By the end of 1997, the Power Tower was complete, the borehole dug by Water Africa’s jumper-drill rig, and the pump installed. It was driven by the solar panels on top of the water tanks on the Tower. I worked as site agent at Maun Senior Secondary School during the week, but at weekends, work on our house began. I set out the foundations and the position for the septic tank in July ’98.
The awareness that one is building on a seismic fault calls for some careful consideration. I designed the house, and later Sheila’s studio as well, on a series of separate columns. The roof rested on these on timber beams to allow for extreme flexibility in the event of movement. Walls were inserted with relevant doors and windows between the columns; unconnected to them to allow cracking in the corners if movement so wished. Two bedrooms, and a veranda overlooking the Thamalakane River, were built in the roof space, with big triangular cupboards in the eaves.
Mabinda are large mats woven from fan-palm leaves by folk that live up in the Okavango Panhandle. I ordered enough to nail to the roof timbers and cover the insulation as a ceiling; it looked great.
Half of downstairs was the lounge-dining room and open-plan kitchen, and staircase. The other half had the bathroom, a large open veranda, and a staircase leading down to the cellar. I was aware that the cellar would flood if the river rose, as it was almost certain to do when the drought of the mid-nineties relaxed its grip, and would filter the river water to form an indoor well. All goods stored there were placed up on high concrete shelves. (Lots of baked beans and Ecco corned beef for the End of the World.)
In August we cast the cellar floor. The roofing began in April 1999. Tiling, painting, plumbing, and cupboards were complete by August. More solar panels were erected in locked steel frames on the upper north-facing wall of the Power Tower by December, and a small room built upstairs in the Tower to house the inverter and batteries.
Thereafter, I started to build Sheila’s art studio. The studio roof was completed by the end of March 2000, about the same time a surveyor was setting out the fence lines for the Oppenheimer Okavango Research Institute, cutting off the access road that we had been using. Of course we made a new track along the fence, but, at the time we moved in, our home was the only house within two kilometres, and the isolation was idyllic.
Then came the Cell Phone Phenomenon, a TV dish, and eventually, a neighbour…