Our House (in the Middle of the Forest)
With the dance group now firmly established on the local cultural scene, the question arose as to where next for the VSPT and the Batwa. So naturally I thought they should turn their hands to construction. While they are not historically known for their buildings, there are no ruined Batwa cities in the jungles of DRC for example, and you would probably struggle to find a pygmy mason, these guys know how to handle bamboo and outside of Papua New Guinea there is nobody better qualified to build you a tree house. Unfortunately I was not building a tree house but rather 3 Batwaesque (an architectural and interior sensation just waiting to sweep the globe) huts. So I hired 3 local Batwa to realise (some good archi-jargon) the project.
What is Batwaesque? It is a dedication to simplicity of design and materials; they are made entirely of 2 natural substances: a circle made of bamboo and eucalyptus poles is topped with a cone of split bamboo covered in foliage for a roof; finally a larger pole in the middle of the structure supports the roof and the house is complete. The foliage roof acts as a semi-permeable membrane allowing smoke from the cooking fires out and preventing water (most of the time) from entering. Most importantly, the build is entirely carbon neutral, possibly carbon negative as the eucalyptus poles have a tendency to re-grow.
Initially, the project got off to a blazing start. With ample bamboo and Eucalyptus available on the lodge grounds, the first hut shot up within 2 days. At which point I paid the Batwa for the first hut and the site ground to a halt. After about 3 weeks of attempting to find the missing builders I decided it was about to call in a new contractor. Luckily, the local chairman assured me there was no shortage of people who shared my architectural vision and, horrified by the conduct of the first builders, promptly sent about 10 people who finished the build in one day. And now we are the proud owners of a deserted village, or more realistically, a hamlet.
This build was not without purpose; the idea behind it was to create a kind of living museum for the batwa culture, a place where the guests of the lodge can learn about traditional plants, for we plan to build a small medicinal garden, and talk to members of the community about their culture. Hopefully our guests can learn something about their unique culture and help preserve it for future generations.
Will, Uganda – Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust