Friday, July 31, 2009

Our House

After spending months in the traditional grass hut, the islanders began construction on a proper house for their resident white family. They figured they would build it on stilts, as befitted our 'elevated' status. It would have a corrugated tin roof to catch rain water, and be made completely out of timber...

My father interjected here. He did not want the pedestal the islanders insisted on putting him upon. He was very strict about what belongings we could bring out to the village - we weren't allowed to introduce anything that wasn't already there (except for the circa 1989 Toshiba laptop computer, essential to the process of bible translation). He wanted us to become part of the culture, not add to it, or stand outside of it looking in.

In keeping with this philosophy, he insisted that the villagers build the walls of our house out of traditional coconut mats. 'What?!!' such a thing had never been heard of. They tried to convince my father, but he stood firm.

So it came about that our little home was constructed four feet up off the ground, swaying unsteadily in the sandy soil on its metal posts. If we happened to walk too fast across it, or jumped out of bed with too much force, the entire house would shiver and sway. The monsoon winds brought many nights when I would lay in bed, feeling the house move underneath me and wondering what it would feel like for all the timber to come crashing down around me. Would it hurt, I wondered, or would I miraculously be sheltered by a particularly large beam? Miracles seemed very close to me then.

The floor had little gaps between each floor board, causing me to live in mortified suspense that someone would sit underneath our house and look up my lavalava. Island kids found great delight in poking little coconut brooms up at our bare feet through the gaps in the floor boards.

The mat walls were the running joke of the village. They called it, 'David's half-caste house', because it was made from the white man's materials of timber and metal, with island walls. Each year during monsoon season, those walls did not keep out the sheets of horizontal rain that drove like a thousand spears through the front of the house. Our veranda / eating area was constantly wet for the first two rainy seasons, until Dad finally gave in and put wood up on that side.

It had a screen door, which my father (the island MacGyver) rigged with a rope. The rope was attached to the door on one side, ran through a pulley, and was weighted on the other side with a large conch shell. When the door was opened, the shell would pull it to with a 'SLAM! slap, slap, slap' that could be heard all over the village. My cat, Barton (dubbed after Austin's famous Barton Springs), who was stupid even for a cat, was always getting in the way. When our tolerance level reached zero, one of us would grab him around the middle and throw him right out the door. He would land on the low, leaf roof of the house next door and frantically scramble to right himself before he slid to the ground. In these instances you would hear, 'YEOWWL!!! scrabble, scrabble, SLAM!, slap, slap, slap.'

Needless to say, there was always a small group of village kids underneath our house.


  1. I love the line "miracles seemed very close to me then." It seems like there's a lot to explore in that sentence - perhaps that could be directed by the author or maybe left to the intuition of the reader.

  2. Yeah, I really want to work in the spiritual / supernatural aspect of living in the third world. The line b/t the seen and unseen was a whole lot more blurred. Also, there's the child's ablilty to believe... maybe work it in as an underlying theme, and then slowly build as the story goes on. Thanks for the feedback, Hol.