Thursday, September 5, 2013

Our house

Some of our blog readers have asked for more details about the house, so here goes.  (There is possibly an excessive amount of detail here, so my apologies to everyone except Mom and Dad.)

The first thing you notice about our house is the neatly constructed reed fence which surrounds the house.  It closes with a rather floppy gate made of split bamboo.  I have mixed feelings about this fence.  On one hand, I'm glad to not feel like a constant object of curiosity; it does provide privacy.  On the other hand, I feel like it makes it harder to get to know our neighbors because we can't see them.  It's not at all unusual to have a fence though; plenty of other faculty and staff houses have them.
That's our trusty (and usually dusty) little blue Polo just inside the fence, and to the right you can just see the top of our porch.

 The next thing you notice, if you are a North American arriving with four large suitcases and a guitar case with two boxes of books on the way in the diplomatic mail pouch, is that it's not a very big house.  We were actually feeling quite proud of ourselves for having adapted so well to such cramped quarters, when a professor's wife named Josephine told me that a college staff member had lived here previously.  What with children and grandchildren, he had 12 people living in this house.  I gasped, "I don't understand how that would be possible!"  She laughed, "Nobody could understand it." 

 Joel (our tool hero with a tape measure) measured all the rooms.  We have a grand total of 418 square feet, 378.4 if you exclude the shower/toilet/breezeway thing.

When you walk in the front door you are in the living room/dining room/computer room.  In case anyone out there is contemplating replacing their dining room table with a lumpy, low, box-shaped wicker object...I wouldn't recommend it.  The chairs aren't too bad if you swipe the cushion from another chair to use for a back.  When we arrived this room contained (along with the chest freezer) two chairs, two loveseats, and the table -  which left precious little space for things like people's legs, so we moved one of the chairs to the porch. 

Off the living room are both bedrooms and the kitchen.  Here is the kids' bedroom.  The wicker shelf we bought actually works OK after Eric sawed off part of a couple legs with the multi-tool he borrowed from Joel the Tool Hero to make it sit level and straight.  Having the kids share a room was starting to cause some frayed nerves in the first couple weeks before school started, but now that they're apart all day they can usually put up with each other in the evenings.


And the parents' bedroom.  The front of that wooden thing folds down into a sort of desk, so Emma can sit on the bed and do her homework.  (Joel prefers sprawling on his bed to work.)  When we got this mosquito net we had to get a carpenter from the college to come make the poles to hang it.  He started with 1x1 lengths and planed them down by hand to round them off.  We hung the net on shower curtain rings so we can push it back during the day.

The kitchen is a lot more usable since we asked the college carpenters to install shelves in the fireplace and in the closet.   When the wind blows hard, leaves and little charred bits fall down out of the chimney, but I'll take shelves over trying to cook in a fireplace any day.  (Besides, there is always that indoor charcoal grill in our Greenville house if we get the urge for an indoor barbecue!)  At first I had no idea what we would do with a chest freezer, but once Eric moved it into the kitchen it became clear: use it as a counter.  Also, on the occasions when we find "brown bread" in the stores we buy several loaves and freeze them.  (Even the "brown bread" isn't that substantial, but it's better than the ubiquitous white bread.)   And last week I found frozen peas in a grocery store, much to Emma's delight.

In the picture above you see a pineapple that turned out to be fantastic, apples from South Africa (much to Joel's delight), our water filter pitcher, and a box of rusks on the shelf.  Rusks are a South African thing, a sort of mildly sweet breakfast biscuit thing that is twice-baked like biscotti, that has now become a Nord house staple. 

There is a little closet off the kitchen, which became a lot more helpful once shelves were installed.  Some of the things you'll find in there are Eric's favorite corn flakes ever (Jiggies, really thick crunchy ones from South Africa), mango jam, and coffee.  We love the coffee here - it's some of the best we've ever tasted - but Malawians generally ignore it completely because they are a diehard bunch of tea drinkers.  You're also likely to find a can of chakalaka, a South African condiment that's standing in for Mexican salsa picante but with its own African twist.   (Malawi imports a lot of things from South Africa, and there are several South African chains with stores here.)

Off the kitchen there is are the bathroom facilities.  There is a tiny room with a toilet and a shower with a hot water heater (hooray - I'd been expecting cold showers!).  These are off a little breezeway with a door of metal grating.  Someone thoughtfully gave us an old sheet to hang over the door for a curtain - we're very grateful, because the shower door doesn't really close.

This is the breezeway door from the outside.  Its purpose became clear when I hired a woman to do some laundry: she went through the breezeway door to fill buckets in the shower.  No outdoor spigots here, but from outside you can empty buckets into the drain that the kitchen sink dumps into.  The kitchen sink actually drains now, after Eric took it apart and removed a couple handfuls of cement.  The handymen who installed the hot water heater had to send electrical lines through block walls and then patch around them with cement, and were apparently a little careless with their cleanup.

In this picture Joel is trying to catch a lizard, in case you're wondering.

The last thing to mention about our house, for now at least, is the stand of eucalyptus trees just on the other side of the fence.  These are notable for two reasons.  One is that they keep dropping hard little seed pods which roll down the corrugated metal roof.  On a windy night it makes quite a racket!  The other is that one of them contains the hive of bees lives that sends representatives to swarm our lights every school morning, when we get up before sunrise.  Most of the bees buzz around the porch light, but most days one or two find their way in to the kitchen...just to make sure we're really awake at 5 a.m., I guess.

So that's where we live.  If you ever stop by for a tour in person, we'll get out the rusks and brew up some fantastic coffee!  Just don't set your cup down on that table...

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