BARGAINS IN A TROPICAL BUSH STYLE
For quite some time I had done small bits
of work for the Swiss Mission, the oldest Christian church mission in
southern Mozambique. It was mostly advising on repairs and patching up
leaking roofs, sometimes putting a painting job out to tender, sometimes
improving an old and worn mission building to make it more useful and
I had also done a dirt cheap communal
kitchen and eating porch at Ricatia, the Mission Station that Henri
Junod, the famous missionary and anthropologist had founded towards the
end of the 19th century before the Portuguese had fought their last native
war and had begun to settle in the interior.
night the missionaries came to see me about a new primary school
at the old Mission Station of Antioka on the banks
of the Incomati River just below Maguda. They already had an approved
plan done by an engineer; it was a reproduction of the current Public
Works model primary school. It was expensive and finicky and they
did not like it. They were also worried about the sudden intrusion
of a contractor and all his men into a rural community.
missionaries work towards the elimination of missionaries The idea
of a mission is that it be taken over by the missioned sooner or later.
had worked with Muchlanga at Riciata Station, building
the communal kitchen and eating porch out of blocks, sticks and
grass, and was convinced that they could build the school better
and for less money than any contractor. Muchlanga could hardly read
and write but he had some understanding of drawings and dimensions
even if I sometimes had to draw special sections with the rows of
blocks drawn in and numbered so that he could count them and stop
at the sills and door heads and at the gutter and gable steps. He
built impeccably - he had learnt to do so from a Swiss missionary
who was a builder. I told the missionaries that Muchlanga could
do it, that the time had come for them to let go and they agreed
to try it out.
engineer's plan was thrown out and I designed a new one. Getting
the approval from the many Government Departments for the little
school plan was an adventure in slow motion. It was finally achieved
by the unexpected power of a Swiss wristwatch.
was having a Luddite period when we started to build so no machines
came near the school.
all the work was done by hand to give an opportunity for as many
people as possible to have work near their families and homes and
to have a hand in the building of their own children's school.
cleared the fields of the stones with which we cast the foundations.
In the dry season we brought sand up from the river bed. We made
the wall blocks from pit and river sand and cement. We cut down
some trees for the windows and doors and they were made at another
nearby mission which had a carpentry workshop of sorts.
spent much time on the site marking it out, checking it and building
the roof trusses. The school took some time to build but we finished
it well and painted it a very deep ochre.
cost 600$00 a square metre including the light fittings, the furniture,
a huge underground rain water cistern and the boat to ferry the
children back and forth from Macuvulane on the other side of the
river. It came out at that price thanks to George Andrié
whom I would swear I have occasionally glimpsed with a halo around
the Mission set up a farming co-operative on the Incomati flood plain
at Macuvulane and got a Government Department to put in some water
channels to irrigate the land, a house for the Swlss Agriculture expert
was needed. The House at Macuvulane stands tall to stay
dry in the summer floods. It is a courtyard house with an insect screen
roof over the courtyard to keep out the malaria mosquitoes and thousands
of other insects and snakes.
Chicumbane Mission station on a rise overlooking the huge Limpopo
River flood plain there is an hospital built in the thirties. Although
this was one of the busiest hospitals in the interior of southern
Mozambique, it was not quite legal. It had to pay a yearly licence
as a commercial nursing home and got no help whatsoever from the
hospital was very overcrowded. Originally each patient was cared
for by his own family in one of a number of small huts clustered
round the main hospital. This system had to he discontinued for
reasons of hygiene and efficiency and because of the changes in
the society brought about by the intense migration of workers to
the towns and to the mines in South Africa. To enlarge the hospital
I proposed a series of pavilions with a covered connection linking
them all to the existing hospital. There was an even more ambitious
scheme where the same thing happened on the other side of the hospital.
All that we could afford to build in the end was the first pavilion.
It became the maternity section.
imported two solar water heater units, installed them and they worked
vary well. A bright Swiss missionary in the old workshop tampered
with the idea, made variations and improvements and the Mission
workshop was soon making its own solar water heaters which we fitted
to many of the buildings
built a number of new houses at various Mission Stations. The
house for an extra doctor at Chicumbane is one of the types
which we kept improving and tampering with. The living room in the
central space is a tall volume with the other rooms contained in
the two adjoining wings.
many generations nurses had been trained at Chicumbane but when
this was structured as a course and became recognised by the Government,
for the Student Nurses
was required The little hostel for twenty four student nurses was
built in a clearing quite close to the hospital.
construction, as the building took shape, it was always a joy and
a surprise to walk towards the thick bush, go through it and then
find oneself standing quite close to the building from one moment
to the other, as if the building was an apparition, quite unreal;
a figment of the imagination.