On Tuesday morning we woke up early and gathered supplies for plastering the wall of the house in the village. Although I was unsure of what to expect from the village and the hemp house, I assumed the houses there would be similar to many of the homes I saw on the roadside, a mix of bamboo, brick, and clay.
We drove 10km from Janakpur, passing fields of wheat and beans just beginning to ripen for harvest. Before the heat of the day, people were out working, harvesting and picking beans by hand. As we pulled in to the village, and were greeted by smiling but shy children, many not accustomed to seeing outsiders coming as far back as their section of the village. Some children would hide and peak from behind corners, running away if I caught their stares. We met the village men and older women with hands at prayer, exchanging "Namaste" greetings.
The mornings work involved mixing 1 part clay, 2 parts sand, 1 part lime, in a wheel barrow. We mixed the material with a kodari, a heavy broad shaped ho with a short handle, fitting for the shorter and stout Nepali workers. Our plaster mixture is based on varied testing and is suitable for this region, where other mixes may be more suitable based on the region. Water was added to the mixture every so often, creating a texture like creamy peanut butter.
As the men mixed the plaster, I walked in and around the hemp house. The walls of the house were made of thick hemp shives and clay, which were mixed and molded together. The thick 10 inch walls had more insulation and strength compared to the thin walls of the other homes in the village. Some of the other homes had a mix of brick and clay walls, this home was all hemp and clay and framed with locally sourced bamboo. While building the hempcrete house, Dhiraj explained to me that they had three options for building the hemp house. One being to destroy the existing house, and build from there. Another option is to build the house next to the existing one. And another option is to use the existing thin walled structure and build the hemp clay walls on top of the house. Dhiraj and his team did want the owner and her family to be homeless at any time during the building. Though the owner suggested two structures, Dhiraj felt that two houses would be difficult to maintain and a waste in materials.
The house owner, Ram Sati Devi, was out working at the time, but her four children were around the house. Her two daughters, 13 and 11 and her two sons 9 and 7, were happy to have us there. The sons were very outgoing and were tasked with repairing the wheel barrow, wheel, they had been apart of the construction since day one. Considering the ease of utilizing the building materials, the little toxicity, and the local availability, Ram Sati Devi and her family could take ownership and could be as hands on as possible during the build.
The inside of the home was cool, compared to the heat outside. The walls inside although unfinished, would soon be completed by Ram Sati and her family. This home housed five people and three goats. It was also an area for storing their food stuffs and what little possessions they had. An alcove at the entrance is where the oldest daughter was cooking rice and curry.
As the men finished mixing the materials, I prepared to start plastering. I had used cob plaster before and was familiar with the work. It was necessary to delicately smooth out the plaster, as I layered more on to the hemp wall. We worked one wall, taking about an hour and half to complete the 12 by 20 foot wall. Dhiraj and I helped get the work started in the morning, and returned back to the company head quarters for lunch. We would return the following day to speak with the land owner and listen to her perspective about the home.