Venting and Media Galore

Today, I had planned to go with Laxmin (my foreman) to Shalman’s workshop to finally finish up my new formwork design. Shalman is our welder, and is generally very accountable. Recently, though, he’s left me hanging several times, and our new formwork has taken 9 days, so far.
In building our new fence, I’ve had the opportunity to reanalyze how effective our old formwork is. It’s strong and effective and, indeed, we’ve already built 7 blocks for our fence. But the work is slow. I have a team of 6 right now, and even then we’re only rammed 16 cft per day. Part of this is because I’ve taken away their music – the speakers that we were using are needed at the school in preparation for next week’s Annual Day (dances and performances galore).

Another reason is that we only have one set of formwork right now, since I sent away all of our old formwork to Shalman’s shop to reuse the metal, so we have three people ramming, two people creating the mix, and one person floating between us and other work.

The new formwork.

The new formwork.

Finally, the old formwork is heavy, and it takes a while to set up and disassemble, at least an hour per day. The new formwork is half the size (2’ x 4’), and therefore half the weight.

With a team of 6, I think we should be able to ram 40 cft every day. My aim is to have 2 forms set up at the same time, each with two rammers, and two people making mixes on the side. I have been looking forward to seeing that set up in action for 8 months. This new formwork is key, and I can hardly take the suspense anymore, we need to finish it and see if it actually works!

This is my SketchUp file where I play with formwork designs. There are a lot of iterations here.

This is my SketchUp file where I play with formwork designs. There are a lot of iterations here.

But we are all slaves to load shedding here, and as soon as I finished breakfast, the power left us, not to return until 4 pm. Today is Saturday, my one day off, and all I want to do is get this formwork finished.

I would have hoped that by now my patience for unanticipated delays would have improved, but I think I’ve only gotten worse. Everything here just takes so long. Beyond load shedding, customer service is remarkably horrible, and there are no deadlines that can be trusted.

Sometimes it feels like creating solutions only generates further problems. For example, I completely rehashed the water storage system here at the house, connecting all tanks in one continuous and automating everything with a water sensor. Plumbing hardware here is shit, though, and for the next week, leaks kept appearing throughout. When these finally were worked out, I found out that the automated system had a time limit that wouldn’t work with our system. We needed a new Integrated Circuit, specially programmed by the manufacturers in Delhi to be shipped to Kathmandu. I brought the system back to Kathmandu, and returned to Surkhet with the new one. This one didn’t work. I sent this one back to Kathmandu, and complained to the manufacturers in Delhi. They made a new one and sent it to Kathmandu two weeks ago. The vendor there dropped the new system off with a courier service 6 days ago. The system still has no arrived. My excitement at finally having an automated system has been in purgatory for 47 days, now.

My new laundry racks work well, but the bamboo started to get moldy. We put a wood finish on them, and when I asked two Uncles to go find more bamboo, they said none was available in a thin size. I talked to my Passionfruit grandfather, and he sold me some of his. Today is a Saturday, and every article of clothing in this house is hanging to dry. I would wager that there is a kilometer of total length. Despite this idea, we still have tons of laundry on all the railings and on makeshift wires strung up between… anything and everything.

Laundry, laundry everywhere! Maybe if we didn't all do our laundry on Saturdays, we wouldn't be so wanting for space.

Laundry, laundry everywhere! Maybe if we didn’t all do our laundry on Saturdays, we wouldn’t be so wanting for space.

The wiring for the solar, while finished, was installed with such incompetence that I’ve almost ceased to care. Standard procedures, such as making sure wall conduit goes on plumb, level, and square, were completely ignored and seemingly intentionally avoided. Outlets were removed, and put on in such a way that they were no longer accessible or simply ceased to work. They left our roof an abhorrent mess. Printed labels were never added to solar switches, and when a worker returned here from Kathmandu last week, his labeling machine ran out of ink and he had to make the 16 hours return trip to Kathmandu (I simply laughed when he told me, as he had done to every one of my complaint’s that his work was not neat enough). Not what you like to see from an expensive contract.

After weeks of research and testing, Tung Oil seems like it may be a perfect coating for our rammed earth walls. I am building our boundary wall with no cement, and I’m stressed I won’t be able to find a good waterproofing agent for the outside. Tung Oil is not available in Nepal, though, and will have to come from India. I found a vendor in Delhi last week and placed an order on Tuesday. Since then, I have asked him 8 (eight) times for his bank info so I can send him a payment. He still has not replied. Nothing would give me more pleasure than calling him and telling him I’ve found another source, and he would not receive a single Rupee from me, but I haven’t been able to find any other vendors.

Testing out various waterproof coatings.

Testing out various waterproof coatings.

This Tung Oil issue is huge. When pure, the oil is incredibly hydrophobic and, because it dries slowly, it can penetrate deep into any porous material (including marble). If we can use a natural waterproof coating instead of cement in our walls, we will see a massive decrease in cost, as well as embodied carbon emissions. Many online resources call into question the UV-resistance of tung oil, though, and no one ever has tested it on a rammed earth wall.

I fully believe that rammed earth could be an affordable, sustainable, and beautiful building material in this part of the world. Back in the US, egregiously cautious structural requirements would never allow for it to be built without cement. Here, though, cement is unnecessary and likely a detriment. Some sort of waterproofing agent likely needs to be found in order to quell fears about walls washing away in the rain (as unfounded as that might be). Could Tung Oil be that coating? I may never find out, if this guy doesn’t give him his !#@$ing payment info.

Other happenings:
– Hemendra has dug for the foundations of the High School building. That foundation is going in this week. (more info in future blog)

– Jamie built a machine that compresses recycled paper into briquettes that are burnt in a rocket stove. It’s pretty nifty, though we’ve yet to try burning the briquettes.

Jamie's briquette compressor.

Jamie’s briquette compressor.

– Laxmin has two new baby goats. They come to work with him every day. The baby girl has been refused by the mother, for some reason. Laxmin therefore went out and bought a milk bottle/nipple and will continue hand feeding her for the next month.


Laxmin and the four goats he brings to work.

Laxmin and the four goats he brings to work.

– For secret santa, I have Amrika Aunty, who is an avid gardener. I think I’ll make her a gardening tool with a nice wooden handle. I hope she doesn’t read this (ha! unlikely).

– Daajyu found this mildly (extremely) creepy doll in a trash pile on our land.

Daajyu's new friend. Are you having nightmares yet?

Daajyu’s new friend. Are you having nightmares yet?

– This is a Nepali seesaw.

– I copied an idea from Pete and set up our own table saw at the land. It is the only table saw in Surkhet that can cut at an angle.

The cordless table saw!

The cordless table saw!

– This is a video from a foggy morning at the land.

– I went to a wedding in a Dang valley, 6 hours from here, two weeks ago. The journey was amazing, albeit exhausting. I was a captive there (the only white person. I genuinely hate being white here.), but one of the highlights was seeing… bats!

Those aren't fruits. Those are actually just massive bats.

Those aren’t fruits. Those are actually just massive bats.

The bats are more like miniature dogs with large leather wings. By my estimate, they had a 30 inch wingspan.

The bats are more like miniature dogs with large leather wings. By my estimate, they had a 30 inch wingspan.

– On the same trip, I saw the largest big in Nepal. Possible in South Asia. Possibly in the whole world, I bet this thing weighed 500 pounds.

This photo does not do justice to the size of that behemoth pig.

This photo does not do justice to the size of that behemoth pig.

– I also witnessed Nepal’s finest safety precautions:







Safe. Is that a child?

Safe. Is that a child?

– Here is a video from the post wedding ceremonies, as the newly married couple is “greeted” into the groom’s house for the first time as a wedded pair, while serenaded by a squeaky clarinet.

– The modernization of Surkhet is delicious. There is now a cafe in town that not only delivers food (holy shit!!), they also serve this: an Oreo Milkshake.

Introducing, the new Oreo milkshake from Java Cafe. It was a nice day, so I ate outside. Unwise move, as many passersby eyed my food the whole time.

Introducing, the new Oreo milkshake from Java Cafe. It was a nice day, so I ate outside. Unwise move, as many passersby eyed my food the whole time.

– I had Shalman weld an outside fireplace. It works great, and last weekend we cooked bacon (that I brought frozen from Kathmandu three weeks ago).

Cooking bacon on our grill. The first bacon we've had in months.

Cooking bacon on our grill. The first bacon we’ve had in months.


4 comments on “Venting and Media Galore

  1. Josh says:

    nice post, Luke. Sorry about the frustrations, but don’t let it get to you or the job. And I love that clarinet; klezmer music in Nepal–who knew?


  2. janemetcalf says:

    wow, so much going on for you. sounds like multi-tasking is the ONLY way to cope with the load shedding issue. i love reading about all your different projects and your adventures in between, ie. weddings, goats, bats, bacon, etc. keep the faith–you’re doing great work, luke. may tung oil come flowing your way soon. your mo

  3. Cass says:

    Keep on keeping on Luke!! You’re doing great. At least you can have Oreo milkshakes now after a long tough day. And a sweet campfire! I love the photos and videos you posted — the foggy morning at the land is ominous and beautiful.

  4. Cass says:

    Maybe you should bring a Nepali element to our wedding next June. Start brainstorming?! You could wear that cool multicolored hat perhaps..

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