Thursday, September 27, 2012

2012 Photo Report #1: Windows & Generators

I know, I know... I should have been on this blog for the last 2 years, keeping you up to date with progress reports on PROJECT BUCHANAN.  So I apologize.
But rest assured... this project has not been abandoned!  In fact, I have just returned from my first trip to Liberia since 2010, and I am anxious to share with you some of my latest pictures so you can see what is happening with PROJECT BUCHANAN today.  In short: Over the last 2 years, Liberian contractors have been busy, four different stateside work teams have gone over to help, and construction has been started on three buildings (with one now nearing completion)... well, let me not get ahead of myself in the story!
A little more than 2 months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Buchanan with a 3-man work team that was going over from New Jersey.  Gordon Tiner (the team leader), Jim Purcaro, and Jason Young spent the last 2 weeks of July in Buchanan, where they worked very hard on several PROJECT BUCHANAN construction jobs.  After they returned to the States, I spent another 2 weeks in Liberia doing some project follow-up.
So let's get started with the slideshow...

Back in the 1980s, when Paula and I lived and worked down the coast at Po River Beach in River Cess County, Patrick was a student at the Pillar Mission's Oceanview Christian School where we taught.  This summer, while I was in Monrovia, I got to meet Patrick and so many more of my former students.

Now back to July 15th, the Sunday we arrived in Liberia ...  We had left New Jersey more than 24 hours earlier and had changed planes in Atlanta, then we had flown across the ocean eastward to Accra in Ghana and finally, after a long wait there on the ground without deplaning, we had finally left again, back-tracking westward to Roberts International Airport in Liberia.  Though exhausted, we were not at our final destination yet!  Thankfully there were Liberian friends at the airport to meet us, but they had come with a couple of vehicles for our immediate departure to Buchanan. Hours later and after dark, with about 60 miles of washed-out road behind us, we finally arrived in Buchanan at the small guest house where we would be staying for the next 2 weeks.  There we were welcomed by my longtime friend, Gabriel Tequah.  (I would say that it was good to 'see' him, except that it was after dark and actually quite difficult for me to recognize anyone!)  Gabe is a busy man: In addition to his weekday responsibilities as a school principal and his weekend duties as a pastor, he has also been managing PROJECT BUCHANAN for more than a year and is continuing to make every effort to keep the work going forward.
The walls of this first building for PROJECT BUCHANAN were put up by the 6-person Colorado team that went to Liberia with Paula and me in 2010.  In 2011 the roof was put on, and now in 2012 the New Jersey team that I was with was trying to get most of the labor-intensive work finished.  This building will be a residence, as well as a secure location for the storage of building supplies while the rest of the campus is being developed.

One of the first jobs on Gordon Tiner's list was to build concrete steps from the back kitchen door down to ground level at the back of the house.

Here Gordon is checking his measurements and making a few suggestions...

...and now the wet concrete is being shoveled into the wooden forms.

Because the climate in Liberia is hot and humid all year round, I wanted the windows of this house to be large (approx. 4' X 6') for good air flow throughout the building.  Large windows are also needed for maximum light during the long rainy season, when the skies are heavily clouded. (There is no electricity at this location to help provide the extra light that may be needed from time to time for normal daytime activities.)
Blowing rain is also a constant problem during the wet season.  In this tropical climate, the best windows to install are the jalousie type, which have adjustable horizontal glass blades.  These windows can be fully opened for ventilation or fully closed when it rains. Either way, they always let in the light.

Considerable work had to be done on the wooden window frames and sills throughout the building, before they would be ready to accommodate the jalousies.  (See the third photo below.)

When finished, each large window will hold a total of 16 blades of glass.  This photo shows the metal glass holder screwed into the 2X4 window jamb on one side.  Only the bottom five glass holders (of 8) are visible here.  Each piece of glass will need to be measured exactly and then cut precisely, if the jalousie levers are to work properly.
Gordon was able to cut and "re-engineer" a regular 8-blade glass holder, so that it would have only 4 blades, thus matching almost exactly the height of the shorter windows in the bathrooms and storage room.  The middle two blades of glass are still 6" wide, but the top and bottom blades will be only 4" wide, a size that is also widely available. The lever is still functional for the bottom three blades of glass.

Before Jason and Jim could install any of the jalousie glass holders, they had to spend several days fitting every window in the house with a central vertical mullion as well as sloping sills that would shed the rain.  The cement work around each window will be finished later by the plasterers (see my next post).  The glass blades will be cut and installed just before occupancy (when there is less chance for vandalism).

In this photo, note the roof's 4-foot overhang.  Even with this much extension, the rain was still blowing into the open windows while the team was trying to work.  In this coastal part of Liberia, total annual rainfall can reach nearly 200 inches (500 cm)!  The wider eaves on the house are needed for protection from the rain, but unfortunately they also diminish the light in the house on dark days such as this.  This is just another reason why the windows need to be large in order to let in as much light as possible.

When the New Jersey team arrived in Buchanan, they were 'fully expecting' that this small generator, purchased locally by Gordon Tiner last year, would still be in 'good working order,' so that they could run the electric saw and other American power tools they had brought along.  This photo should need no further explanation!

Bringing the generator outside didn't seem to help get it started...

...nor did looking at it from a different angle!

Meanwhile... While we stood around wondering what to do next, a  truly skilled carpenter among us decided to pull out his trusted rip saw and get the job done by hand--and in short order!

What you're looking at here is no joke!  This second generator was actually being held together with duct tape!  I kid you not!  But amazingly, it was running!  You see, when it became evident that the red generator needed to be carted into town for some much-needed shade-tree repair, Gabriel came to the team's rescue and brought out his own personal generator (this green one) which, if I understood him correctly, had only recently come back from a near-death experience of its own!  Its only lingering problem was a somewhat disconcerting high-pitched rattle or vibration--like metal on metal--that seemed to be coming from deep within the little beast.  I was guessing that a few internal pieces were running critically low on oil!  However... not to worry!  The shrill sounds were soon muffled when a heavy piece of wood and some proverbial duct tape were applied!

Eventually the red generator was repaired, and it seemed to work well for the team after that.  But there was another nuisance problem.  Most of the generators purchased in Liberia these days put out 240 volts, whereas all power tools from the United States are designed to operate on only 120 volts.  Hence the need for that little black box--a step-down transformer--sitting there on the ground near the generator.  And you're right--we had to buy it locally too!  The first one we got in 2010 burned out almost immediately; this one, apparently, only gets really, really hot!

When we were having this much 'fun' (or was it frustration?), the morning really flew by quite quickly!  Soon it was time for some lunch, out in front of the building.

It was one of our favorite dishes--spaghetti with a delicious Liberian sauce made with canned tomato paste and canned corned beef.  Seriously... it was one of our favorites, which we asked Tabitha, our "camp cook" back at the guest house, to make for us, time and again!

We always started by thoroughly sanitizing our hands with lots of antibacterial soap.  After all, we were in the tropics!  (Actually, I just dipped my hands in a tub of murky lake water and dried them off on my pants!)  Then we would gather 'round--Gordon, Jason, Jim and me (after I had put my camera down)--and just "dig in."  Under the hot sun, even the sort-of-cold bottled water tasted good!

For the record... Here's a picture of Tabitha (left) with her husband Sam (right), and their family: Caleb (18, top), Sandi (16, bottom left), and Praise (8, bottom right).  They live in Paynesville near Monrovia.  Back in the 1980s, both Sam and Tabitha were students at Oceanview Christian School in River Cess where Paula and I taught.  Sam is now a seminary graduate and pastors a church in the Monrovia area.  Tabitha is in nurse's training these days, but she always manages to take time off to cater for the stateside teams that come over to help with PROJECT BUCHANAN.  (You really ought to go over some time, just to taste her lightly-seasoned, deep-fried, ocean fish steaks!)

Finally... at the end of every day at the PROJECT BUCHANAN work site, it was Prince who would help gather up our heavy bags of tools and take us in his car, back to the guest house for the night.  Somehow he always managed to squeeze all of us into one trip.  And it was Prince who would bring all of us back to the work site the next morning... and the next and the next.  And all day long, every day, he was there for our convenience--to run an errand into town to get a small tool from one of the shops, to go back to the guest house at noon to bring the lunch when it was ready, or even to take the generator for repairs and bring it back again a few days later.  We paid him for this service, of course!  But more importantly, I got to meet a new friend and learn a little bit about his life, half a world away from mine.  Sometimes we spoke in English and sometimes we spoke in Bassa (which I learned growing up in Liberia)... I told him about my family back in the States and my dream to return to Liberia to help kids get a better education... he told me about his training as a mechanic and how he got his car... one day he proudly pointed out his small auto repair shop along the road when we were driving by... and also, there was that day when I walked over to his house, and he introduced me to his wife and very proudly showed me their newborn baby.