Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012 Photo Report #3: Plastering & Plumbing

NOTE: You can left-click on any picture to enlarge it and/or view all the photos as a slideshow.

While the New Jersey team was working on windows and ceilings, the Liberians who had been contracted to do the plastering were also very busy.

Flomo has been with PROJECT BUCHANAN since early 2010.  He has done much of the masonry in this building--from the foundations up.  In this series of pictures, it is his crew that is now doing the plastering.

All the cement plaster is mixed by hand--often right there on the floor in the room where it is going to be used.

The dry mix does not come ready-made.  Clean sand, hauled in by truck from the ocean beach a few miles away, is washed and rinsed ahead of time, or is just left out in the rain for a few weeks, to get rid of any salt.  Measured amounts of sand and dry cement are then dumped onto the floor and thoroughly mixed with a hand shovel.  Finally, water is added as needed to make the amount of plaster that can be used up before it starts to harden.

Wet plaster is delivered to the plasterer in whatever large open container is available.

A 'safe and secure' platform may consist of no more than a few boards laid across a couple of piles of broken blocks--or whatever else is available.  (Does it ever come tumbling down?  Occasionally.  Does anyone ever get injured?  Rarely!)

Now there's an idea for plastering at medium heights!  And it's easy to move this 'platform' along as needed, isn't it?
This is Tow-Gaa, a student who feels fortunate to have landed this summer job.

Out at the back of the house, the workers' scaffolding looks even more precarious, but actually it is quite secure.

In Liberia both the exterior and interior walls of a building this size are made from concrete blocks.  Any wood or wood products--especially if they were close to the floor where there is dampness--would attract termites almost immediately.

But locally-made concrete blocks also have a downside.  Generally they are manufactured by hand, often with the use of a welded, steel-plate mold that may have become quite wobbly and uneven with much use over time.  Consequently the blocks produced are almost never square, each one being a little different in shape than the next!  To compensate for this unevenness, the mason must lay each block a little differently, often with a very thick mortar joint to allow for these adjustments.  When all is done, the wall is usually plumb from top to bottom and level from one end to the other.

The easiest way to hide the irregular mortar joints is to cover every wall surface, both inside the building and out, with a thick layer of plaster.   This covers every blemish and makes the wall surface very smooth.

The final result really looks very good!  In this photo, you can compare the rough block wall that has not been plastered with the wall surface that has.

For people working with wet cement, the job must continue.  But for Gordon, Jim and Jason who have been working all morning on ceilings, it's time for lunch. 

"I never thought that spaghetti and corned beef sauce could taste so good--day after day after day!"

"That food Tabitha cooks is really great!  It really hits the spot!"

The plastering on the front wall of the house is making real progress.

Later the plasterers will come back around to do the finishing-up work around each window.

Eventually the plastering job around every window will look like this.  Then the entire building, inside and out, will be given several coats of lime whitewash, until every wall is glistening white.  And inside, every room will be as bright as you can make it--without electricity--on a rainy-season day!
This photo should give you some idea of how smooth the plastered wall is, and how nicely it has been finished alongside the door jamb (on the right).
Outside the house, Gordon Tiner has planned ahead for the septic system.  Before he returned to the States, this pit for a septic tank--4 ft wide X 6 ft long X 7 ft deep--was dug near the house, and another one twice as large was dug near the school.  Flomo is going to construct both septic tanks, as soon as the heavy rains let up and the ground dries out.  When Gordon returns next February, he hopes to work on the septic systems' leach fields.

It is the middle of the rainy season, and the porous ground is not as hard as it looks. The bright red and yellow hues are due to the high iron oxide content of the soil (which is typical across Liberia).

Back in 2010, when the floor slab for the house was poured, the drains were not installed properly.  Therefore corrections had to be made.  In this bathroom, the floor had to be broken up, and new drains put in...

...and the same thing had to be done in the second bathroom.

     Remember Tow-Gaa, whose picture you saw earlier?...  He was born in 1995 in the middle of Liberia's long and bloody civil war.  By the time of his birth, there had already been 5 years of brutality and terror.  An estimated 200,000 Liberians had lost their lives, and 1.8 million were in need of humanitarian aid.
     I do not know this young man's story.  I only know that Buchanan was not spared its share of bullets and bloodshed.  I can only imagine the long nights of anxiety and fear that his parents must have faced as his mother's due date came ever closer.  All over the country, child-soldiers had brutally ripped open other pregnant women.  The guns and the screams and the blood were all that anyone could think about.  Nothing else mattered.  There were no hopes and dreams.  There were no plans for the future.  There was no future.  Only today, and the fear of death.  The war was all-consuming.  And so when he was born, they named him Tow-Gaa--which means "War-Man" or "Boy of the War."
     Then there was a brief respite, but the end was not yet.  Four more years of conflict would follow--and it would get a lot worse before it got any better.  By 2003, when finally an uncertain peace returned to the land, a quarter million Liberians had died and a million had been displaced.
     Now Tow-Gaa was 8 years old, but of course he had not yet started school.  Today he is 17 and in grade 7.
     Sometimes I wonder: What do little boys, who were born in war, think about?  What about teenage boys, like Tow-gaa, whose earliest formative years were filled with fear and terror--what do they think about now?  Tow-Gaa attends a church school in Buchanan--but what does he really think about?  What does he think about God?


  1. I just got back from working on Barry's shed and somehow this reminded me of it...:). Great to see the work up close!

  2. My heart goes out to Tow-Gaa and his parents. I can not imagine the terror of those times and the nightmares that followed. Such healing is needed - emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually.
    Thanks for the pics again --- what a blessed process!

    1. Thanks, Linda, for your comment. As I was developing the piece about Tow-gaa, and the war context of his life story, I found myself more and more in this 17-year-old kid's place, and it became very emotional for me.

  3. Thanks Gordon! We showed parts 1 through 3 today at church. Next week we will show parts 4-6. We hooked into the internet via the hotspot on my phone.

    Denise read the descriptions with my Google Pad and I showed the slideshow through your blog. So we had the same pages on two devices. (I can't believe the technology worked!)...Anyway thank you so much for your report

    1. Thanks Harvey! Wow! I'm glad to hear the technology worked out for you! And I hope your second presentation (this past Sunday) went well too!

      I plan to return to Liberia in January. I will try to keep you updated through this blog.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. I am confused on one point. Is it needed to mix the cement plaster by hand? I guess now a days people dont use their hand on plastering!