Well I am into my last week here in Amazing India. Here is a brief report of our progress:
I said good-bye to the builder yesterday as he has left for one week’s holiday for a family wedding. Amazingly he met his target and that is to have all the masonry walls finished for the main part of the building. It has been an interesting process to learn to accept the available materials, as the bricks we are using are of terrible quality and fall apart in your hand… However, in keeping with the theme of the rest of this crazy country…. We make it work!
It has been great spending time on site and seeing how it works. Everything is very low-tech, and mortar mix is carried in bowls on women’s heads. It has been quite a collaborative effort on site, working together with string lines and passing bricks to get the job done. We have tried as much as possible not to stand around watching since we are on site a lot longer than usual given the lack of drawings and need for moment to moment instructions.
The main project we have been working on this last period has been the large steel doors. We have designed the door so that the bottom section is of perforated steel sheets and at higher level (above small child reach) the infill is a wire mesh with bottle caps threaded through it. The door has therefore provided 2 main tasks:
One has been the design and fabrication of the steel frames. We have spent a lot of time at the steel fabrication workshop, and I had some great hands on experience with steel fabrication and welding etc. Despite an at times hilarious language barrier, we managed to communicate the design specifics and watch it come together in front of our eyes. It has been amazing to be a part of this side of things, including purchasing and delivering materials and of course many cups of chai together.
The other main element of the door, is an aesthetic whim to retain the theme of the bottles by using their caps as decoration. We did not calculate just how time consuming a process this would be, however, with a week of no work on site, time is one thing we have on our side.
Along with the need for bottles for the walls, we have found ourselves literally knee deep in rubbish bottles at the local rubbish collection centre. These centres are very common around the slum area, where usually women spend their days sorting out the paper and plastics and other rubbish. At first, this experience was extraordinarily confronting, as the smell and flies and rubbish was at times over-powering. However in a strange way, our time there was one of the most soul cleansing things I have ever done. We have since gone back a number of times, and become very friendly with Suresh, the owner of the business.
We have collected hundreds of bottles (1 rupee per bottle) and even more bottle caps (free!) So even as I write, we are spending our days now on hands and knees threading the caps through wire and the mesh. We are aiming to have these doors finished before I leave so I can at least see this element finished.
The next chapter will be to fill the bottles with compacted sand and a top layer of sand and cement for durability. We have changed our methodology in creating the bottle-walls, and have decided to use each bottle much like a brick unit, with a mortar. The wall will be rendered to the rear and the front (top of the bottles) will be left exposed so that the wall will have an appearance of bottle tops. We changed this after irresolvable concerns of long term maintenance of the plastic from UV exposure. Also, after spending some time proto-typing tying the bottles together, we agreed that this was also a more efficient construction method. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we agreed that tying the bottles with wire was a bit too sophisticated and we wanted to keep the construction method replicable for the community.
Unfortunately this element will commence after I leave. We are also just about to order the steel for the roof and the window frames. I am relying on the boys to keep me posted through photos. I am coming to terms with the fact that I will possibly never see this project finished (other than through photos), and I am trying to detach myself, however I have put a lot of myself into this for the last 6 weeks. I guess this is one of my lessons of being here!