“The Daraja family built this shed from October 10, 2010 to November 23, 2010.” That’s the inscription that I plan to scratch into the COMPLETED walls of the Daraja Academy Shamba Shed. With a last push in the last week, and lots of dirty clothing, the girls, Nicholas, Karaoke and I finished the shed yesterday. What a wonderful feeling. I stand inside it and actually cannot believe that only a month ago, all that existed at that spot were two-foot deep trenches in the ground.
When I returned from Mombasa, Nicholas and Karaoke had put window frames in and had the bricks built to the height of the roof. They informed me that we still needed to make more bricks. At the start of the construction, I estimated we would not need over 400 bricks to complete the shed. However, we have easily used over 1500 by now. One thing I have definitely learned from this building is that it is hard to estimate – time, materials, anything – especially when you don’t know much about what you’re doing. (Though an easy calculation could have provided the accurate number of bricks… oh well, there’s another lesson for you.) So I climbed once again into the holding pit, stomping together sand, soil (by now at least the tenth truckload of each, when I had estimated three), and straw for what would hopefully be the last time.
Over the next couple of days, we built up to the height of the roof, nailed together and tied on the rafters, and filled the gaps between the walls and the rafters. To tell you the truth, in the days before and after Mombasa, I had regarded my work each day with a little bit of dread. I only wanted to spend time with the girls; I didn’t want to be doing this when I could do it in the United States. By the end of last week, I was thoroughly burnt out from the shed construction. Just when I began thinking up excuses to leave the worksite for the day, the task of plastering came to the rescue.
I have done more plastering than anything else when it comes to natural building, so Karaoke entrusted me with the job of plastering with the Daraja girls on Sunday. With final warnings to make the walls straight, he left for the weekend.
I made the announcement at lunch: today is the last day for the Daraja girls to work on the shed! If everyone comes to help, we can finish it on Sunday. I guessed maybe ten to twenty girls would come. There are a solid group of them that jump at every opportunity to help make bricks, mortar, or do anyting related to the building, and I could certainly rely on them. The girls started finals in a couple of days, though, so I assumed most would choose studying over plastering. However, around 2:00 on Sunday, every single Daraja girl came waltzing down to the garden, enthusiastic to be a part of the final Shamba Shed push.
We retrieved additional wheelbarrows from the construction site of the new dorm, and filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with plaster mix, attempting to keep a constant flow of plaster to all of the eager mud-covered hands. The girls formed natural little plaster teams, and when a new wheelbarrow arrived, a shrieking frenzy of girls would battle to scoop the plaster out of the wheelbarrow and bring it back for their team. Everyone had a different method; many of them had plastered at home before and others learned from watching their friends. Some girls threw handfuls at the wall and spread them across, while others used the heel of their hand to apply it in an upward slide. Hadija, one of the girls, had never been overenthusiastic before about helping out with the shed, but she is incredibly artistic, so the art of plastering and smoothing the walls attracted her. She worked harder than almost anyone, and ended up with mud warpaint on her cheeks as well as a testament to how much fun she had.
At first, I neurotically went around trying to delegate the task of making the walls perfectly flat and trying to moniter every wall myself. With 45 girls working, however, and rough walls to plaster, it proved to be close to impossible. So I surrendered, realizing that the walls that showed the color variations between the batches of plaster, the hand strokes of each girl, and natural curves of and bumps were much more beautiful than the stiff, immaculate cement walls of the other buildings. A third shamba shed lesson for you: natural building puts beauty in roughness and imperfections. I picked up handfuls of plaster and smeared them on the walls with the heels of my hand, racing the rest of the girls to get the new batch of plaster first. Finally, my love of natural building rushed back into me, as I stood there wonderfully covered in mud and feeling the smooth, sticky consistency of the plaster mixture. How awesome, to be feeling the soil of Kenya in my hands, and to be building this incredible structure to be used in years to come. I had no more pangs of dread about visiting the construction site for the remainder of the construction time; there was joy in each task for me.
A group of at least ten girls stayed all the way from 2 until 6:00, refusing to leave until they finished the last wall. Again, working with the girls had taught me so much and completely reinspired me about what I had been doing. I really don’t know how they do that. I only hope that the memory of them can do the same thing when I am at home without them.
On Monday, we installed the roof on the building and I completed the plaster that needed reaching with a ladder. With a couple of final pictures of us in front of our work, I let Nicholas and Karaoke go, thanking them once again (and promising to make prints of all the pictures). Tuesday, I swept the floor, returned all of the materials, and put Alice’s tools in the locked closet. Now, the building stands majestic, with iron sheets on the roof, glass bottles for windows, a recycled door to a locked closet, and a beautiful plaster job over strong walls of adobe brick. I don’t regret for a minute this being my project at Daraja… it put me in the shoes of someone who did this as their work, and allowed me to connect with the girls in such a unique way. We are having a party for the shed on Saturday, for which I will make a carrot cake and write the inscription on the wall. Success!