Refugees II
Chapter 3: Designing A Home

Copyright© 2014 by Lazlo Zalezac

August 3, 1993

After a good breakfast prepared by Kiah, Jomo went out back, to where the men were gathering to discover what was the activity for the day. The men were met by the hosts and separated into groups. One group contained a couple of the general laborers who were going to see what job opportunities existed for them here. Another group contained farmers who were going out to look at the fields and get introduced to the work that they would be doing there. Jomo was pulled out of that group to join another group of four men.

After all of the other groups had left, Jomo and the four men stood around wondering why they had been pulled aside. Their concerns were increased when two large trucks started backing into the open space between the two rows of townhouses. A bunch of Jade Warriors swarmed around the trucks.

A Shield walked up to the small group and announced, “I am Shield Mandy. It has come to our attention that you do not like the townhouses.”

All of the men looked down at the ground.

“That is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. We are here to discover what you want in a home.”

The men looked up at her in surprise.

“We have an advanced building material called Styrofoam. It is lightweight and easy to move. The pieces fit together like pieces of a puzzle. We can cut it and shape it however we want. Normally, we would fill the space inside the pieces of Styrofoam with concrete. However, today, we’ll just lay out your perfect house.

“We will build that house right here, so that everyone can visit it and see what you’ve identified as being the perfect home. Does that sound like something fun?”

Jomo nodded his head. Anything would be better than that townhouse.

“I need everyone to gather ‘round, so that we can begin by drawing a basic design for the house here on the ground.”

Everyone gathered around and squatted. Shield Mandy pulled out a small stick, and drew a rectangle on the ground.

“This is a basic outline of the outside of the house. Is that reasonable?”

“I don’t see why not,” Jomo said.

“How long should the long side of the house be?” she asked.

The men looked at each other. One of them said, “Six paces?”

It seemed kind of short to Shield Mandy, but she didn’t correct him. She continued, asking, “How long should the short side be?”

“Five paces?”

“Okay. We’ll layout the exterior of the building using the Styrofoam and you can see if that is reasonable.”

The men were fascinated when a swarm of Shields started unloading large white blocks of Styrofoam. The Shields laid out the specified enclosure to a level of three blocks high. They left a small space for the door. It was larger than the tents they lived in, but it was still a pretty small building.

“Let’s go in and see how you like the space,” Shield Mandy said.

The men went into the structure and walked around. It really looked roomy. In fact, it looked a little too large to them.

“It could be a little smaller,” one of the men said.

“I agree,” Jomo said.

“Not a problem. Let’s remove a pace in each side and see how you like it,” Shield Mandy said with a smile.

The Swords removed a pace in each side of the structure. Once they were done, the men entered and walked around. It seemed much nicer.

“This is perfect,” Jomo said.

“Excellent,” Shield Mandy said with a smile.

“Now we have to layout the interior.”

“Why?”

“Do you want a toilet?”

“Yes.”

“We have to determine where that will go,” Mandy said. “Let’s go back to our drawing. We can try some ideas there.”

After a lot of argument, it was decided that the interior would be broken into a main room, a room with a toilet, a room with a shower area, a kitchen, and a small storage room. By now, the men were getting pretty excited about this project. They could imagine how their families would like it.

Their first pass wasn’t as successful as they might have hoped. By the time they put in the rooms for the toilet, the shower area, and the kitchen there just wasn’t much space left for the main room and no space for the storage room. After all, five paces is fifteen feet and four paces is twelve feet. Cutting that space into four rooms gave them spaces of eight feet by six feet. It was less than that taking into account the space taken up by the walls.

Shield Mandy said, “Let’s increase the size of the exterior.”

Now that they had a better idea of what they were doing, the exterior dimensions increased significantly. They came up with a length of ten paces and a width of seven paces. The Shields took apart what they had built, and reconstructed it on a larger scale.

Now the men walked through the structure very pleased with what they saw. From their perspective, it was very spacious. The room for the toilet and shower was off to the side of the main room. The kitchen and storage rooms were behind the main room, with the storage room on the same side as the toilet and shower. Each room was large enough to be useful, without being so large as to be uncomfortable.

Shield Mandy said, “We’ll build up the structure to how tall it would actually be. That way you’ll have an even better feel for what it would be like to live inside it.”

The men watched the Shields build the house. With so many of them working on it, it didn’t take long before the house was eight feet tall. The men entered the structure and walked around. It was perfect.

“Are you happy with it?” Shield Mandy asked.

“Very,” Jomo said.

“We’re going to put a canvas roof on it, just so you’ll see what it is like once it is fully enclosed.”

“It needs a roof otherwise it will be pretty miserable staying inside when it rains,” one of the men said bringing a round of laughter from the other men.

A large canvas was stretched over the top of the structure. The men went inside and immediately backed out.

“It’s dark in there.”

Shield Mandy said, “How about some windows to let in some light?”

“That would be good.”

The Shields went over with a saw and cut windows in the exterior for the main room and the kitchen. They also rigged some overhead lights for each of the rooms, which was particularly important for the toilet, shower, and storage rooms.

The men now walked through the house very pleased with what they saw. They could imagine living there would be much easier than living in the townhouse. Shield Mandy walked with them, and listened to their comments. For the most part, the comments were positive.

Jomo said, “I think my wife would like a cooking area outside.”

“Ah! That’s a great idea,” Shield Mandy said. She turned to the other men and asked, “What do you think?”

“My wife would like that a lot,” one of the other men said.

The other men nodded their heads in agreement.

“She’ll probably want a door to get to it, also,” Shield Mandy said.

“Yes.”

The Shields cut a door out of the exterior wall of the kitchen. They brought over some tall poles, pounded them into the ground, and hung a tarp over the top. The house now had a covered patio. After a little more discussion, a small carport-like garage was added to the side of the house for parking the carts.

The men stood back admiring their effort. They felt that everyone would like that house. It was in keeping with the character of the people. They liked keeping their family close together and the house was perfect for that.

Shield Mandy said, “Guys, you’ve done a great job designing a home. Let’s put some of the interior details in it and see how it all looks.”

“What details?”

“How about toilet, the shower, the refrigerator, sinks, and things like that?”

“That would be good.”

The Shields returned to the trucks and emerged with the aforementioned items. They spent some time putting them into place. While the Shields were doing that, the men ate some soup and sandwiches. It was actually a little after lunchtime and they had been hungry. The food was much better than what they had eaten the previous night.

The Shields put in temporary doors and windows, essentially finishing the house. The result was basically a finished house. It wouldn’t stand up to a good wind or even a kid pushing against the wall, but it was a good mockup.

The men walked through the house feeling proud of what they had done that day. They liked what they saw. This was their design, not like the townhouse. They couldn’t wait to show it off to everyone else.


While the men were off looking at job sites, the women were on a shopping expedition, and the kids were exploring the school which they would be attending. For the kids, it wasn’t that big of a deal. They were shown a classroom, complete with desks, and the cafeteria where they would eat lunch. After that short tour, soccer balls were brought out, and the kids were given a chance to run and play.

For the women, the day was filled with one wonder after another. It started with a visit to the furniture store. The women walked right past the bedroom sets and the living room sets. They did stop to admire some of the coffee tables. They all seemed to like the larger square tables that could be the centerpiece of a room. They spent the most time looking at the kitchen tables.

From there, they went to another store with appliances. For the most part, they ignored the stoves, although a few of them did inspect a couple of the simpler models. All of them went wild over the refrigerators.

Hearth Maria pulled Kiah over to the side. She said, “I know you don’t like the stove and oven.”

“It’s okay. I was able to cook breakfast.”

“I would really appreciate it if you would do me a favor.”

This was the first time that Kiah had heard of any Jade Warrior asking someone for a favor. That alone captured her whole attention.

“What kind of favor?” Kiah asked.

“You have a restaurant back at the camp.”

“Yes.”

“Would you accept using a stove and oven to prepare some of the food there?”

“I don’t know,” Kiah said. “I’m not very comfortable with the stove. I’ve never used the oven.”

“I’m not saying you have to use them for everything you make. Cooking the soup on the stove and your breads in the oven would be fine.”

“I guess I could do that,” she answered.

Soups didn’t require much more than a heat source. Bread was a little trickier. She had controlling the heat in her oven at the camp down to an art.

“That would mean so much to me,” Hearth Maria said.

She knew that once Kiah had figured out how to set the oven to the right temperature for her breads that she’d never want to bake anything in the basic outdoor oven in camp. She figured that cooking soup would convince Kiah that having a stove wasn’t a bad thing.

“I’ll do it,” Kiah said somewhat reluctantly.

“Thank you. You don’t know how much I appreciate this,” Hearth Maria said. “Why don’t you pick out one you might like? We’ll send it over to the camp for you.”

“Okay.”

Kiah returned to the area with stoves and ovens. She picked out the simplest looking one there – a simple unit that combined the oven and stove into one appliance. Little did she know that she was soon going to love that stove and oven combination more than anything else in the kitchen. No longer would she have to wait to start breakfast for the charcoal to be ready in the little hibachi grill she used to cook with in camp. No longer would she have to feed pieces of charcoal to keep the hibachi going while cooking.

So far, the shopping expedition was going well. The women weren’t quite overwhelmed with the goods they had seen, but they had enjoyed looking around at everything. That changed when they hit the fabric store. They couldn’t contain their excitement over the different fabrics. They had to touch every bolt of cloth and held up lengths to their bodies to check out what an outfit made of it would look like. They went wild over the sewing kits. Their eyes went wide on seeing the scissors.

They spent more time in the fabric store than in the previous two stores combined. Even when it was time to go, the women begged for a little more time. Even when it was pointed out that if they stayed there much longer that they wouldn’t be at home when the kids arrived back from the school, they still lingered.

Their disappointment was short lived. The grocery store was next on the tour. The women spread all over that place like a horde of locusts. There were a lot of foods there that they didn’t recognize, particularly the fruits. The hostesses who were guiding them around the stores, took up stations where they placed samples of some of the foods for the women to taste. The fresh peaches were a big hit. So were the apples.

There were small sandwiches with various luncheon meats for them to taste. By the time they finished sampling everything, they were full. It had been an easy way to serve lunch while introducing the women to new foods. The women had no complaints.

After their first pass through the grocery store, the women were given baskets and told to fill them with food for dinner and breakfast. They were reminded that they were going to be preparing a large feast for everyone that evening, so that they should focus on the ingredients for one dish. Of course, that got each of the women to talking about what they were going to prepare for that evening.

Due to a high degree of demand, Kiah talked into making her sweet potato bread. She started putting sweet potatoes into the little hand basket. It wasn’t long before it was getting too heavy to carry. She was relieved when Min Thu showed up pushing a basket on wheels. The two women loaded up the shopping basket with the ingredients for the sweet potato bread.

Min Thu reminded her to get ingredients for breakfast. When asked about getting things for lunch, Min Thu said that they would be returning to the grocery store the next day. Satisfied, Kiah gathered packages of eggs, cheese, sliced meats, and tomatoes.

The women returned to the townhouses, driven in the little carts by the hostesses. They were excited about cooking until they realized they would have to use the dreaded stoves and ovens. That put a little damper on the festive atmosphere. Most of them believed that using the devices would ruin their meals.

Once home, Min Thu helped Kiah put away the food. Kiah really liked the big refrigerator and revised her choice made earlier in the appliance store. She was definitely going to go for the bigger model.

When they were done, Min Thu said, “I can tell that you don’t like the furniture that is in the main room.”

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.”

“I’m not offended. Hearth Maria thought you might like it. I don’t have that kind of furniture at home. Our furniture is a very different style. I think it is more like what you would like. We don’t have big chairs. We tend to sit on the floor. We have sleeping mats rather than large mattresses.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Would you like the furniture in the main room removed? We can leave the cushions for you to sit on.”

“That would be great,” Kiah said with a sigh of relief.

Maybe tonight they could get a decent night of sleep. They had been very crowded on the floor last night and it had been uncomfortable. She didn’t want to go through that every night while they were there.

Min Thu made a quick call on the telephone. Ten minutes later, two Hearths came by to pick up the furniture. They moved it out of the townhouse. Instead of leaving the cushions from the couch, they left oversized pillows, and bean bag chairs. Hearth Maria had been busy. She had sent out a team to buy out every store that had a stock of the two items.

The kids arrived home from their visit to school. They were tired after having run around most of the day playing. They spotted the changes in the main room and landed on the pillows excitedly.

Kiah sat down on the floor with them, one on each side of her, and listened to their stories about the school. They leaned against her and she put an arm around each of them. Min Thu watched, reminded of how she would come home from school and tell her mother about her day.

“We have a desk of our own.”

“They’ve got all kinds of things for us to do, there. They’ll give us pencils, paper, and books that we will keep at our desk.”

“They’ve got a big map of the whole world on the wall.”

“One of the ladies who will teach there showed us on the map where we are and the location of the camp. We’re almost halfway around the world.”

“It was so neat there.”

“And we played soccer.”

“They have a big place to eat.”

“We ate there. The food was great.”

“They had soup and sandwiches.”

Kiah smiled listening to her children give her little details about the things they did at the school. It didn’t sound like the little area at the camp. Finally, the kids wound down. Kiah spread out the blankets and the kids dropped off for a quick nap.

The two women made their way to the kitchen. It was time to start making the sweet potato bread. The got the sweet potatoes out and started peeling them. It was time to boil and mash the sweet potatoes.

Min Thu said, “I think the kids had a good time at the school.”

“Yes. They like school.”

“They sound smart.”

“They are,” Kiah said proud of her children.

“They will like living here,” Min Thu said.

“Do you really think so?”

Min Thu said, “A lot of the older Vam at the Jade Academy were rice farmers. They are uneducated, but they are hard working and good people who did what it took to survive. It was a little hard at first for them at Jade Academy. They had to learn to grow things other than rice.

“Us kids had it easier. We went to school and learned to read and write. I was worried because in my culture women weren’t expected to do much more than become a wife. When we graduated, all of the women were offered jobs. These jobs were much better than farming.

“I had my choice of jobs. I decided I want to be a purchasing agent. I buy supplies for the Jade Academy. It’s an interesting job to me, and kind of challenging. I like it.”

Kiah said, “I have been worried for Zahra. Jomo wants her to get educated and to have a good job. I fear that she won’t get married.”

“I wouldn’t worry. I’m getting married soon.”

“You are?”

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