Do you ever watch the TV programme Grand Designs? There’s something fascinating about watching people devise grandiose schemes for building or renovating a property and then seeing how the project turns out. There’s usually a few disasters along the way, which makes the programme even more interesting!
Well, we’ve been undertaking our own grand designs here at Balaba Nature Camp, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing some of them to you. But because we’ll be doing some building and renovation work, we’re going to need plenty of mud blocks, and unlike the UK, we can’t just pop down to the nearest DIY store and buy a heap of bricks! All our mud blocks are made by hand (usually by Lamin), which is tiring and time-consuming.
Over this last couple of weeks, Lamin has made over 200 mud blocks, and I thought you’d like to see how it’s done.
As always, recycling is simply a part of how we do things here. Some of our huts were built by Lamin when he started the camp over twenty years ago, and sadly some of them were no longer in good condition. In particular, one of our larger huts collapsed (there’s a photo in my post The Rainy Season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). The roof was completely beyond salvaging, but the material from the blocks (a mixture of mud and sand) can be used again.
These photos were taken last year, when Lamin was making blocks for our new kitchen, but they’ll show you how the process works.
Firstly, the plaster had to be knocked off and then the existing mud blocks removed. The blocks then need to be broken up with a pick-axe and all the mud and sand mixed well together. Then we add water to soften everything ready to make the new blocks – that normally means leaving things to soak overnight.
The next day, everything gets mixed again, and then we’re ready to make the blocks. Of course, you need to use a mould so that the blocks are all the same size – we borrow one from a friend.
First, the mould is filled with wet mud that’s pressed down firmly.
Then the surface is smoothed out using water.
Then the mould is lifted off, leaving (hopefully!) a perfect mud block behind. It’s a bit like turning out a jelly onto a plate!
The blocks are then left in the sun to dry out completely, which normally takes about two weeks.
Of course, it doesn’t help when the goats decide to take a stroll across the wet bricks!
We still need more blocks, so Lamin will continue making them until we have enough for our building projects, plus a few to spare. So over the next few weeks I’ll be keeping you updated about how things are going – watch this space!