Friday, 17 July 2015

Returning from my other world

My return from the UK to Malawi was warm and welcoming. Our village, named Sam’s Village (8km from the Kamuzu International Airport) greeted myself and George (work colleague) with a poster made out of connected maize bags and writing. 

This was now my home. It was an incredible journey of reflection and learning back in the UK. A well-deserved break, if I may say so myself! I collected inspiration from my slightly confused more cultured mind and direction / advice for my path ahead. My main worry was if my role as the architect for the NGO Landirani Trust would be taken seriously and seen as professional in the ‘Western world’. I called up my tutor from Oxford Brookes University who then said ‘What is professionalism? I sighed in relief knowing I had learnt so many different roles including budgeting and project management. I had written many notes that I would collaborate into work diaries from my past and present experiences.  

Yes I was happy in Malawi. I had taken the plunge and my job satisfaction levels are still rewarding despite the everyday challenges of culture and hierarchies. I have continued drawing buildings to be erected this year. Our environmental training village has expanded. I helped to finish:
Visitors Accommodation: I helped to site manage and finish this build taken over from a guy called Simon Zipata Gates, He designed the house to have the first curved rammed wall in the region.

Visitors Accommodation
 Library: George Phiri was working alongside building the first community library in the whole region. This is nearly filled with donated books from all over the world!

Community Library with bottle wall
 Compost toilet: After realising there were plastic bottles coming from the aeroplanes off the 7 flights a day I started cycling across to collect them to be used as a building material. The rainwater is collected and stored off the roof. 

Plastic bottle compost toilet
Workshop: This was our first 2 storey earth build with a welcoming inward slanted wall and viewing section above. 

Training Accommodation: Another 2 storey build with narrow tall windows (better for structural stability) to follow the sun rising and setting paths.
Our aim is to create opportunities training people in vocational skills. Many people can visit and stay for a price that will reimburse back into the running of the project. The buildings work hand in hand with the landscaping and permaculture which is grown with many different types of plants to promote nutrition in the surrounding villages. It will also be a commercial farm in the future once we have secured the irrigation system to gain money for the running costs.
I have struggled to try and build a plastic bottle wind turbine (after gaining inspiration from reading the book, the boy who harnessed the wind). This highlights the need for improvement in my electrical knowledge. I researched this wind turbine would have to spin 1000 times a minute to charge the car battery it was connected to. This is a side project still in working progress!

Thatching Training Accommodation
George and I joined the conference Clayfest which was held in Errol, Scotland where we learnt the science and explanations into rammed earth. A good ratio of different soils mixed with a small amount of water binds as strong as concrete and acts with the same properties but is more breathable and climate responsive. It was really refreshing to meet like-minded architects, anthropologists, engineers, historians and sustainable characters who understood and were passionate for a change in mind set. 

Rammed Earth with Rowland Keable

Fibre and Clay Sculpture
 In Malawi like many places worldwide people believe concrete is stronger or more suitable for building than using the local natural resources. People in Malawi look at their grandparents skewed houses that are on the breach of collapse with the thin rammed walls (200mm) and decide fired bricks are more durable.  The rammed earth structures code of practice ICS91.080 highlights walls should be a minimum of 300mm thick. Small changes can ensure this technology is more robust.

We know earth is cheaper and more environmentally friendly but the costs for the large high capacity buildings at Sams Village are still incredibly high. This year and next I continue to research and look into affordable durable sustainable homes. This will be a big challenge but after an exciting break I am determined to come up with a solution to resolve one of the many issues of poverty.

Coming back to Malawi I can once again cycle down my 2 roads to work and greet people who respond with waves and smiles. People have a different energy that I collect for my inspiration.
A few fun volunteers from Landirani made a road trip to my favourite place Nkhata Bay for my first weekend back, this was for a biogas meeting in Mzuzu. I happily jumped in the back of the car heading north trying not to get too stuck into a routine on my return. 

 Patrick and I squashed into the boot of the car

Nkhata Bay Bay

 Sunset in Nkhata Bay 

Butterfly Space Nursery

Chikale Beach rockscape
 That bank holiday was for the Malawi Independence 51 years ago. There is another bank holiday this weekend due to Ramadam. Any temptations to go to Lake Malawi have been put aside as I realise I need to find a house to live in before my mum arrives in 2 weeks time. Her only request was for a hot shower so I will also have to paint a bucket black and make some sort of pulley so she feels comfortable!!!! Fun times. 

Mum's shower!