a bath, and sitting by my heater—all at the same time!

I like how the meter has a smiley face and a frowney face to encourage me to put a lot of money in the meter! Aren’t utilities companies smart? You KNOW I want to keep my guy smiling!

We lose power somewhat regularly. All South Africans were amazed at the continuous supply of water and electricity while the world had their eyes on South African World Cup Soccer. And more than a few of us find ourselves sitting in the dark eating a cold dinner these days after soccer. But I enjoy my dinner by candlelight and feel something like Abe Lincoln must as he trundled off to bed to read for a bit.

There are three things that I love best about my new h-o-m-… h-o-m… HOUSE: there is a lot of elbow room, it’s quiet, and it’s close to the ground.

Most PC volunteers live in very, very small quarters. Emily, my nearest volunteer lives in a shoebox. Or a closet...  I live in a very, very large home. I have my bedroom (pictured, with the maps), a store room, (yes, a store room!), a combined kitchen and living area, and a guest room (yes, a guest room). I have plenty of room to spread out and it is very comfortable. I've decided that Emily should come live with me! 

Since my trailer is especially long, it’s amazing how I can move away from noise just from moving from one end to the other. I often find myself retreating to my bedroom if the college kids are especially boisterous.

I absolutely adore how quiet my new home is. I sit on my porch every night when the sun goes down, listening to the quiet of the night. On church nights, I can hear a congregation singing across the village. I mostly enjoy watching the swallows fly silently by to go nestle into the eaves for the night.

And finally, I love how my new home is closer to the ground. When I stayed in the hostel, I was on the second floor, and very far from the ground. With my own space, I am free to garden, compost, and feed the wild birds.

I bought a shovel for my birthday and am using the winter months to prepare a few beds to grow vegetables. I was hoping to use a deep mulching technique to prepare my vegetable beds, but as the photo above illustrates, my college campus groundskeepers are a bit of fire bugs. They burn all useable yard debris.

Living near the ground allows me to save my vegetable scraps for composting. In this way, I can feed the soil that will feed my vegetable garden. I saved my vegetable scraps while living in the hostel and used them to feed the goats. Unfortunately, the goats still sometimes lunch in my compost! Oh well! It all works in all comes out the same in the end!  ;-)
And living closer to the ground allows me to feed my wild birds. I love feeding wild birds. I spent a fortune feeding wild birds in the States, but I’m getting along fine with a bit of peanut crumbs and fruit peelings. As all birders know, fresh water draws birds better than feed anyway. And fresh water is somewhat free!

So, as I can’t call it my h-o-m… h-o-m… h-o-m-e just yet, I absolutely LOVE my African HOUSE!



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