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Outhouses, mud walls, and collapsing ceilings. 

October 12, 2015

On Sunday morning, back at Vinings, I was talking to our music director about the trip to Honduras. I told him we taught VBS, poured cement floors for ten houses, built four latrines, and made two room additions. He said, “Oh cool. You got to use a nail gun, right?” Not exactly. I explained that it wasn’t that type of room addition. Walls are more like sticks and mud. “Oh,” he said. It hit me that no matter how much we talk about a trip, no matter how detailed you try to describe the poverty, it’s still incredibly hard to picture. We just assume things are a worse version of what we have, but in Central America, and many other parts of the world, that’s just not the case. So what exactly are the room additions? They look something like this…

A new room addition framed and ready for mudding.

In most of these villages houses are only one or two rooms. Maybe 3-4 if you’re lucky. That’s enough to house an entire family. There’s usually only one bedroom, and then perhaps a kitchen (unless they have an outdoor oven/stove). I usually only ever see one bed. So to get a room addition could literally double the size of their house and allow the 5-10 people living there a chance to spread out..a bit.

Two walls of the outhouse the family framed before our team even arrived.

My first mudding experience this week was the walls of the outhouse where we built the latrine. When we arrived they already had two of the walls framed with sticks. The great part about HOI is that they work really hard to not create a dependent relationship with the villages. Each family has to put forth the prep work before our teams arrive (like digging 10x5x5 ft holes, or framing the walls with sticks) and they have to provide part of the materials such as sand to mix with cement (which they collect by hand from the river, strap to a horse, and carry it up the mountain and back to the house).

After a wall is framed with two layers of lattice work sticks, then comes the mud. Our first house had the convenience of a huge pile of dirt from the latrine hole they had just dug. So to make the mud the lady of the house showed me what to do: kneel down next to the big pile of dirt, splash some water on it, then start working it into a big wad. She sort of kneaded it together like bread dough and made giant mud balls. Mine were pitiful compared to hers. After a dozen or so were made, we carried them over (carefully) to the frame of the outhouse, then tore off smaller pieces and flung it down in between the sticks.

Adding mud between the slots to build a wall.

You sort of make a mini mud pie to fill in the gaps, then slap another one down on top, pressing down as you go to get out all the spaces. It was steady work, and really kind of fun. Kneeling and bending to get the rows on the bottom were tough on the knees and back after awhile, but once you could stand up and finish the higher levels, it was pretty easy work. You just can’t think too hard about what’s mixed in with that mud. Every now and then a color contrast reminded you that there was plenty of organic material mixed in with the mud, but it was too late to think about gloves at that point.

One of the other teams finished their latrine and outhouse early so they came to check out the site where Bob and I were working. Someone noticed, “we used plywood to make our outhouse walls. What’s the difference with the mud walls?” In short: money. Wood boards costs a lot more than using natural sticks and mud found around the yard. Just like some of your neighbors may have a fancier bathroom than you, some villagers had fancier outhouses than others, presumably from how much each family could pay.

Karen and Diane (Deana) are now mudding pros!

On Tuesday afternoon we went to another house and did a full size room addition. They had all three walls lined up ready to be muddled, and the roof beams were ready for tin (or so we thought). Just like there are a million ways to drive, fold laundry, or scramble an egg, there also seems to be many ways to mud a house, according to personal preference. Since we were working with a different family in the afternoon, we didn’t kneel down in the dirt to add water and make mud. Instead, they treated the dirt just like a pile of concrete, and dug out a volcano to add water. After mixing that all together, then it was time to knead and make mud balls. Where the outhouse was covered completely with mud so you couldn’t even seem the supporting sticks, this family slapped mud in between the slats, but wasn’t too concerned about covering all the wood. Either way, the walls got filled in and looked pretty good.

Not bad for two hours of work. Just needs a little more mud (and tin).

As we were slapping mud down, several others were above us adding the roof. It was only a few minutes into the process when we heard a loud crash. One of the support beams that had been nailed into the adjacent beam in the original house came crashing down, along with one or two of the villagers who had been balancing on it. Nobody was hurt, but they realized the support beam was rotten, and would not support the weight of another beam. After some quick construction from one of our team members, they created a load bearing beam from the ground up that would keep the roof in place and eliminate the possibility that the whole thing would come crashing down. Earlier in the day when I heard we were roofing I told Martha I wanted to help. She said ok, as long as I didn’t get on the roof. Disappointed I asked why. After seeing the support beam come crashing down I thought, “Oh, that’s why.” Overall, it was a very adventurous and exciting day.

Dan (Papi Dulce, Gallo Grande, etc.) literally holding up the roof while others nailed down the tin.

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