Wow! So much has happened since my last update, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s been a busy last 5 months for our little team, with no signs of slowing down. We’ve been building planning, resource gathering, hosting my mom and Oli, learning how to use a chainsaw – and everything in between! It’s been an incredibly exciting and humbling last few months on the natural building front.
Back on the ground in March, I started making a strategic plan for the land based on our new seasonal surveillance. A large storm caused three large trees to uproot, creating a natural clearing on the land. Because our goal is to work with nature and not against it, we decided to take this opportunity to declare this clearing one of our first building sites. It will eventually be a parking and storage area – no, nothing glorious, but practical. Now, what to do with all this wood? In Malawi, the type of tree usually dictates how it’s used and these three trees were not overly useful in the traditional sense (i.e. they can’t be used for planks and aren’t great for firewood).
One of our goals on this project is to take materials that usually go to waste and transform them into viable building materials. Malawi has a problem with deforestation, so we are trying to be very deliberate and think outside the box about what natural and artificial waste we can use. Having spent much of the last year studying up on natural building techniques, I thought it would be interesting to try a cordwood building for our first bungalow. One of the great things about cordwood construction is that practically any type of wood can be used, as well as any size (so we can use trunks and branches). Of course, there are a few obstacles with the Malawian climate/environment that we need to address (like burrowing insects), but we decided to commit to the idea and give it a go!
While I am trying to come up with creative natural building methods, I also want to be able to incorporate the local style of building as well. Malawians have been building on their landscape forever, and I’m a newbie, so working with local builders is essential for me to understand what will work and what will be a flop! Since we are building on a slope, we decided to hire a local stonemason to start on the foundation of our bungalow. One concession I had to make, per his recommendation, is to use a bit of cement. Cement is probably one of the least eco-friendly materials, so I wanted to avoid using it altogether. However, our builder convinced me that his ratio for mixing it with sand would minimize the amount needed, while maintaining structural integrity. Since it’s a lodge, I figured it’s better to err on a the side of a more solid foundation. And so far, the builder is blowing us away with his pace, attention to detail and determination to make this a beautiful space!
Since things are moving full speed ahead on the construction front, I had to make a quick trip back to America to get Oliver started in first grade. Of course, I am also making the best use of this seemingly unlimited access to Wifi as well. It turns out that forming a business and a non-profit, on top of community projects, infrastructure projects, building projects and momming, requires more time on a computer than I want to willingly give! But it also means I can catch up with a lot of my friends and family members in the US….oh, and this whole blogging thing.
On that note, I’ll save more of the excitement for the next post. But just to tip you off, we’ve finally picked a name for the business and the non-profit. As soon as our new logo and website are done, we’ll work on re-branding! I can’t wait to share it with you all. Thank you so much for being part of this adventure!