Is it because they are made of mud? Chelsi thought to herself staring at the exposed brick that was the insider of her house. Or is it because the roof is made of grass? But then what about the volunteers who have been upgraded to iron sheeting? And what about the glass in my windows? Those certainly don’t go along with the typical image. So, if not but all those things, what makes a hut a hut and a house a house?
Chelsi squeezed the glob of mud in her hand into a perfect ball the same way she would a piece of nshima. Only a giant piece of nshima. She found that if the ball formed without cracking or slumping in her hand when held still it was the right consistency for smearing on the wall. Too dry and the plaster would not cling to the bricks and it would fall with a thud to the floor. Too wet and it would either run or cause the previously smeared plaster to pull away from the wall.
“Personally, I’ve never really thought that we lived in a hut,” She said as she pressed the ball of mud on to the wall and kneaded it in to the bricks. Daisy was lounging on the ubiquitous reclining-folding chair of Zambia. The kind you might sit in, enjoying a quite boardwalk, on a tropical beach, of a secluded resort. Only Zambia had none of those things. Except for the chairs.
Daisy perked her ears and lazily lifted her tail at the sound of Chelsi’s voice, but didn’t otherwise stir. “Even before the house was fixed… Mmmm. Yeah, even then. Although I do remember likening it to a shack a few times, and Mike referring to it as a shed. Or at least saying ‘Yeah, I basically just use it to store stuff.’” She pick up another handful of mud. It had been awhile since she had done any plastering in her house. Last time being shortly after she moved back in in December. Plastering and liming the walls were of course, part of the house standards that remained unfinished when she moved back in; but you have to pick your battles if you want to live through the war.
“What about the homes that we pass, the ones made of latched crisscross like and then have mud packed in to the holes? Do you think those qualify as huts? Because even a few of those have iron sheets.” The fact was Chelsi’s house was actually the odd one out for have a grass thatch roof. Of the hundreds of structures between her and the tarmac she was one of maybe a dozen that still had a grass roof. Chelsi glanced over the chair at Daisy to check that she was listening. Her eyes where open and they tracked the movement of Chelsi’s face until it was beyond the periphery of her vision. Her body didn’t move except to let out a sigh.
Chelsi could feel the heel of her hand wearing thin as she pushed the next ball of mud across the bricks. “Although I’m not sure anyone really lives there, there’s that grass building a couple doors down. Also iron sheets though. Plus I think if a majority of your building is grass and sticks, then I think you qualify as a lean-to. Those shelters, especially around town, made out of iron sheets and black plastic, definitely lean-tos.”
“I can see some of the benefits; if your structure were all black plastic and irons sheets you wouldn’t have any termites. Or, if your walls were grass they wouldn’t melt in the rain, like the mud does. Although, the nice thing about mud, after it stops raining you can just pick it up and slap it back on the wall.” Chelsi paused to shake the weakness out of her arm. Little bits of mud flew everywhere offer her hand. But what’s a little more mud? “After all, the mud bricks are held together with mud mortar, smeared with mud plaster, painted with muddied water, then brush with lime, which let’s face it, is just a dirt of a different kind.”
“I wonder though,” Chelsi said aloud after a long pause. “If the work hut, among volunteers has more to do with the way they think about their place here. Because after gathering at the Prov house, volunteers are always going back to site, it seems they’re never going home.”