I’ve been in Haiti now for just over a week, and the straw bale Ti Kay Pay (Little Straw House) is advancing nicely. I arrived December 12th (my flight had been delayed twice prior to that due to the violence in Haiti after the election announcements) to join Andy Mueller & Martin Hammer at Grassroots United, the NGO base camp where we are situated, and where the house is being constructed. When I flew out of Montreal, my flight was yet again delayed (but only by 50 minutes this time) due to a snow storm that had just started…and I arrived at Port-au-Prince to T-shirt & shorts weather. Quite a welcome contrast!
My original arrival date would have had Andy and I overlap by close to a week, but with the changed date, we only had a day and a half to work together. When I arrived, Andy had already been here for close to three weeks, Martin for close to that time. The foundation was complete, and all of the bales were stacked, complete with top plates installed, but the walls of this load bearing building weren’t yet cinched down. We spent a day tweaking corners, straightening walls, and trading off information so that I would know where to take the project from there.
The rice bales are smaller than bales I’m accustomed to, and certainly not as dense. They are quite ‘squishy’- the walls of the house have lost a foot of height to date! The farmer has been by a couple of times, and for the next bales he does, they will tie them much tighter in hopes of creating stronger bales that won’t compress nearly as much.
Jean-Louis & Annio, two local Haitian men, round out our team. Over the past week, we have erected the trusses, put on the purlins, and installed the metal on the roof, so the roof is now nicely protected (minus the ridge cap: it is being made by some local fellows, and should be here today).
I have had to let go of expectations of how long thing take, being here. My estimates of how long tasks take are generally quite good, but here, there are constant interruptions to the work flow, materials that don’t arrive on time, materials that don’t exist, and so on. It’s also really hot (despite this being ‘winter’ here), and the heat always slows you down somewhat. You definitely have to be creative with materials at hand, improvise, and invent. The sand for plastering, for instance, is being made by taking rubble (of which ther is no shortage in Haiti!), putting it into the rubble crusher, and manually crushing it. Then it has to be sifted to get the larger chunks separated out. It takes a lot of labour to make enough sand to plaster a tiny building, but then again, there is no shortage of labour in this country with such a high unemployment rate.
I came here to this BWB project to help with plastering, but alas! we haven’t come anywhere near plastering yet. We still have window & door bucks to install before we can plaster, wire X bracing has to be put on, and walls will want to be tweaked once more. We are planning a lime plaster for the exterior, with earthen inside. The earthbag foundation will receive a cement based plaster, with a break between that plaster and the upper wall plastering. The lime hasn’t yet arrived, so it isn’t sitting there slaking and getting rich and creamy, as one would hope. (The lime was ordered some five weeks ago, but alas, no sign of it). And we haven’t even unearthed any clay yet for plaster tests, as all of the energy up until now has had to go into getting the building protected from the elements. So, we’re inching forward, learning as we go, and making note of improvements for next time.
There has been favourable support of our little house from visitors to the site- this house is made with local straw, will be plastered with local clay, in a relatively simple building style. Many of the homes being built in Haiti by foreign contractors post earthquake are made entirely of imported materials- plywood homes, or framed vinyl-clad homes. It’s great that people are coming and building homes to help some of the thousands of displaced people move into a proper home, but it won’t be sustainable to build vinyl homes once that foreign aid disappears. There is still rice being grown in Haiti, and more could be grown should the demand increase, for an accessible form of building.
We aren’t sure how the rice straw will perform in this hot climate, but there are several moisture meters spread throughout the building so that we can graph and chart moisture levels.
Time to go see if breakfast is ready before starting out a new day of work at the Ti Kay Pay.