Thursday part of the agenda had the men, Cory, Jacob, Sean and I go to a brick making CBO (community basd organization) and learn how to make bricks. The process was awesome and our hosts were both generous, patient, and amused by our attempts to make bricks with them. The process was really amazing.
1. There is a clay area with a water hole where you take a pick axe and cut out the clay. You have to cut away the dry clay on top and get to the moist clay underneath. The key was finding clay at a certain consistency. The clay was a deep ash grey and firm and slightly cool to the touch. After cutting out and putting the clay onto a waiting cloth laid flat on the ground we carried it back up to the building area.
2. At the building area there is a drop zone where you put the clay down and it is mixed with a harder red clay that comes from ant hills dotting the area. The ants keep building their hives with the clay so the source of this extra red clay which hardens the bricks better during the firing process is sustainable. Then you proceed to mix the clay pushing out the clumps into a consistent texture with feet, hands, and water.
3. After mixing the clay into a smooth consistency it is taken to a molding area where after moistening the wooden mold with water you drop a hunk of clay that you size based on how much you think is needed to fill the mold (We splattered ourselves doing this) the Ugandan brick makers of course were too experienced and somehow never splattered themselves. Then using your palms you push in and towards the edges to firm up the brick and fill the mold adding additional clay and water as required.
4. Once the mold is filled you scrape off the excess clay and then shake the brick out. This was without a doubt a skill that takes experience. Shaking it and getting the brick out is pretty confusing. I seriously thought I was doing it right, but compared to the experience of our teachers it was ridiculous. They could do in two shakes what took me 3-4 minutes of shaking and contortions much to everyone’s amusement not the least my own.
5. After the block is made and let dry they uncover a large supply of stacked bricks in a flat concrete area just below where they make bricks. Then in a fire line assembly style bricks are passed one by one to a builder who like building legos makes a stove out of the bricks. Once the stove is finished they bring in wood from trees in the area they cut down and light the stove to harden the clay bricks. After the hardening process you have your brick ready for sale.
6. Brick making though a fun experience for us is straining and difficult work - 1,000 bricks returns only 10,000 shillings. It taking a group of experienced brick makers a day and a half of constant hard work to make a 1,000 bricks. 10,000 shillings is about $4.75.
We also got to make a slightly more difficult brick which used a mold and specifically shaped sticks to create air cavities in the brick to allow for better insulation and heat dispersal.
Perhaps just as interesting as the actual brick making was the social interactions surrounding our visit and lesson. All the women and children in the nearby houses came down to watch applaud, and laugh good naturedly at our bricks. The men who taught us were patient, and eager to show us the right way to do things. The children popped in and out clearly enjoying the spectacle. The experience was fun, entertaining, and invaluable. To make in this way and get to see a system of making that was entirely embedded in the environment in which it took place will be useful to frame how I think in the future about what production can be, is, and the histories instilled in the objects around us. For the kind craftsmen and the locals who welcomed us into their daily lives things will for the foreseeable future continue with its challenges, normality, and strains. I wonder how this experience for them was meaningful if at all, beyond a diversion and spectacle of a few hours.