American Ideas About Materials

Over spring break, I had the chance to visit Tanzania with fellow UGA students and professor Sandra Whitney. While we spent a lot of time observing animals and learning about geology, we also had the chance to see a lot of the country and to drive through different residential and commercial areas. Doing so made me think a lot about the text for our class, Green from the Ground Up. The materials used in the Tanzanian homes (particularly in rural areas between cities) often showed an enormous amount of resourcefulness and a broader view of what could constitute a wall or a roof. It was especially interesting to see sheets of tin and other metals layered together to create warm spaces for animals, and a lot more cement walls being used rather than wood.

The structures themselves also stood as a reminder that “tiny” may be a movement in the U.S., but it is often a norm elsewhere. Instead of sprawling individual homes, we saw smaller family units which ran together into larger communities.

Finally, many buildings we passed told the story of their financing. In a few hours, we saw hundreds of units painted bright yellow with “Coral Paints” logos across the roof or sides, or green with “Green Label Tea” ads painted on. In exchange for paint, the home or business owners had turned their spaces into advertisements for these brands–another way of thinking about American expectations and desires for home appearance and how other countries get creative with housing.