House made of straw, wood, brick, or….?

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The offending wall after drying out

Last week it rained for three days. On that third night I realized my pad was getting soaked. I thought the rain had gotten around the edges of the window, but I looked closer….and it was coming through the wall!

Our room was built with secure-looking bricks, but they’re just one layer deep and on the other side nature does its work. This particular storm pounded into those bricks. Over the course of three days the water had soaked through the mortar and was seeping into our home.

I grabbed the lower, wetter pad, pulled off the cover and hung it inside to dry on one wall. I stood the pad itself up to dry on another. The upper pad had also gotten a little wet, so I did my best to dry it…but I had to sleep on something. I figured our fan would do its work. We scooted away from the wet spot and went back to sleep.

In the morning we woke up to find that the damage was much worse than we thought. Rain hadn’t just seeped in from one spot in the wall, but from all over that entire corner, which included our main storage area. Besides the mattress pads there was a large quilt, medical papers, some artwork, and first aid supplies that got significantly drenched. Some stuff had to be thrown away.

And we’re among the lucky ones.

The hierarchy of homes in the slum goes something like this, from lowest to best:

slum room with tin roof
One of the tin roof homes we’ve lived in
  1. Tarp supported by bamboo poles on a dirt floor
  2. Structured bamboo-and-plastic walls and roof on a dirt floor
  3. Brick walls with a bamboo-and-plastic roof on a dirt floor
  4. Brick walls with a tin roof on a concrete floor
  5. Brick walls with a brick-and-concrete roof on a concrete floor
  6. Brick with a layer of concrete plaster for the walls and roof

There are in-between levels too (like the bricks simply stacked up into walls with no mortar holding them together!). Our family has lived in categories 3, 4, 5, and 6. We have felt the difference in our lives.

peregrine in our third slum home
The only dirt-floor home we’ve lived in, it also was lacking in the wall and roof departments

The further up up are on that list, the more things can go wrong. Because our current home lacks concrete plaster, our belongings got soaked after a bad enough storm. But when we had a bamboo-and-plastic roof, our bed sometimes got soaked right from the beginning. Dirt floors turn into mud, causing us to slip and hurt ourselves. Tin or bamboo-and-plastic roofs can blow away in the rain. And it’s easier to keep pests out of a brick house than a bamboo-and-plastic one.

Years ago when our slum was very poor some of our friends even lived in mud huts. They tell us that once during a rainstorm the mud collapsed, trapping two young children under a wall, and they were nearly suffocated. Poor construction materials can cost you your life. While the vast majority of homes in the slum are now brick, that critical mass wasn’t reached until 2005 or so. Before then slum fires were common, rushing through plastic and bamboo and wood and paper. In 2016 one such fire hit one of the slums where I was running a literacy lab and destroyed nine homes.

in a nice slum room
The relative ease of a home with plastered walls

There are a few hardships which can occur as your home gets “better”. For example, a brick-and-concrete home retains more of the summer heat at night than a tin or bamboo-and-plastic roof. Children can fall and hit their head on a concrete floor.

But for the most part there is a clear progression – the poorer you are, the further you are up that list, and the further you are up that list the more opportunities you have to suffer.

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