Progress wk/begin 9th Feb

All Brickwork pointing is now finished, door making has begun and we even got the first of the glass louvers installed. See further comments on photos bellow. I also managed to cycle the 50km road to Nkhata Bay on an unimaginably bad bike!



Some typical site sketches used to discuss the door detailing with the carpenters and work out timber quantities and cutting sizes


I must send this photo to my zoologist uncle who I’m sure will be able to identify the bird. I’m not quite sure how Yotam managed to cath the poor thing, but I’m afraid to say it ended in the frying pan and eaten for lunch as an accompaniment with the nsima!


The day watch-woman are still semi permenant  residents under our timber shelter and door workshop, spending their mornings preparing lunch.


Ephriam, my office buddy trying on my sunglasses, as ever wanting to look more of a ‘mzungu’!? Ephriam is a good friend here who has helped a lot, in particular with the use of his car! We enjoy a few ‘chill’s’ (a nicer Carlesberg beer here) together in Nkhata Bay at the week ends.


A familiar sight of Chibuku ‘Shake-Shake’ stacked on the back of cyclist’s bike around town. I tried it once with my friend Tom, who has become more of a fan than me. The drink consists of fermented maize, which makes it very bitty and slightly dubious in taste and texture – hence the ‘Shale-Shake’. is needed to mix up the bits with the liquor. The locals like the really old cartons, which have fermented for longer and contain extra kick! Other locals like to add sugar or honey and milk.


Just one torrential downpour last week whilst I was in the office. We had a few problems on site as we were installing bellow ground drainage pipes which soon flooded and became clogged up with mud. We also had our first roof leak! Thankfully just on the khonde and attributed to a loose roofing nail which meant the rubber seal was not compressed properly. We decided to patch a few of these up with a bitumen tape for safety.

Funnily enough I was reading a chapter in a book I’m reading at the moment about roof’s which made a good reference to Frank Llyod Wright and stated: ‘To clients who complained about roof leaks, Frank Lloyd Wright’s stock response was, “that’s how you can tell it’s a roof”. The owners of (flat-roofed) Fallingwater used to refer to his house as “Rising Mildew” and a “seven bucket building” ‘!

Hopefully buckets wont be required at the clinic anytime soon.


Roofing repairs


Finish of the brickwork after pointing


Dan installing the architraves on the additional windows in the Autoclave room


Morton keeps going with the pointing


Saddock seems to be a master with door making, and knocked up this work bench in a few hours. He’s made 2 already 11 to go!


Door number 1. Dan and Saddock make these so much better than the one’s on sale in town. It’s great to keep making use of their expertise and carpentry skill.



The cycle taxi’s waiting outside campus ready to take you to the local markets for supplies.


Some finished walls after pointing


I like drawing details on the walls to work things out and explain to the guys levels and sizes required. Here we’re building an in-situ concrete work surface for the Autoclaving room. We’ve built a series of piers and formed a shutter to cast a solid concrete work surface. We’ll then fit cupboards bellow –  a dream kitchen for some people!


Pointing before and after


The first glass louvers being installed


Pointing finished on the front elevation



First piece of glass fitted!



A rather unflattering sweaty shot after the first climb out of Mzuzu on the Nkhata By road. The bike was about 2 sizes to small from, with an indescribably painful saddle and gears that I had to change with my feet! Tom’s bike was not much better.


Great to do this road on a bike rather than the hair-raising mini-busses which speed along at 100kmph, whilst you’re generally stuffed in the back unable to see with a bag of stinking osipa (a small lake fish) pushed against your face. The views out towards the lake were fantastic. We had a brilliant 3-course fruit stop in one village where we were seduced by the sight of fresh Guavas. After we ate these the family brought course number 2, 2 perfect fresh avocados, fresh off their tree. Once these were down and we were about to set off, the bowel of Mangoes arrived! We set off again feeling healthier than ever.


I’ve been wanting to get a photo of these guys for a while, who you see frequently on the Nkhata By road. They are manually cutting planks from recently chopped trees using an enormous double-handed blade. The 2 men, slowly and rhythmically spend hours slicing 1/2inch planks in the searing heat. It gets progressively hotter the nearer to the lake – and decent, from Mzuzu.


Relaxing in Butterfly Space on the Sunday morning.

Progress photos wk/beg 2nd Feb:

A few days late on the update but see commentary on photos bellow from last week. It was a week of: slapping plaster against walls, finishing the carpentry, FINALLY fixing down the metal roofing sheets and looking at (a limited availability) of glass samples for windows. My Nsima cooking is also improving….


Chimango demonstrates the technique of slapping the cement plaster against the rough finished coursing of the SSB’s – which gives a good ‘key’ for this to adhere to



Yotam and Morton then demonstrates their skill in ‘shining’ (I guess we call it skim finishing) with a diluted lime and cement mix


The results have been this very impressive perfectly smooth finish. We now wait for around 10 days for the lime plaster to dry and for all the moisture to ‘sweat’ out from the walls before applying any undercoat/primer


Meanwhile Wezi the plumber (when we can get hold of him) has been attempting to complete the bellow ground drainage connections, demonstrating how pipes are connected Malawi style, by heating the ends up then slotting the other pipes into this, finally sealed with a cement solvent. In the UK we have a fairly proprietary connector that would normally be used. I’ll upload some photos at the end of this week, when things got well, unpleasant! in the main manhole – it wasnt a nice job, but Yotam stepped up to the challenge with facemask, wellies and elbow length leather gloves. Mr Kalua did pull me one side and advise that normally when someone is asked to make this connection you offer them a fresh bar of soap and a carton of milk, which I obliged to.


Another one of Saddocks adapted tools; a hoe handle combined with a metal chisel/flint makes a useful axe-chisel, great for taking annoying 5mm edges off any 50x sections of timber that a saw can’t handle


A quick shot of my latest Nsima attempt (and a very typical Malawian lunch/dinner of Nsima and relish), not a bad attempt, a little coarse still, but it did the job.


I found a shop that could supply a few different colours of glass. Option for blue glass shown here


An obscure glass which is more likely to be the choice for the treatment and clinician office rooms


People enjoying the environment (spot the difference on the elevation – see photos bellow)


Dan showing us how to sharpen the pencil on the plane! I’ve been working very closely with Dan the last few weeks, finishing off all the carpentry. I’ve learnt a lot from him when it comes to carpentry skills, he’s a very talented carpenter and I’ve greatly valued his opinion and judgement on any finishing details



A momentous moment, finally fixing down the first roofing sheet now that all the M&E has been installed, especially after the recent storms when the sheets got blown off, I can finally relax about this! The day was hot enough, but walking around ontop of 21 heat reflecting steel roofing sheets was almost unbearable for me! I could literally feel my face being scolded. I decided to get on with some carpentry bellow whilst Dan and Saddock took the job in their stride.

It’s worth noting now how successful the Sisilation seems to be performing. Even on the hottest days the rooms bellow remain very  cool, presumably much thanks to the foil sisolation blocking the radiant heat entering from bellow the metal sheets – hopefully the heat here wont build enough to melt the PVC conduits!


Dan helping out with the alignment of the metal sheets


Great to see the metal sheets finally cutting a very satisfying straight line along the north elevation


A few further glass options for the obscure glass windows on the north elevation


The clinic staff are all in favour of the colourful blue glass, but I’m not convinced. It will prevent privacy within the treatment rooms and no doubt curtains will soon appear!



Moving the remaining SSBs off the Khonde in preparation for tiling next week


Saddock using the make-shift site planning bench


Installing bellow ground drainage and manholes


Installing the cold water pipe and associated connections


Remaining timber, now planned and cut, ready for us to make doors and the Khonde seating.


I decided to knock together a few additional windows for the west elevation to add a bit more light to the internal autoclaving room and give a bit more interest to the campus facing elevation. Perhaps something of the Vana Venturi House now or as Charlotte pointed out references to Corb’s La Tourette. Making changes (…naughty architect I know…) is one of the advantages of managing the process – of course the builders dont mind (and dont charge) so long as I do all the work myself!

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The roof is really starting to appear to float now and fulfil our original concept of this element looking as if it is ‘floating’ above the walls



Saddock at work with his medieval looking home-made tool


The issue of the impounded university lorry (which happened 2 days after of us benefiting use of this) appeared in the local paper last week


Purchases of: varnish, paint undercoat and brick sealer at the hardware market


Use of amber colour glass on doors in the hardware market, unfortunately only available with this floral pattern


More torrential downpours at the end of the week (and most of the week end), although I did manage to escape to Nkhata Bay on Sunday with friends (and drive the treacherous road – just the 3 up-turned lorries en-route this time) where we had a good dose of sunshine for swimming and my first taste of the lake Catfish


Rain hammering down on the phase 1 clinic


I probably should have removed the power cable, I did suggest it but was told its fine!

Joinery, M&E and Grand Designs Malawi..

Last week (wk/begin 26/01) was for me and Dan the carpenter, a week of sawing, planning and hammering, working predominantly on preparing all the window and door joinery ready for glass fitting and door hanging (just one very sore smashed index finger for my efforts. I was advised by a friend that inserting a poker hot paperclip through nail, know as ‘decompression’ in medical terms, helps relieve the pressure. Well, I highly recommend this, it successfully relieves the pain and the pressure from the swelling!). Some remaining brickwork was completed on the Khonde screens and it was also a week for the mechanical and electrical works to complete, which they just about managed to do in a week.

On Tuesday we had a very sudden and dramatic storm sweep across the site with a bizarre 30 second gust of tornado like wind – we were literally clinging onto the columns, the wind then to my horror ripped up some of the metal sheets amid torrential rain, exposing the plywood cassettes! We decided to give in trying to stay dry and rushed up onto the roof in somewhat hazardous (dangerous!) conditions to attempt to shift and replace the sheets that had blown off alignment, it was a brave effort from everyone, we got completely soaked and although water eventually began pouring in through the ceilings bellow, it seems these have now dried out in the last few days and hopefully saved the plywood from worse damage. We all acknowledged how lucky it was that this happened during the day when we were around and not at night. We’re now just awaiting for the Khonde lighting to be installed hopefully tomorrow morning and then im insisting on nailing the roofing sheets down once and for all.

The week finished with a trip with some of my friends from the NGO Temwa, to a castle being built by an ex-pat couple from England – Kachere Castle, just south on Kande beach in Chinteche. They’re developing it as a lodge on the lake; with central swimming pool/bar, turrets and a squash  court. I wonder what Kevin would say? It was quite bizare and surreal, sipping a G&T from the roof of such a building in Malawi, with superb views back to the mountains and out over an enormous mango tree to the lake.


Moments after the rains started, Yotam attempts to dig a trench leading water away from the manhole excavation


Water now cascading off our temporary shelter


The only snap I managed to get after this point as the storm force gusts of winds swept across the site, tearing up the metal roofing sheets


Sunshine the following day and the damage assessment was’nt too bad. The Sisilation we installed seems to have significantly helped to protect a lot of the plywood on the main cassettes


Issac, the electrical engineer moved quickly in between downpours and shifting back into place the iron sheets, to install the majority of all conduits and wiring within a week


Dan and I focussed on fitting all the window beads, wall and door architraves in preparation for glass, doors and plastering. We’ve had to add additional ‘wall architraves’ in the end to act as an edge for plastering (metal beads do not exist here) and the 10mm allowance on the 150mm framing studs was lost in planning of the timber and brickwork tolerances – it was in effect flush with our 140mm deep bricks in the end. In future these would need to be approx 170mm deep sections. Even so, the architraves do not look so bad, framing the walls quite pleasantly and having seen the first plastered walls today I was fairly pleased with the result.




Full height doors, with overpanels and architraves



Getting to work on the long drainage run and manholes to the main site drain


View of the front khonde. I’ve not quite committed to the perforated screen yet (just dry bonded in the photo), not sure how this will work/look with the SSBs and mortar joints.


All wiring complete


View from clinician office to phase 1


View from treatment room


Example of available doors for sale in town. We have decided to make our own doors now and i spent the best part of today having our Raiply wood cut and planed for this today. Dan, Sadock and I will get started on these tomorrow. We think we can make them better than these examples!


Some busy conduit runs in the roof void


Hot/cold water pipes run nicely through a central void in the roof and drop either side of the central walls bellow to sinks in the clinician and treatment rooms


Saddock and Dan


Saddock and I fixing the top beams and beads



New office space


New office space #2


Last week was a quiet week for the groundworkers, but Yotam dropped by on Friday after we’d agreed labour costs for plastering all internal walls this week (funds are running low!). Here he can be seen mixing the ‘Ndola’ lime with water in preparation for the ‘shine’ (skim) coats after an ‘Akshar’ cement mix is applied to the brickwork – I can happily say that the finish is superb, having seen the first plastered room today. Mr Kalua had previously mentioned that Yotam was indeed an ‘expert’ at Akshar/Lime plastering. I will certainly be having a go at some point this week



Clearly years of making Nsima help with this. There were a lot of laughs on site when i made the comparison and asked if this was lunch they were preparing.

Interestingly I did find out last week that incredibly, Casava (a staple food here – when made as Casava-nsima is almost inedibly elastic and fills you up for days) is in fact used as part of the gluing agent in the laminating of plywood at Raiply!




…and some photos of Kachere Castle, AKA: Grand Designs Abroad!