How to build a hot tub in Malawi

So about a month ago we decided that we should build a hot tub. It
happened at about the same time that I realized that I had been talking
a lot about what I should build (solar cell factory, Malawi Linux User
Group, ISP in a blimp, etc etc) and how little of it I had actually
done. So with my sister-in-law Andrea expertly cracking the
"getting-it-done" whip that only 2 years in the Peace Corps can hone -
we set out to do it. For no particular reason we decided to buy some
pipe first. So we went "across the river" to a hardware store that we
thought might have it. We bought some elbows and 30 meters of the
cheapest plastic pipe I have ever seen, and realized that our tiny
Toyota hatchback was not going to handle this, unless Andrea undertook
a jousting posture - which given the number of pedestrians on any road
in Malawi is not a good idea. So they chopped it up into a number of
Toyota sized pieces and we drove to a hill near the river where about
50 women with babies tied to their backs sit hammering rocks into
smaller rocks all day long. We negotiated for half a truckload of river
sand and some nice large flat rocks that had not yet been hammered. The
truck then came and loaded up our rocks and we drove down the hill to
the river for sand. Except midway down the hill we saw our 10 rock
stewards jump off the truck as it barrelled past us and came to a stop
on the bridge. The truck was broken. We then had to drive around
looking for a replacement truck which was eventually found. Meanwhile,
Andrea had developed a taste for bricks, piles of which we were
discovering everywhere, none of which were for sale. The truck then
bounced down a horrible road towards the river where they stopped and
shoveled a bunch of dirt into the truck. We guided them home, where
they unloaded our sand and rocks and then we asked them to go and buy
500 bricks. In total we spent somewhere around $50 in sand, bricks,
rocks and transport - clearly being overcharged - but at least we were
injecting money to people that needed it and were willing to work hard
for it.

George and Lazaro set off shoveling and soon enough we had a hole that
was much much larger than what our plans called for. It would have been
even larger, but Lazaro discovered a water pipe (he didn't pickaxe
through it, phew!) that turned our rectangle into a funky
quadrilateral. We bought 6 bags of cement for about $10 each and
proceeded to brick up the outline of our hottub.

None of us had ever worked with bricks or cement before, and George
wanted to get a friend who knew construction to help us - but I told
him we could figure it out. So all of us took turns hauling bricks and
sand, mixing cement and laying bricks.

A few days later our shell was completed, Andrea had to fly back to LA,
and I received a text message saying that Lazaro's mother had died. A
month and many Kwacha later, I found out it wasn't his mother, but his
younger mother - which apparently means his aunt, but that is another
story. So Claudia took Andrea to the airport while I took George and
Lazaro to catch the next bus to Dedza. Hot tub construction was thus
halted for a few days.
Things picked up again when George and Lazaro returned and they covered
the bricks with a layer of cement. We then asked them to build a grass
wall around it and I started working on the heater system.

I dismantled a broken hot water kettle, rewired it, then covered the wires with heaps of silicon.
After about a month that included a week and a half of truly hard work
by George and Lazaro in particular, it was ready to use. We filled it
and I ran the wires from the heater through our bedroom window and
jammed them into a socket. A day and a half later (it is a small
heater!) it was warm - we lit some citronella candles to keep away the
malaria and enjoyed our very own African hottub!

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