Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rudrapur School Complete - Almost
April 27, 2008

I went back to Rudrapur again this weekend with my architect, Marina, and one of her employees, Sakib. The school and three homes are almost complete now; there are just a few finishing tasks that are still in progress. It was really amazing to see the completed building after having seen the construction process.

Site Visit 1 - October 6, 2007
They were still building the foundations and had just started the mudwork.

Site Visit 2 - December 8, 2007
They were building the second floor and had started on the bamboo work.

Site Visit 3 - April 25, 2008
The completed (almost) school!

Other Side
This is the other side of the school.

This is the interior of the classroom on the ground floor.

Exterior Detail
Anna put small pieces of bamboo in the mud to break the rain on the exterior of the building. This prevents the rain from damaging the walls.

Hallway on Second Floor
This is one of my favorite parts of the school. I love the bamboo in this hallway. I think that the palm trees overhead and the use of transparent fiberglass for the roof give the light a fantastic quality.

Marina, Anna, and Me
The three of us standing in the hallway.

Detail of the benches and the bamboo work. I think the design of the bamboo screen is very creative.

Here is a picture of my architect, Marina, on the ground floor veranda in front of the staircase.

Solar Powered Lights
Unlike Anna's first school, the new building has plumbing and a self-sufficient electrical system. The building is 100% powered by solar panels. The panels charge a set of 12 V batteries which run the lights, small fans, and water pump. Because the system is 12 V instead of 220 V there isn't enough power to run a computer or large ceiling fan. The plus side, however, is that you are not dependent upon the extremely unreliable local utilities. The batteries can power the entire building for 12 continuous hours without sunlight.

The building has four toilets, four sinks, and two showers. The water comes from a 1000 L water tank on the room. The water pump runs off of the solar panels and pumps water into the tank during daylight hours (the water pump isn't connected to the batteries, so it can only refill itself during the day.)

Slumber Party
We liked the new building so much (and the power kept going out in the small Dipshika guest building) that we decided to spend the night in the second floor classroom instead. We brought our bedrolls up there and decided to camp out. Anna stayed in one of the teacher's rooms in a bed nook on the second floor instead. We decided it was because she snored and was too embarrassed to tell us... Even though it is the middle of the hot season now and daytime temperatures can get upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the room was quite cool in the evening. We even wished we had brought some more blankets with us!

House 1 - Hemonto's House
In addition to the school, Anna built three homes for villagers in the area. They were demonstration projects designed by Anna's students to give them some experience with mud work. I had worked on the first house we saw (Hemonto's house) during my first two site visits. It looked really terrific in the end. The rooms that originally thought were way too small, were actually a nice size when they were completed. The two verandas were fantastic.

Inside Hemonto's House
The room upstairs is his sons' bedroom.

House #2
The second house we saw was fine, but it seemed too much like a normal brick and concrete house with a corrugated iron (CI sheet) roof to me. While the spaces inside were nice and had all of the climatic advantages of a mud house, I felt that the design lacked the charm of a traditional mud house.

Traditional Mud House
Here is a traditional mud house. I think that the thatched roof and rounded edges are charming.

Interior of House #2
Here is the inside of the house. In addition to the windows, there are several holes for ventilation.

The Dark Side of Mud
Unfortunately the third house that we visited had major problems with ventilation on the ground floor. The building is only a couple of months old and already has mold growing all over the interior walls and ceiling of the ground floor. Seeing this problem underscores the importance of having proper light and ventilation in these types of buildings.

Ceiling Trouble
Even though all of the bamboo was treated with borax, it is also suffering from the lack of light and ventilation. Hopefully Anna and her team will be able to fix the problem...

Scooter Twin!
April 22, 2008

I am so excited! Tonight I saw another woman driving a motor scooter. It was the same model and color as mine. I pulled up next to her at the intersection, smiled, and said, "Amar tomar motorcycle khub bhalo lage" (I really like your motorcycle). She looked at me and giggled.

I am no longer the only woman in Bangladesh who drives a motorcycle! While it may seem like a small thing to my friends in the west, over here it is actually quite a step forward for female independence!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Two Showers and No Lights
April 21, 2008

The heat is on again! Unfortunately the heat wave is putting more strain on Dhaka's power system than the grid can handle; the result is 8-9 blackouts a day! The power goes off so often now that my UPS (uninterrupted power supply) just stops working after the third outage because it doesn't have enough time to recharge itself.

Needless to say, the lack of power makes it extremely difficult to get work done. Oh how I miss my American Club membership! I used to go swimming when the power went out. Not only was it a great way to cool off, but it was also my only form of exercise. (Dhaka streets are not conducive to walking...)

On the bright side (irony intended), I have a good excuse to catch up on my reading. Right now I am reading an excellent book called The Golden Age by Tahmima Anam. It is a novel set during the Bangladeshi War of Independence in 1971. The book is very well written and definitely gives a good flavor of Bangladeshi life. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about Bangladesh...

Well I had better go before the power cuts out again!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Undiscovered Countries...
April 10, 2008

I found this website today called Virtual Tourist that lets you create a map of all of the places in the world that you have traveled to. Apparently you are able to export the map to your blog, so here it goes!

Red = place where I have lived
Blue = place that I have visited
Green = place that I want to visit

Get Your Own MapView Larger Map

I feel like I have been to so many places, but in reality I have only been to 28 countries! Looking at this map just makes me realize how many more places there are to explore!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Architect's Approval
March 31, 2008

Marina (my architect) went to the project site on the 29th to check it out and to make sure that the land is feasible for what we want to do. She liked the land and thought the drive out there was beautiful. She took some more photos for me; I uploaded a few of them below.

She discovered a couple of things which I wasn't able to see on my very abbreviated visit to the site. First, there is a deep tube well on the property already! This is fantastic because it will save us time and money trying to dig one for ourselves. Second, at the very end (on the opposite side of the property to the bridge) there is a house. The house will be sold with the property, but this is good news for us, because it means that we will already have a site office and barracks for the workers from Dinajpur ready for us which will save us a couple of weeks of construction. Third, there is a mango orchard on my site! I went by so fast I didn't notice this before. There are also several mahogany trees.

On the downside, she told me we will need to shore up the river bank (we would actually need to do this anywhere, I just didn't figure it into my initial costs) to prevent erosion.

Marina also assured me that the water lilies could be easily removed from the river.

Right now we are all waiting to find out the results of the title search. I am keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no issues and that we will be able to close on the land in the next couple of months...

View of my property from the other side of the river.

Water Lilies
The river is pretty large, but because it is in the dry season there is not much water flow, and the plants have completely taken over.

This is the small dirt road (driveway) that goes up behind my property. You can see the rice field on the other side. The paved road goes alongside the property from the bridge across the river.

Mango Orchard
My future mango orchard!

Mahogany Trees
This area has a lot of mahogany and teak trees. I was delighted to discover that there were some on my property.