Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Porch

From the beginning, even before I realized that the outbuilding at the back of my house was destined to be my new master bedroom, I knew something had to be done with the back area directly out the kitchen door and to the right. The previous tenants, probably going back over 20 years, had obviously used this as the laundry area.

In case you don’t live here, many if not most people in the Philippines have their clothes laundered by hand. In fact, many prefer it, since the rinky-dink little plastic washing machines here do such a lousy job. All over the country, everyday, tens of thousands of women squat over wash basins, first suddsing up the clothes, then hand scrubbing and kneading the dirty garments, before rinsing and hanging them on a line in the sun as long as it isn't raining out, and inside or under a roof overhang during the rainy season.

Out back of my new place a flat concrete pad just over three feet square was located on the muddy ground next to the back wall with a water spigot 4 feet above it coming out of that wall. There was no grass anywhere near the area, just a few muddy slippery bricks buried in the ground. Right next to the outbuilding, an ancient broken covered swing forlornly waited for someone to fix it up. It beckoned, the broken wooden unpainted benches with rusty bent nails sticking out all over screamed for attention. Within a week I had it rebuilt and swingable; it was either that, or in the interest of safety and aesthetics it would need to be torn apart and tossed.

A giant mango tree towered over the whole area; its branches thick with leaves and dipping low, it kept much of the backyard dark and shadowy. One other slightly smaller mango and a jack fruit tree also added to the deep shade. I fell in love with the trees, but they needed trimming.

I made the mistake of mentioning to “my people” that I soon intended to prune up those big old beautiful trees, and that same afternoon upon my return I was horrified to find all their lower limbs hacked and twisted off. My heart sank with the ugliness of it. I wanted to yell and raise hell, but I kept my anger bottled up, gritted my teeth, and tersely declared that I did not want one more thing done without my direct supervision. Even now I’m afraid my folks don’t truly understand what makes me tick. Sometimes the cultural differences are more than can be overcome. It’s best just to shut up and keep the frustrations in check. Anyway, my trees are making a comeback with the mangos producing fruit like crazy.

Once I decided that my bedroom would ultimately transfer to the separate structure out back, I also bec
ame equally intent on having a large screened porch built contiguous to it. My plan was to use the porch as a living room, recreation room, bar, and dining area; so that all I would have to do was pop through my curtained bedroom doorway, turn left, and immediately be able to enjoy the pleasant view that I fully intend to create outside and all around my wraparound screened in area with plenty of landscaping and garden planting.

My contractor brother-in-law convinced me that he could easily incorporate the enormous trunk of the mango tree into the d├ęcor of the porch. I loved the idea of it, to have a bit of the outdoors with me on the inside of my living space. I put together enough money to buy materials and we started building.

First thing we did was to dig a trench for the lower concrete walls upon which our vertical support poles would sprout. Within three days we had the cement blocks mortared in, the steel poles up, along with the horizontal beams and roof structure, and finally the roof sheeting and cement floor.

But it was when these fellows started cutting round and flat bar into the hundreds of pieces required to make the porch and gates, and then quickly welded it all together into a veritable structural work of art, that I realized I was privileged to witness the type of functional art that is not much seen in my home country these days. Eddie and his boys have been doing this for decades, and now I’m a fan. I love these guys and the work they do. I can’t get enough of watching them create.

Slowly, as my finances allowed, I bought furniture and items to make that porch my little showcase. It was really coming together, but then, I noticed that the plywood sheets that make up the ceiling started to sag, at first imperceptibly, and then noticeably. In just two months termites from the mango tree had invaded the wooden support structure and had just about finished it off with a big final termite burp.

We had to pull the entire ceiling down and treat the mango tree with some high powered termite poison. Unfortunately, since then, I think I’ve discovered there was already some termite infestation as well in other parts of the ancient outbuilding, especially under the exposed eaves. We’ll have to work on getting a handle on that soon, but first things first.

In the next week or so, as soon as we finish my "tree house," we’ll start back to work on putting up a new ceiling for the porch. In fact, since I wrote that previous sentence, just today, we finished reinstalling the ceiling. All that is left is a final coat of white paint and getting the light and fan fixtures reinstalled. I’m looking forward to it since I have a new recliner coming tomorrow, as well as four bar stools.

We’ve already treated the new ceiling wood with several coats of termite poison, something I wish we’d done to begin with; but live and learn. I’ve also decided to have my guys install a steel frame around the mango tree, and for two reasons. One, to keep any possible re-infestation stemming from the tree from happening; and two, to allow any rain or moisture to trickle down the trunk and into the stones at its base instead of wicking over into the wood in the ceiling sheets.

We did manage to finish one important porch project though. Before we started in on the final stages of my 40 foot tree house, which will probably be the subject of my next post; we put an awning over the exposed side of the screen. The awning became a necessity two weeks ago when during an exceptionally windy storm the rain whipped right through the screen and all over the brand new linoleum. Even before we had a chance to paint the awning another storm blew though and we learned that it worked perfectly. Another problem solved, and the awning looks pretty darn good too.

One more "problem" came up that demanded a solution: my new bedroom door directly faces the kitchen screen door. That means if my door happens to be open, someone in the kitchen might catch a glimpse of something or other that I might not want seen. Part of the solution was to install a center split curtain across my door. We did that and found that it also did great in keeping my aircon inside the room. The final solution to my "privacy issue" proved to be another curtain hung on a high bar installed on a diagonal, so that when pulled closed across the width of the breezeway I can now walk directly out my bedroom door, even in my all together, turn immediately left, and walk out into my porch with out the risk of anyone catching even a glimpse. I'm proud of that one since even with it closed it interferes not all with either door. My door is almost never closed anyway, and doesn't require it since I have the full protection of the thick hanging folds of cloth that covers the doorway completely from side-to-side and top-to-bottom.

I’ll post more on the porch in a few weeks after I get the chance to finally finish it off. It’s proving to provide the perfect place to hang out. It’s great to sit inside and simply watch the little local sparrow-like birds flit about just outside. I love it.


alex said...

Very nice renovation story. Based on my personal experience when your mango tree got bigger and it's root will become bigger and longer it will cause your wall and floor to crack.

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PhilippinesPhil said...

Roger that Alex... and when that happens I'll run out and buy some concrete from you to repair it!