Paper house

House made from cardboard boxes. We build them for our children to play they are adults. We found one in the area we live. But it’s not a toy, it’s someone’s home. And everything they have. A married couple with seven children live there, another family of internally displaced people. A roof made from a tarp leaks. Instead of a floor there is sand. They also have a cardboard kitchen outside and a garden where they planted beans. And a dryer, on sticks stuck around plants. Under a big baobab tree. The real cardboard house.

This is what I wrote when we first met this family in December 2020. Later we have returned there several times.

One time the father asked us for a solar panel so that they would have their own electricity. We were unable to answer for this need. Yet the next time we visited them, a small solar panel was standing near the paper house.

This house, when I saw it for the first time, intrigued me. And my first reaction was not compassion, but the thought of being resourceful. It is not so often that you can see its manifestations here. We entered their little world, which was constructed from nothing. Which he built.

The cardboard house, crowned with a tarpaulin roof, looked unreal. But neat and well-kept at the same time. Next to it, there is a fireplace, also surrounded by a fence made of cardboard and bamboo sticks. A bit further, there is a toilet, i.e. a hole in the ground covered with sheaves of dense grass. At the house, there is a garden with sprouting beans, protected from goats by low bamboo sticks. Under the baobab, a small workshop. One time, when we came to say hello, the father was building wooden platforms from the wood that he had found in the area. He wanted to put mats on them, because when it was raining they soaked up with water.

Too often in Mozambique we meet families where the man is absent. Or he is, and does nothing. Or he is and he is drinking. Or he was. And now his “is” concerns someone else.

That’s why this house seemed so different to me. From paper walls to the father’s presence.

The same father has a bad reputation in the area. When we asked local authorities about a possibility of building a house for this family on someone else’s land, they advised us to be mindful. He almost got them into trouble when his family couldn’t get a food ration from the government in the first place. We already knew a bit about that, as behind our backs he told people to take more tarps from us than they needed and then give them to him. Later, he tried to change the project of the house, not directly by talking to us, but by inciting the owner of the land where they were staying.

The more I think of him as a resourceful man. I do not judge. Because how could I? Have I ever been a father with seven children to grow? Have I ever had to run from a war and leave everything I worked for all my life for? Did I have to reorganize the world for my family on a piece of littered, someone else’s land? Not sure how long they will be able to stay, because in Pemba you live with news from the near north. With hope that one helicopter patrolling the area and one military unit will save everyone from expansion of terrorism.

I couldn’t judge him. He fights for himself and his family as best as he can. And we and you, in this fight, could give him a respite and build a new house next to the one made of paper.

Let us take care of grateful hearts, even for our everyday obviousness, like simply to have a home.

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