Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Wise Man Built His House . . .

Upon a rock is a good place to build, but before flood #1 in Ba last year, Rafele's home was built on the loamy soil of a river bank next to the home he previously had built for his mother.  We came to love this family.
The Vutagas with their youngest son
As the water rushed in that January 2012 flood, there was little time to save belongings -- family first and a few other things were lifted through a roof panel and rescued.  Sitting on the roof in the dark they heard the rushing water take their home down the river, and across a field and road, depositing its wreckage around a tree a few hundred yards away. Positioned near a river which was swollen with push back from a high tide and heavy rains on lowlands near the ocean, this area was particularly ravaged by the flood with nearly every un-stilted home badly damaged. Shorty thereafter we met the Vutaga family as we delivered assistance to the many flood survivors. 
Picking themselves up in true Fijian fashion, Rafele began to gather construction supplies to build another home.  Materials were scavenged from the old home and "supplies" providentially ferried in by the flood. The LDS Church also assisted and before long enough materials were assembled to begin construction.  Two months after the flood, 6 foot pilings were standing erect anticipating a new structure higher off the ground.

History was to repeat itself.  Night time slumber was again seized by flood #2 near the end of March and this time from the roof they watched all the new supplies and pilings disappear.  Morning light brought the reality that they had lost everything, again. This is a story we've wanted to share but had to wait through the months of its making.  For the next three months after the flood waters receded, Thursday mornings found us joining this tireless and creative man, along with his family and friends in building yet another home -- on rock (or at least, cement pillars).
Even before the flood waters had all dried up, the new home began to take shape.
Those trees on the far right once held pieces of their first home.
Only enough available money to buy wood for one pillar casing at a time.  After
the cement dried, they disassembled the casing and built the next.
Hand mixing the cement and carrying it to the pillar casing in a small tin pan kept up with
the available wood for casing construction -- one pillar per day.
The rounded top to this pillar need to be chipped away.  When we asked
where a chisel was, they pointed to a rusty nail on the ground.  Progress
was slow, real slow, so the next day we added a chisel to their tool box.

Cement reinforcement forms from rebar and heavy wire were all created by hand - it seemed to go on forever.  One day on our weekly service, Rafele told us how relieved he was to see us drive up since he simply could not face making another form.  After a short apprenticeship, we were on our own and this became our chief task for the next several weeks.

An electrician by trade, Rafele took leave from his job and devoted full time to rebuilding their home during these months.  In the flood plain near his home he also kept a casava field.  The daily diet of casava means continual planting to keep up with future needs and regardless of his home re-construction, the farming couldn't be neglected.  

The reason there were so many wooden and rebar forms to build was that
they were the main weight bearing structures.
While Annie straightened nails, Rafele trekked back and forth from the forrest cutting and hauling heavy, dense limbs to support and level the horizontal beam casings being filled with cement.  He did all this with his cane knife, one of the few tools he owned.  In fact, the whole home was built with surprisingly few tools (hammer, pliers, hack saw, cane knife, and pry bar -- that's it), and amazing ingenuity that made up for the dearth.
The wall of a cinderblock served tolerably well for straightening nails
Nails were always precious and in short supply, especially straight ones.  They repeatedly reused nails and Annie spent several days in this position pulling nails and convincing them to straighten up.  Once when we were out of nails, we asked if they had more in reserve, Rafele directed us to dig around in the dirt and we would likely find some old rusty but useable ones (another house once stood on this ground).  It was an early lesson for us that you didn't just run to the store when materials were needed.

No codes, no safety, and frightening little caution. What was scaffolding one day
(and we use the term lightly), became construction material the next.  Everything was
used and reused, straighten and re-cut, refashioned and re-fit.  Nothing wasted
and nothing purchased unless absolutely necessary.
Like the native builders, the wood was sturdy, rough cut and versatile.  Regardless of how thick, Pio cut each board with a hacksaw, the only available saw at the time. Hearty and fit, Pio warmed our hearts with his smile and gracious manner.  Every day, he was at his nephew's side guiding and lending his experienced hand to the project. Like others, he made us feel so welcome and appreciated that we always looked forward to coming.  Fijian Christian music was always a part of the happy and serene atmosphere during construction, whether coming from their home or our car we would enjoy their beautiful voices as we worked.  There was never any frustration or anger when challenges arose. Rafele would just smile and say, "No worries, we can fix it."

Rafele's mother's home on left had water half way up the windows during flood #2

While Annie nailed the roof supports, one of the workers said:
"We've never seen a Fijian woman do like this!"

The crew: Rafele, his brother Josefa, a friend, and Uncle Pio
Cast off stick supports would become firewood - nothing lost or wasted!
On occasion, we went to the mill for needed supplies.  No safety rules kept us from walking through the plant and mingling with workers amidst the amazing machinery.

Now that's a band saw blade!
Pio and Rafele left us to do the flooring for the house - it was really satisfying but the very last slot was out of square.  Hoping for an understanding foreman, we went back to the mill and asked if we could rip two boards at a certain wedged angle.  They got excited over the prospect as we pushed these 12 foot boards through a table saw in a dangerous maneuver we never would have attempted at home (no such thing as OSHA rules in Fiji).

While the flooring boards were green, rough and irregular, we coaxed them into place
with pry bars, sweat, and ingenuity.  In the end, they would be covered by something like a vinyl
oilcloth (they call it "carpet") overlaid with mats and no one would notice the flaws.
When the metal siding and roofing began to go up, we asked how they were cutting the metal so precisely since we knew they had no metal cutting tools.  They proudly demonstrated the "poor-man's" technique -- which would make any rich man envious.  Straight, true, and efficient they teamed up using a simple piece of wire and sheer pressure to make just the right cuts.

It was a sad goodbye to leave this great family and not see the home to completion - really one of the hardest farewells we experienced in Ba.  How we came to love this family and were heartened by their cheery and optimistic conquering of such difficult circumstances. You can imagine how delighted we were to get this next picture of their finished home. So beautiful and we hope it is never flood tested!
Moved in the 2nd week of October, 2012


emily a. said...

Wow, I have so many thoughts.

One is how we take so much for granted here. I'm a little grumpy because of our old home and all of it's issues but it's so minor compared to these people.

You two are such a team! It's amazing to me with practically every post how prepared you have both been through your lives to be so handy and helpful to the Fijians. That man was right, not many Fijian's or American women could be found doing what Mom does.

What a beautiful home. So glad you documented this so well.

Matt said...

Holy built a home!!!! What an incredible story. I'm amazed by the ingenuity, the patience and happiness of the is family. What a blessing you were to them and visa-versa. When you turned your papers in, did you ever believe that meant you might build a home too?

PS...the home really did turn out pretty!

auny nancy said...

I am truly inspired by the stories you send. You are blessed people, I give thanks for you and your Mission, your Spirit, and Love, and the humble nature with which you carry out your tasks.

Julie said...

Another great story thanks for sharing! Never know when this metal cutting technique will come in handy.

Heikki said...

You are an inspiration to us. What a great story, and an example of real service. It sure makes a great story for the grandkids! Thanks for sharing.

sixmoores said...

Thank you for sharing this story. It was truly what I needed to hear tonight. I loved it! I am so grateful for such amazing examples of happiness, hard work, creativity, patience, and love. Wow! You are doing amazing things there on your mission.

Vicki Rinne said...

Oh, and thanks for sharing the music clip. Beautiful!