3-29 How to Build a Kitchen, Part 1

My papa and kitchen skeleton

First you find a reasonably flat piece of land. If you are lucky it will be by both the house and a water source, but those are often mutually exclusive. Once you have your place, you go out in the bush and start cutting down trees. The trees form the posts for the frame. Being trees, not pre-cut wood, this will complicate things down the line. Trees don’t grow into a convenient 2×4 shape nor is there a hardware store anywhere closer than Vila.

So you dig your posts and then run the top beam. After the top beam comes the tops of the walls, at about waist height. These are all nailed in with nails made of real metal, unlike the nails you will use later. In our case, you let the skeleton sit for a few weeks while cyclones and funerals interrupt work days. These things happen. Especially the cyclones at this time of year.

Jason on a Vanuatu ladder

Once the world has calmed down a bit and no new inclement weather is coming your direction and you’ve had a chance to repair the roofs of the other houses, you come back to work on the kitchen. The next step is to build walls. There are several options for wall building. You could chose to weave your walls, which lasts longer but is time consuming and requires more bamboo. I refer to that as the “plaid” method. In this case, we went for stripes.

Again, you head out into the bush and this time cut down a bunch of giant bamboo. Bamboo that is about as big around as your thigh, or maybe a little bigger. Then you hit the bamboo with the back of an axe to break all the “joints” in it. Once it is sufficiently broken, you find a likely looking spot and split it. You pry it open and stand on the halves (or thirds). With both feet firmly braced, you start chopping slits along all the segments and turning the joints into so much kindling. The point is to make the bamboo lay flat without destroying the integrity of the piece. Once the bamboo is nice and flat, you slice the joints off with a bush knife (aka machete). Despite how everyone around is doing it, this takes practice.

Bamboo slicing and cleaning

With several nice long segments of bamboo ready, you gather about four friends and start holding them up to the wall. While you are busy doing that, you make sure another friend is setting nail holes for the stripe of bamboo or piece of tree that will hold the bamboo on. The big segment of bamboo goes horizontally while the “locking” pieces go vertically. Each locking piece is nailed into a “stud” which is where that complication from earlier comes in. Bamboo tends to go in more or less straight strips. Trees don’t grow in straight lines. There after comes a bit of finagling with angles to try to line up the best possible combination of stud and bamboo.

The wall building method of choice

Each wall is built from bottom to top and nailed in place before the next one is started. If you run into a need to cut angles, that’s fine, just trace it on with a piece of charcoal you took from the fire and hit it with an axe.

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