Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hut Improvements!

I’ve talked about how good my hut is before, but over the past few months I have had some changes/additions made to my hut to make it even better. Though I don’t know what every rural PCV’s hut looks like, I think I can confidently say that my hut is the best, nicest hut of all the rural PCVs in Senegal – possible West Africa. :)

The first change was a new cement floor. The original floor had several holes in it when I moved in last October and they gradually started growing and spreading. Also, ants began to take over in a few spots, so I actually began joking with a few friends that one day ants would destroy the floor so badly in one part of my hut that the wall would fall down and my whole hut would collapse around me. I’m pretty sure that day would have been years away, but I still thought it was a good idea to get a new floor. A floor without holes is not only nicer looking, it is also easier to keep clean – and that is a constant battle with all the dust and dirt that I – and the kids! – drag in, as well as what the wind blows in. Getting this new floor obviously involved moving everything out of my hut, which was a process, but since we PCVs are minimalists by necessity (though nothing compared to most people here) it wasn’t nearly as difficult as other moving processes I’ve been involved with, most prominently moving in and out of my dorm rooms in college (as my parents and brother can attest to). I moved everything (except for a few clothes and toiletries) to my “backyard”, which is fenced in so I didn’t think I’d be able to get to my stuff for the few days while the floor dried, but part of the fence was so bad that I actually just pulled it open and went in the back way to get to my stuff. I slept on the floor with my host mom in my host father’s room (they have separate bedrooms as is standard here) because my host mom had a guest for those days so she was sleeping in her bed. As it turns out, both my parents snore, and, being a light sleeper (though not nearly as light a sleeper as I used to be before coming here to Senegal), I didn’t get much sleep to the least. Needless to say, I was happy to move my bed in after 2 nights and be able to sleep in my room again (even if I didn’t move all my other stuff in until the next day).

The next improvement also involved 2 sacs of cement: a cement “bed” behind my hut to lay/sleep on when my hut is super hot (which is essentially all the time, though the rains have helped cool things down a bit). This type of bed is pretty common in Senegal (where people can afford cement – though where they can’t afford much cement, they just mix a bunch of soil with the cement) because it is a nice way to be able to sit or lay down and on a cool-ish surface. This bed (in my mind) should have been done before I redid my floor (so the guy making it wouldn’t have to haul all the cement blocks and other stuff through my hut, but luckily my fence was even more destroyed by this point, so the guy could go through the fence (rather than over my new floor) with his wheel barrow full of cement bricks, bag of cement, and sand.

When the bed was done I bought another mattress pad in Kaolack so I could have one on my bed inside for guests to sit on and one outside for me to sleep on. I also moved my mosquito net outside and tied one side of it to the end of the poles holding up my roof and then clip the other end to my clothes line every night. It works out really well considering I didn’t plan that part of the bed. This is by far the best improvement I’ve made to my hut. I absolutely love sleeping outside. Before the rains came (and it was always really hot), I was able to sleep just fine outside, and usually would pull my sheet over me by morning. Now that it is cooler after a rain, I’ve ended up crawling in my sleeping bag a few nights – yes. 75 degrees F is really cool to me after being here for just over 10 months. :) I’ve been caught sleeping outside a few times when it’s started raining, but I am really efficient at bringing in my stuff and tying up my mosquito net so it doesn’t blow around in the wind. I don’t have another mosquito net inside yet because it wasn’t until the last week or so that the mosquitoes had come back, but I can get one for pretty cheap from our health post, so I’ll do that very soon. Getting malaria is pretty high on my list of things not to get while I’m here. :)


After: (you can see my pillow, water bottle, books, sheet, and sleeping bag on top of my mattress)

The construction process:

Like I mentioned above, about half my fence (that fences in my backyard from the inside of the compound) is quite old/run down, so I got that all replaced plus I got a shade structure (made of the same material as the fence: millet stalks) put up in front of my hut (to help shade my hut from the sun in the afternoon).



I also got a new roof! I’ve gradually been noticing over the past few months small patches where the sun shines through my roof, which (putting together two facts: where light can shine through a grass roof, water can go through, too, and when it rains here, it pours, so anything that isn’t very well protected from the rain will get wet, possibly really wet) meant that, unless I wanted to, come the end of June, sleep on a damp bed to the sound of water dripping into pots placed strategically around my room, I should get my roof replaced. So that is exactly what I did.



Some guys went out into the bush and collected a bunch of dry weeds and then stored them behind my host dad’s small chicken coop. A few mornings over a few weeks they tied the weeds together and then put it all up on my roof. They took some of the old roof material down (which I am now using as mulch for my garden), but left the majority of it up there, so now I have an extra strong roof.

The construction process:

The last big addition (which I guess isn’t that big…) is a screen for each of my 2 doors. Almost all Peace Corps huts have screen doors (though I don’t think I’ve seen any Senegalese huts with screen doors), but mine didn’t. I’m not really sure how useful/important it will be to have screens on my doors since there is a gap between my roof and the top of the walls of my hut and there are small gaps between the floor and screen as well as the top of the door and screen, so mosquitoes and flies (and other bugs obviously) can still get in my room, but maybe this will help keep some of them out – and it will help slow the kids down when they want to come into my room (I got extra strong screen material so the kids wouldn’t punch holes in it by accident). Only time will tell how useful they are…

Looking out my backdoor:

Looking into my hut from just outside my backdoor:

Finally, as a finishing touch to beautify my hut, I got fabric to drape over my bookshelf and on my table/desk. (The fabric over my bookshelf is also to help keep my books from getting so dusty.) My host mom really wanted me to make a Senegalese outfit with the fabric, but I stuck to my original plan and had the fabric cut and hemmed so it would fit over my bookshelf and table, and then with the extra fabric I had a “pagña” (i.e., wrap skirt) made.

My table with my computer and books on it:

Fabric covering my bookshelf:

Bookshelf with the fabric pulled up: (The top shelf has personal books, the second shelf is all work-related stuff, and the bottom shelf has English books for the people I teach English to plus toys and games for the kids. To the right of the bookshelf are the containers I used to store seed in until I gave it all to the farmers. To the left is a table I use for storing cooking stuff, like my big container of peanut butter. On the bottom left corner of the photo are two bottles: one that has hot pepper, garlic, mint leaves, Neem leaves, and soap in water, which I will use as an organic pesticide for my garden; the other one has manure and water, which I will use as a “manure tea” to quickly provide nutrients to the plants in my garden.)


  1. Wow! Love the new hut! I love how although it's a small structure in Africa, it still looks like "danielle-style" inside.
    Also, I'm intrigued by that natural pesticide - what's the recipe??

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  3. Here's the natural pesticide recipe:
    - a bunch of Neem leaves (sorry, no Neem trees in the States)
    - several garlic cloves, finely chopped
    - several (small-ish) hot peppers, chopped
    - a tablespoon or so of soap (liquid or powder, or even shaved from a bar, just make sure it's natural and not scented)
    Throw all this stuff in a 2 liter bottle of water and let it sit for at least 24 hours before spraying it on the leaves (top and bottom) or your plants.

    You could also add tobacco to this mix, but that isn't good for plants that are related to the tobacco plant, like tomatoes, so that's why I don't use it. You also have to be careful with tobacco because it can burn the leaves of the plants you want to protect if there is too much tobacco in the mixture.

  4. Your hut looks amazing! How is it now? Good thing you immediately saw the hole in your roof. It will definitely save you from troubles in the future. Anyway, it’s good to see that you’re having a great time there, and I hope it will stay that way. =)

    Richard Boles