2 weeks to go!

Photos and events from the last few weeks. I’m aiming to have everything finished in the next few weeks, so the countdown is on!


The tiles are looking good, but fitting burglar bars on all the windows was definitely one of my least favourite jobs of the project so far. Using drill bits that are the wrong size and type (12mm timber drill bits just aren’t available in Mzuzu) combined with an old Makita drill made for slow and tedious progress. Slotting the rusty metal bars into the slots and back to fix them left my hands blistered and sore…. apologies, complaint over, they look quite good now and in some ways make the windows look more interesting from the inside and of course much safer.


An option for Chitenge curtains got quickly rejected by the clinic, which is a shame as the patterns are so interesting which you find in the market here. There was some debate over using woman’s ‘national wear’ as curtain material. The clinic staff seem intent on using net curtains and heavy-duty material. I’m sure well come to some sort of compromise soon.



The on-site Taylor: Mr Kaka (as are many people named from Nkhotakota!), sits here at his sewing machine all day. He makes many people’s clothes for them on campus and I was hoping to use him for the curtain making.



Tiling continues on the south side of the building. I think the boys are getting better as they go along.


We’ve made the opening and fitted the new door to the phase 1 clinic now, creating the all important link between the 2 buildings.


Interesting to see the enormous full depth of the 230mm deep interlocking SSBs using on phase 1



Dan and I laughed a lot about how long it takes to build and how quick it is to demolish!


We got the frame in place fairly quickly, cast a new up stand at the threshold and had the existing piece of glass cut into the new window frame and door vision panel



The new door in place. Saddock was hard to convince that the design would work, but we pushed through with it and the end result works really well and looks good.



Saddock and Mr Kaka, my biggest fans of the Chitenge curtains



A missive amount of effort the last few weeks from the carpenters finishing all the doors and hanging these. We’re just doing a final sanding of these and varnishing them at the moment to complete the activity.




A short week-end trip to Sambani on the lake provided some spectacular storms and skies – and of course plenty of swimming



Wezi fighting with the sinks somewhat. I probably annoy him checking these with the spirit level!



Main light fitting finally being installed now we have the doors on and a secure building.


A few shots from the hardware market. This chap’s having a good kip over lunch


Smoked fish for sale


Sinks in place – good job Wezi!


lights in and working


Banda was quick to make a chain for himself from the left over chains we used to hand the light fittings!


Lots of a activity on the south side


The rectangular external Khonde tiles going down very quickly this week


We’ve had three metal drains fabricated for the Khonde drain this week.



Connecting the 40mm sink waste pipes and bottle traps – almost running water in place.


George laying the khonde tiles





March Progress

So far March has been a busy month on site, plus a visit from my brother and sister, my birthday and yet more transprt problems!

Here’s another photographic update from the last few weeks on site as the building gets closer and closer to being complete despite at times it feeling like a never-ending list of tasks! One thing I’m certainly learning, especially from being so involved with the building work itself, is that building is not quick! It requires many pairs of hands, a lot of team work and lots of energy and strength. Building the final west gable end wall and windows last week-end and this week, which after deliberating over for so long I felt it was only right for me to complete this, has left my whole body aching thanks to lifting all the SSB’s and cement into place! Perhaps not the most plumb wall in the building, but not a bad effort. After discussions with the team, we opted to part with the perforated screen wall for one that is more solid with open fenestrations. This in part has been due to the additional privacy walls introduced (partly a client request) and also for buildabilty reasons, this solution now seems to be work well and gives the building a really strong wholeness and cube-like mass under the ‘floating’ roof and provides the end users with the levels of privacy they require

The Dedza Pottery tiles were also finally ready at the end of last week after some delay in finishing these due to the ongoing rains the south of the country have still been experiencing. I had to go to Raiply again on Friday morning (for hopefully the last time) at which time the tiles were due to arrive . As ever I naively presumed this would be a simple operation of off-loading these. Unfortunately the company we used to collect them sent possibly the worse lorry I have ever seen, which got stuck on the site, about 500m from the clinic! We had to have a whip around for hands to help transfer these onto one of our better lorries and transfer them to the site… a rather long afternoon in the end, but at least by the end of the week all the tiles were safely on the clinic khonde and ready for laying first thing this week. See photos bellow of progress on this.

The carpenters are tirelessly pushing on with the big task of door making and we’re looking to start fitting these once the internal tilling is complete and we can properly cut these to threshold dimensions. They’ve done an excellent job on these, making them to a really high standard – far better than the doors you can buy in town, partly benefiting from the good quality timber we have from Raiply, but also and more so, a testament to their excellent carpentry skills.


It was great to show some family around the building and to meet the on-site team and see all the hard work from everyone over the last 7 months


A quick shot with my brother and sister before a lunch at Mzuzu’s ‘Green Vee’, where they serve a great ‘Condowole’ (A Cassava Nsima) Mpassa (a rather boney but fleshy lake fish) and beans


Photo from one of the warehouse’s at Raiply for what was surely our final trip here in Chikangawa


I always like the signs hung randomly on the premises at Raiply


At the same time I was at Raiply this shipwreck of a lorry had finally made it to the site carrying the 15 tonnes of clay floor tiles – I’m almost certain it had a number of breakdowns on the way from Dedza causing its delay arriving on the Friday. It soon became apparent that it was not going to make it all the way to the clinic, having traveled over 600km, it was stuck in the mud 500m from its destination!


The lorry was literally patched together with bits and pieces of old metal sheeting


Plenty of people soon materialised (at the offer of 1000 kwacha) to help shift the 7,000 tiles from this lorry to a better one.


Our new, recently hired cook Emily (should have hired her to save time right at the beginning) was particularly good at this task, she’s a great character.


Stacking the tiles on the khonde


All 7,000 tiles in place


Some really beautiful colours and tones across the collection which should look great once layed.


Starting work on the west end wall, flanking the new waiting area


The rains have definitely quieted off now and almost back November temperatures on site. I will admit to some topless working on Saturday when things were a bit quieter and unbearably hot bricklaying with my back directly to the sun!



It was a challenge stabilising the wall, which is in fact projecting from the main structure (another reason the perforated wall would have been rather unstable), every 4 courses I’ve fixed either brick force wire between window frames which I inserted after 4 courses, and 6 inch nails fixing the shorter return walls into the columns. Once the rear of the wall is plastered, this will add further strength to the ‘freestanding’ walls stability.


A pleasant view looking through the treatment rooms from the waiting area and out to the university grounds beyond. I’m very pleased we opted for clear glass in the end to maintain these views when users want them. I’m currently discussing with the university tailor(!) about making some nice curtains from some of the interesting material I have found here in the Swahili market. I have also just ordered the steel for the burglar bars which we will need to install. Unfortunately these are a must in all new, and many existing, buildings here in Malawi.


Demonstrating the setting out for the internal tilling to make sure that we minimise any cut tiles


The new concrete work surface in the Autoclaving room. If funds are available I will ask (and of course help) the carpenters to fabricate under counter cupboards for these.


Horizontal louvre window detail


String and a spirit level are essential equipment when building a wall


All doors almost complete now and looking great



The new waiting area – just the bench and floor tilling to finish off now


The internal floor tilling gets underway


Some shots of the completed west gable wall. The roof really has the feel of ‘floating’ now, especially from this end of the building. I’m half tempted to remove the vegetation from the opposite side to enforce this aspect, but morally struggling to remove any more trees!






Plastering the back of this wall in the waiting area


Internal tilling moving on quickly


First room complete!


Setting out the external khonde tilling today. I’ve explored a few options for tilling over the drain, but I believe this will lead to tiles becoming cracked or broken along here. I think it’s also important for the torrents of water that will fall from the phase 1 roof to fall directly into a drain. The splash back from hit/miss tiles will be fairly sever here otherwise. I have drawn up designs for some 4mm gauge metal grates to be fabricated and installed along here.



A much enjoyed Birthday celebrtaion on 4th March with friends at Mzuzu’s new italian restaurant/lodge.

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!

IMG_4848_resized IMG_4849_resized

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!














Walls finished!

A selection of photos bellow detailing the weeks activities. An active week of completing all the external brickwork walls and trips to the saw mill to prepare all the softwood architraves and beading for the windows and doors. We’ve had all the windows measured up now so once all the beading is in place and walls plastered we can have this fitted. Also some photos of mushrooms at the end which seem to be in season at the moment, there’s plenty in the market and I keep getting offered enormous specimens walking around town and campus!


Our temporary shelter built back in October has now become a central social scene around the site. The day watch women have fully moved in, chatting and socialising all day (intermixed with napping!) and cooking their nsima.


Our site chefs Chimango and Banda take over on the fire


Nsima and Oespia for lunch for the day watch-woman


…and the same for us


Starting the base wall for the external screen to the waiting area


Mr Kalua and Morton helping me with the ladder whilst inspecting the roofing sheets after heavy rains


Wezi, our plumber getting to work threading all the steel water pipe work for first fix hot/cold water installation. SSB walls complete on the West elevation


View out of a clinician’s room on the south. We have tried to balance privacy with view and daylighting. The rooms on the south are however a little on the shady side due to the pitch of the roof,  but privacy is still deemed as more important.


In contrast, the high levels of daylighting in the clinician’s room on the north elevation thanks to the high level windows and skywards pitched roof


View through the clinician’s and treatment rooms with our full frame doors and plywood over-panels (the over-panels are well insulated using SSB’s)


Further view into the corner of the main clinician’s room


View in similar room on the opposite corner


Same room looking west – we will benefit from doubled sided ventilation to all corner rooms



View from the proposed HIV testing room


Completed external walls and framing on the north elevation


Completed walls and windows on the west elevation


Walls completed to the south and a temporary shelter we have erected to begin forming the manhole to the south


South west corner complete



South east corner brickwork complete. The timber on the khonde is part of the batch of 50x150mm pressure treated/kiln dried timber we will prepare and use for the external doors


Walls finished on the east elevation, facing the new waiting area


South elevation


Temporary shelter no.3. I always enjoyed making these types of shelters out of beach towels on shade-less beaches on holidays when I was younger!


Morton starts work on the man and bellow ground drainage runs


….whilst Yotam and Chimango move forwards with the internal wall for the waiting area bench


Wezi working on first fix mechanical. First fix electrical now complete, as seen.



Mushroom season at market!


My guesthouse day guard: Queen Phiri and her friend collecting mushrooms on campus (the smaller variety)




Queen Phiri helping me prepare a fire this week-end during power cuts



More external walls…

Hopefully I’ve not put too many of you to sleep yet with photos of SSBs and walls – but they sure are helping to make the previous ‘canopy’ start to feel like a proper building now and satisfyingly starting to define the rooms and overall feel of the building. The guys really pushed on today, taking a bay each and by lunch (see menu bellow….) all the front elevation walls had been started. I also started to experiment with the SSB screen wall we’re looking to incorporate sheltering a new timber bench on the Khonde.


Main elevation walls well on their way



First complete wall in the middle


Almost a complete corner section around the sluice room and stores


Gable end wall. The SSBs have dried to a lovely soft red colour tieing them in pleaseantly with the sourrounding landscape, which you might expect with something made from the soil of its own site.


Startng to experiment with the waiting area screen. I’m planning on introducing some lintols to form openings at eye level as you enter the area – co-ordinated with the cross pieces in the columns, could look interesting


Start of the bench layout with Roberto’s idea of bring the SSB’s through as the face finish.


Typical lunch menu!