Wednesday July 23 2014

Our eco-friendly home

The interior of Dr Porter’s house. Most of the

The interior of Dr Porter’s house. Most of the furniture was home-made and some of it was bought from African art and craft shops within Gulu Town and from Kampala. photos by Josline Adiru  

By Joseline Adiru

On the hilly suburb of For-God village in Bardege Division, Gulu Municipality, there stands a golden coloured traditional grass-thatched house by the road side. A closer look at the house portrays a traditional and artistically decorated grass thatched-house.

The house is owned by a couple who decided to build a house near one of their daughter’s home. The wife explains how they attained their dream home.

Why a grass-thatched house
I am Dr Holly Porter Aber, an anthropologist and a researcher doing research on justice and security. We have always wanted a roof design based on the traditional Acholi ot otota with multiple stacked layers of grass, we have a great respect for Acholi ways of life. We also wanted to show that using locally available natural materials in a traditional way is not only ecologically friendly and beautiful, but also practical.
This is why, when we went to Zanzibar during our fifth wedding anniversary, we adopted the grass-thatched house idea.

The coast of Zanzibar is very beautiful; most of the relaxation structures and the accommodation have grass-thatched roof designs, but most especially, the conducive environ in the grass-thatched hotel room was amazing and we thought of exporting the designs to our home.

Our house is based on a number of other décor ideas including the ones we got from Zanzibar. One of them was a beautiful house design I fell in love with in 2004 and I would always collect various house designs from magazines and keep them with hope that one day, I will put them together to build my house.

My husband and I started drawing different sketches from what I had kept. But after we came up with a sketch of a modern grass-thatched hut, we both liked the design and immediately arranged for an expert engineer to come up with an authentic artistic design.

In 2011, we bought a 30ft by 39ft plot of land and erected our first temporary grass-thatched hut in two months while the construction of our house was underway.

I contacted Dominic Ocaka, an engineer with OB Technical and showed him the design and instructed him to build for us the house we had drawn on paper.

In October 2012, we started the construction of our grass-thatched house, which we expected to be more spacious than the small hut we were living in then because we have children. The firstborn is adopted and she is from Gulu. It was therefore important that she has a permanent place somewhere in Gulu.
The grass for roofing the house was bought cheaply from Atiak village in Amuru District. Each bundle of grass cost Shs4,000 which was cheaper compared to buying iron sheets.

The whole budget for building was Shs80m. The house was built in two phases. The first phase was for constructing the structure and the second stage was where the contractors engaged in carpentry work.
It really took so much time and it was costly because every piece of furniture had to be specially molded to our taste.The house has two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, sitting and dining rooms.

We built it in 10 months without stopping but the most strenuous part about the entire construction process was roofing the house and installing the windows.

Our love for eco-friendly environs made us come up with selective choices of trees, flowers and grass. We designed a spacious compound to accommodate the children. Above all, it acts as our garden for relaxation and hosting visitors for barbeques.

Most of the trees are floral because I love flowers. I have roses, lilies and other types of flowers. I get these from hotels. Whenever I see a beautiful plant at a hotel I ask for a seedling and come and plant it in my garden. I pick other plants along the road. So have not spent a lot on the compound.

I also have a small garden where I plant my vegetables, it is well maintained and I also use as a nursery bed for planting my flowers.

We spent Shs30m to shop for traditional furniture while we designed some of the furniture according to our test. We planned for all our furniture to be artistically traditionally cut logs to give a modern African home. This means that all the furniture at our home was home-made though a few of it was bought from African art and craft shops within Gulu Town while others were from Kampala.

We even designed our sink depicting an Acholi calabash shape. It is lovely because everything in our house has an African touch to it bearing in mind that we have an adopted child who we do not want to ever lose the African connection.
Our curtains were designed locally by Daniel Comboni Samaritans WaWoto Kacel Cooperative Group, a local group that deals in textile design in the region.

We were so keen on supervising work to make sure that at the end of the day, all the furniture and the carpentry work are properly designed and fitted in the right position.

After the house was constructed, we thought of water but by the time we constructed in this area, it had no piped water. So, we had to install water tanks and with time, we connected piped water. The cost was high considering the distance from where they had to tap the water from.

When I bought this land, there were no electricity lines in the area, and I had to buy solar panels to light up the place, but I am glad that up to now, I only use solar electricity because it is cheap.
We use the solar for both lighting, and heating water while for cooking, we only use gas and the barbeque stove.

My favourite room in the house is the bed room because of our bamboo-designed bed. It is so lovely and each night, I look forward to lying in it.
I also love the balcony because you can see the whole view of Patiko hills and also have a clear view of Gulu town and its surrounding areas because our house is located on a hill.
But we also love our home so much because of its simplicity and the African stylish designs.

The contractor. The contractor was not well accustomed to the design of the house and most of the time I had to keep constant inspection during the process of building.

Duration. Roofing the big house was a great challenge considering the number of bundles of grasses we used, it took quite some time before all of them could be properly fitted.

The bath tab. At one moment, the engineer told me the concrete bath tab could not be constructed using concrete but because of our constant supervision, he ended up making it.