How to be truly independent anywhere
Synopsis : How to be self reliant anywhere is a blog that gives you many ideas on how to be self reliant under any situation anywhere. It should be a blog of common interest as many people find it hard to adjust to new situations and find it difficult to rely on themselves due to their own cultural upbringings.
I have lived in many countries in all sorts of situations from dreadful to decent and have experienced difficulties in finding a proper house to live in many countries.
Whether you are a bachelor or with a family, you will have to find a proper house to rent and seek the very minimum required to live peacefully and in reasonable health. It is a lot harder than one may imagine or expect in a foreign country where the conditions of living are primitive at best and sometime outright difficult.
I have written in my biography “The story of a life time of Anil “ how I suffered in Algeria where at first I had to stay with an American drug user and then in desperation rented a room in an Algerian house where the babies pooped all over the floor the whole day and I had to live there under such horrible conditions.
Escaping from there to another horrible place where I was given a dressing room in a sport complex as a temporary shelter where the janitor’s son broke into my room and stole my money was the last straw in my struggle to find an apartment for myself and I went to the housing office and refused to leave until they gave me a key to my own apartment.
Such insistence finally paid off and I was given a nice apartment finally that overlooked a vineyard from my balcony and the distant Mediterranean Sea so it was a happy ending of a dreadful period of my life. It also taught me a lesson that in the future I will have to be more self-reliant when it comes to the housing in any foreign country. When you are a bachelor, you can accept many difficulties like I did but once you get married, it is absolutely necessary to find decent housing for your family and your kids.
When we arrived in Mali with our new baby daughter who was only 2 months old and our son who was only 2 years old, my young wife and I found a concrete pill box of a house in the town in Sikasso that was so hot that our children developed heat rashes over their baby skin which was terribly hard for me to watch.
When new air conditioner was installed, they failed to work because of very low and fluctuating voltage so we continued to suffer the heat and mosquitos for one year. Before the one year contract was over, I sought a new place that was better than that pill box of a house and started to look for a village near Sikasso where I could build our own house.
An office mate who was a Malian came to my aid and together we searched for an ideal village within a 10 km radius from the town and finally located a village where the village chief was at first very reluctant to accept us because no foreigner had ever lived in their village or even visited so it was a first.
The matter was brought to the attention of the governor who was happy that a foreigner thought of living under such primitive conditions in their village and happily gave his blessing.
The village had no running water, no electricity and no road inside the village although the village itself was near the paved highway and was about 10 km away from the town.
I fell in love with the village at first sight and thought that we could live there happily because it was a beautiful village of mud huts and mango trees everywhere. We did not care about not having electricity or running water because the town house where we lived had both but was a dreadful place.
So I had a meeting with the villagers and asked them if they could build a house for us using traditional materials and grass roof. They looked at my design and said that it is a very unusual design but they liked it and will build such a house for us for a price. When we agreed upon a price which was only three month’s rent in the town house, the project began in earnest and soon a beautiful house with five rooms came up.
Now let me explain why they thought the design of our house was so unique and revolutionary. The Africans build round houses with just a door and apart from other round houses so a farmer may have 3 or 4 such round houses in his compound that he surrounds with a fence made of tree branches. They used these round houses for sleeping only because the women cooked their meals outside under a tree where they sat most of their time on grass mats on the ground.
When it rained, they ran from one round house to another and had no screens on their door so the huts were full of mosquitos which were dreadful because it is a Malaria endemic place.
Our house had five large rooms of 4 meter diameter each and arranged in a semicircular way, 75 cms off the ground and all the rooms were interconnected with passageway one meter wide so we could go from room to room without getting wet. The floors were hard packed soil that was coated with cow dung once a week that gave it a hard surface free from dust.
All the rooms had cross ventilation with two windows facing each other and the doors and windows were screened to keep the insects out. The foundation was made of laterite stones that were found nearby and the walls were made of thick clay bricks that the farmers made themselves. They coated the walls with shea butter that they made from shea butter nut found in the forest. This coating gives the walls a waterproof finish and looks very nice and smooth.
Here is the schematic layout of the house with interconnecting passageways and a closed inner courtyard with toilet and bath at the end.
The roof was made of golden yellow grass that was beautiful to look at and completely waterproof. I asked them to make niches on the wall where we could keep things which to them was a novel idea. They had never built a round house that could be joined together so the idea was revolutionary and they were not entirely sure if it could be done. But with my assistance and encouragement they built our beautiful house in the shade of a huge mango tree and were very proud.
Soon the word spread to other villages that a toubabu (foreigner) had built a round house in the village which is unique so groups of people started to come and visit to see the house. The women found the house so cool and free of mosquitos and flies that they laid down in the living room and slept. They wandered through all the rooms and inspected everything and liked our house very much. We never disturbed them when they slept and welcomed them anytime.
Our new and beautiful house with very clean surroundings, a green peanut planted lawn and a living fence of pigeon peas made it an attraction to the village youth who always got excited during the full moon and running around our house at mid night chasing each other then became a nuisance. The boys and girls chasing each other giggled a lot so sleep became just a wishful thinking.
I had to do something to reduce their romantic ardor so I told them that the ugly stone statuette that I had mounted on the wall near our main door outside was a genie that came alive during the full moon and ate romantic people wholesale who made so much noise. This sowed endless fear into their heart and they stopped coming and making noise. The Africans have endless fear of genies, ghosts and other such paranormal entities so all you have to do is to make up a story like the one I did. It works all the time.
Then to liven up our interior decorations, I put on the walls some plaster of Paris Khajuraho statuettes in erotic poses that I had brought from India
If you have never heard of Khajuraho temples then I will just post a photo here just to give you an idea.
What was hilarious was when some nuns came to visit us and looked at the Khajuraho erotic statuettes embedded in the wall closely and turned red in their faces when they realized what they were looking at and hastily exited our bed rooms. We always had a good laugh when they were gone.
The semicircular layout of our five round rooms gave us an interior courtyard where I planted an orange tree in the center and papaya trees all around. At the end of the walled courtyard they built for us a dry hole that served as latrine and an adjacent bathroom where two large clay jars were always filled by the maid so we could take bath anytime. I cemented the floor of the bathroom and the toilet but that was the only cement I used plus the main stairs leading to the living room that too was cemented.
Needless to say we were quite happy living in the village in our own cool house and a maid. The kids were out in the village the whole day but we knew that all the villagers looked after them as baby sitters and our daughter was always carried on someone’s back the African way.
Soon someone brought us a baby monkey we named George who in fact was very true to his nature and was very destructive. He destroyed the papaya leaves just for fun and did other things as well but he was cute and came running whenever I called him with a banana in my hand. He also looked for lice in my hair when I slept under the mango tree on a grass mat although never found one. His fingers were so nimble and he had such a soft touch, it was unbelievable.
Farmers also brought us a piece of huge leg of a wild pig they had killed but it had a funny smell and taste so we could not eat it although the French and Belgians loved it. Malians are Moslems and do not eat pork. There are plenty of wild pigs in the forest that can often be seen crossing the roads as a herd. At such time one should stop and give them a wide berth because they are known to puncture your tires if they get excited. Believe me it takes very little to excite a wild pig and they have sharp tusks.
We then planted peanuts in the front of our house in a neat way that looked like a green lawn and pigeon pea fence that came out strong and made a living fence. For light we had five kerosene lamps that stayed lit the whole night giving soothing yellow light.
We got a gas cylinder so my wife had a regular stove because cooking with firewood the African way was too much of hassle.
Soon an American missionary dropped by and copied our style and built a similar house in another village far from the town where they lived and preached.
From this experience I learned that one can be self-reliant anywhere in the world and live comfortably. All you have to do is to look for suitable village where the villagers will build a lovely house for you.
Now the important question of sanitation and health comes up so as I mentioned earlier, we screened the whole house to keep out the malaria causing mosquitos and gave our kids Nivaquine powder that they swallowed everyday so no one got sick. It was more of a prophylactic measure than anything else.
Then we filtered the water to make it safe to drink. We did not have a refrigerator because we did not need it. The villagers brought to our door eggs, chicken, fresh vegetables and milk that we bought daily. From the butter the Fulani women brought, we made ghee for cooking and the rest of the things we needed came from the weekly market in town so we spent two happy years in that village. The milk we bought from them was pure.
If you happen to live in a country where the water is not safe then you can make your own water filtration system by putting four or five large clay pots one on top of each other each with a tiny hole at the bottom. Then fill the three middle pots with at least four layers of sand and ground charcoal in each and then fill the top pot with water. The next day you will have very clean water in the bottom pot. Sand and charcoal is available anywhere and potters in Africa and Latin America make wonderful clay pots.
We donated our house to the village where we lived to do as they wished with it and even suggested that they use it as a clinic or a school for the children but we do not know what they did.
In West Africa, no one owns the land in the village. The village chief allocates the cultivable land among the villagers according to their need so the village chief gave us the land to build our house on. They also appreciated that I brought them to town anytime they needed to go there because I had a car. They often waited at my office to get a ride back.
So those of you, who are young and are planning to work in underdeveloped countries like Mali or somewhere else, do not despair and do not listen to your countrymen who will tell you that no one can possibly live under such conditions. I have done so and enjoyed living in an authentic African village.
But the greatest benefit came from raising our two children among the Africans in a very rural setting was that they are colorblind and the race of anyone is never an issue with them which is truly wonderful. Our daughter who used to ride piggy back with African women now loves to work with them in Zambia and loves to get her hair done the corn row way.
I wrote this blog particularly for those of you who are young and are starting out as development worker somewhere where the conditions are far different from what you are used to.
Sometimes you have to take the matter into your own hand and decide what to do to get out of a horrible situation like we did. We enjoyed the process and came away richer in experience.
Here are some more photos of our house and the kids in the Malian village we called home for a while.