Until I spent time in Africa, I didn’t think much about roofs. They were just always there, and I have taken them for granted. They don’t demand attention unless they leak. Common expressions like “a roof over your head,” “raising the roof,” and “hitting the roof,” refer to a structure that protects and provides a barrier to bounce off. Wherever and what ever they are, roofs are the layer above that keeps out the elements.
Before I even knew Joe, who works in my family’s home in Maputo, he and his family had a roof—a piece of blue plastic stretched over sticks bound together to form the walls of the home he shared with his mother, wife and four children. One day the wind blew hard and Estella, Joe’s wife, called him to say that their house had blown down. Joe went home to see what he could do.
A year later, when I met Joe, things were looking up. He had replaced his stick house with a larger, concrete block structure with a central living room, a bedroom for he and Estella, one for his mother and another for his four children who slept huddled together on a blue tarp that covered the dirt floor. But only the master bedroom had a roof. When violent rains came, the family took cover in the only roofed room, happy to know while their new house might not be waterproof, it would not collapse leaving them homeless.
Joe is a jack of all trades. For my daughter’s family, he cleans, irons, chauffeurs kids, stands in line to pay bills and stay current with the never-ending blizzard of paperwork generated in bureaucratic Mozambique. He knows where to go and how to get things done.
In his free time, he works on his own house. Africans typically build their houses a little at a time, as funds allow. When a sudden windfall found Joe with enough money in his pocket to roof his whole house, I felt so good. Total cost for 17 strips of corrugated iron for his roof; $145.
Back home in Colorado the following June, I sat at my bedroom window watching as chunks of hail bounced off the lid of my hot tub. To date, I had not had to make a major investment in maintaining my home.
A few weeks later a fellow come to my door wondering if I’d like a free estimate for a new roof. I hadn’t even looked up, never thought that those hail stones might have wreaked havoc on my roof. I agreed to an estimate which came in at $8,000. I talk with my neighbor, who also needs a new roof. He tells me I can get one for $5,000. Four months later, I have a new roof, paid for with a check from my insurance company.
My new shingles keep out the rain and sun, wind and snow. I can’t stop wondering what strips of corrugated iron might look like covering my little bungalow.