Let’s take a tour of my mud hut

People live in mud huts with grass roofs in rural Zambia, but this oversimplified description is a bit misleading. The hut I imagined I’d be living in before I arrived here conjured images of Little House On The Prairie. My actual house is more like, well, like a house. Yes, the walls are made from dried mud bricks and clay mortar, and the roof is comprised of thatched grass tied to tree branches using twine, but Laura Ingalls would be lost in this “hut.” My home has four rooms and a hallway, which means it’s huge by both Peace Corps volunteer and local village standards. A few of my neighbors have houses this big, but they also have a dozen people living inside. For one person, this place is a veritable mansion.

The first room to the left when I walk through the front door is my living room/general purpose room. This room has the most windows (two, one double-sized), the best lighting, and is the only room that is completely limed, painted with a lime/salt/water mixture which protects against insect damage and gives the walls a white color, so I spend most of my time in here.

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Bought in Mansa: wicker chair
Made in the village: bench, table, chair
Made by me: hanging wire shelves, guitar hanger, wire chitenge hangers

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I collect chitenges with fish on them and chitenges with patterns that remind me that I’m in Africa. They vary in price depending mostly on quality and a bit on how willing a shopkeeper is to bargain; I buy the cheap nylon prints for K7.5-K10 each, and the heavier, softer cotton fabrics cost anywhere between K15-K25. The premium, cream of the crop Congolese chitenges are made from heavy waxed cotton and will run you K30-K35.

The first room to the right is my kitchen. This is where I prepare food, cook on the brazier (though I usually light it and let the coals heat outside), and wash my hands/dishes.

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I installed the running line and hooks for easy storage of pots, pans, vegetables, dishrags, and cooking utensils. Perishable foods go into two large plastic buckets like the one pictured beneath the table. I draw and carry water using three five-gallon buckets like the red one in the foreground. The custom food prep table is my new baby. I gave the carpenter exact dimensions because I wanted a table tall enough to chop vegetables on while standing, a shelf underneath for food storage, and enough space beneath the shelf to stow one of the big storage buckets but with a narrow clearance so that my resourceful cat can’t pop the lid off. The table was ready in two days, exactly to specification. Wish I could give him a 5-star review on Yelp.

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On the opposite side of the kitchen is a bookshelf I bought from the Peace Corps provincial house in Mansa before posting. On top are my water filter and washing bucket for easy access while standing, and the shelves hold spices, oils, and other nonperishable foods in sealable containers. I have plastic bags hanging from nails in the wall to the right of the picture for garbage (goes in a pit outside), compost (I dump it on the patch of dirt where I entertain wistful notions of starting a garden), and ash (can dump it down the chimbusu to cut down on smell/flies, and also makes good fertilizer for fish ponds).

The short hallway is separated from the front two rooms by a sliding curtain made from a chitenge that I took to a local tailor, strung across a wire I nailed over the top of the entryway. A vestibule opens to the right (just behind the kitchen) where I store my bike and 50kg bag of charcoal, and from the vestibule is the opening to my indoor bathing shelter (most volunteers have outdoor bathing shelters) and storage area where I’ve strung ropes and wires from the rafters for hanging luggage, clothes I don’t wear on a daily basis, and other miscellaneous gear.

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I put up maps on one wall of the hallway, with a string stretched across for hanging cards. The back of the hallway is an open closet with shirts/trousers on handmade clothes hangers hanging from a wire and shoes hanging from nails in the back wall. My overarching goal for home improvement projects was to get everything off the ground.

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In the hallway I made a pullup bar from wire, a tree branch, and duct tape, hung from the big center rafter. I have plastic tacked up over the inside of most of the roof, with only the vestibule/bathing room/storage room uncovered.

My bedroom is simultaneously the most sparsely furnished and most expensive room in the hut. Why? Mattresses are relatively expensive here in Zambia for the quality you get. This foam mattress ain’t no Tempur-Pedic, though if you sleep in the same place long enough without flipping it over it will create a dent in the shape of your body. And bed frames, though very reasonably priced for the amount of raw material and labor that goes into making them, still relieve your wallet of a lot of kwacha.

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Full-sized bed (K280) with mattress (K500) and mosquito net (provided by Peace Corps).

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I built another hanging shelf near the bed for use as a nightstand. Underneath is a folding armchair soccer-mom style from the ShopRite in Lusaka and a wicker basket I bought from a guy on a bike in Mansa which I use for storing socks and underwear. Just out of the frame is a thick blue chitenge rug made by a woman on the side of the road in Kashikishi.

And last but not least, I know y’all want to see my chimbusu:

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Yet another use for wire – make a toilet paper dispenser!

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15 thoughts on “Let’s take a tour of my mud hut

  1. Hi Matt: your mom told me about your blog and adventures with the Peace Corps. This is great to hear all about what you are doing. The pictures are amazing!!!

  2. Hey, Matt,

    Great job!! Are you playing your guitar very much? It looks like a piece of art hanging from the wall. Using chitenges as wall decorations is classic! It adds not only color but warmth to your hut.

    OK, your chimbusu is downright scary. Did it take very long for the female PCVs to get used to it? How do you secure your hut?

    All your hard work the past weeks has certainly paid off. Can’t wait to visit next summer!

    • I actually do play a fair amount, but the first time I brought the guitar outside the iwes all backed away nervously, thinking it was a gun. Shouldn’t have started to play, could have been a useful prop.

      None of my female friends have reported any egregious difficulties with the chimbusus. I mean, the holes aren’t THAT small!

    • Oh, I have a big padlock I put on the door when I leave the hut. At night, there’s another deadbolt that locks from the inside. Safe as long as nobody decides to just hack straight through the wall, which because it is a mud hut wouldn’t be terribly difficult. I’m working on getting people to like me as the best form of security system.

      None of this, apparently, works to keep bats out. One just buzzed the place, scaring the living daylights out of me, and is undoubtedly now roosting in my roof. Great.

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