The Many Jobs of a Missionary ~ Septic Tank Builder?

OK, this one has a funny side to its madness.

Mixing cement by hand.

Mixing cement by hand.

When we built our house in the village, we also had to build a septic tank. Most of the villagers have an outhouse, but we wanted indoor plumbing. You know, the benefits of being able to have indoor relief, then use one finger to flush away the filth from your house, are just soooo many.

We googled how to do it. That in itself is kinda funny.

We didn’t count on termites eating the oil-treated poles that held up the lid to the septic tank. Well, what were we thinking??

Seven years and some heavy rainy seasons later, the grass over one section of the septic tank was noticeably sagging. We were worried about our kids and the village kids who always play here. We knew we would have to do something to reinforce the lid.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, Seth started removing sod and digging around the edge of the septic tank to fix the lid. He got some of the corrugated iron that was the lid away, and then…augh! Inevitable slide of concrete and zinc, and most of the lid fell into the morass of filthy water beneath!

Hundreds of pounds of cement and zinc just fell in there, and now how to get it out? Seth got some of it out through an ingenious, quick-thinking rescue as it was falling; but the majority will stay beneath the ground for infinity.

Cockroaches. Everywhere. These aren’t the wimpy American kind, either; they’re as big as your thumb. Thankfully, we had two bottles of cockroach killer in the house. Several escaped, but so far they haven’t shown themselves in the house beyond their relatives already there. Like I would know the difference, right?

I kept the kids in the house all day. Thankfully, two church members helped Seth individually throughout the day. There was one period when he had no one with him, and I went out to make sure he didn’t fall in. Obviously, a septic tank is what it is, but I was surprised that it really didn’t stink. The amount of “gray water” in there from baths, etc., really diffused a lot of my imagined horrors.

Seth used lintels (concrete steel-reinforced beams used in building over doorways and windows on cement houses) this time as the basis of the lid, with two layers of corrugated iron on top of that, then a layer of poured cement, and finally replacing the sod when the cement dried.


We contemplated digging another one, but after some inspection, we think this one is big enough, even having some space taken up with the former lid :), for another few years. Either way, it had to be covered.

Caleb was so intent on helping! I let him help with the cement layer after the tank was covered.

Caleb was so intent on helping! I let him help with the cement layer after the tank was covered.

I’d had nightmares of the kids falling in, or Seth getting hurt or sick while working on it. No one fell in, praise the Lord!

That is, until the next day, when the first church member who had helped came by to see the new lid, and stepped on the only weak, yet unfinished part–a small square hole opening (to get in later if we can ever find a company here that pumps out septic tanks), with a poured cement lid. His foot went right through lid and he fell in up to his hip–one leg in, one leg out! Poor guy! He was in the water up to his calf. Somehow he managed to keep his sandal on! He got pretty scraped up on that leg from the steel that reinforced that particular small lid. So we’ll have to redo that now. :/ He’s better now, but we sure felt sorry about it! He got through the former morning with no accident, only to fall in when it was safest!

You can see the size of the small lid in this picture pretty well.

You can see the size of the small lid in this picture pretty well. The zinc had been cut away.

I got a tickle on Thanksgiving Day out of hearing Seth recount to his dad and then brother, both professional plumbers and builders–geniuses in technical matters!–of the lid-falling-in, and hearing their surprised and somewhat stumped, “Oh! Oh my!” Yeah. Wow.

Live and learn! We’ve learned so much about building by being missionaries! Did you ever think? How many Americans have ever had to build their own septic tank?

About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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5 Responses to The Many Jobs of a Missionary ~ Septic Tank Builder?

  1. zebranay says:

    Wow. You kids help me see how easy my life is here! I am glad you married a man who can handle these emergencies. I’m equally glad your husband married an amazing woman! 😉

  2. Ann Bedford says:

    Read this to my husband and told him that no matter what I asked him to do today it could in no way compare to Seth’s task. Thanks for making my day easier since I do have a few things I would like him to do.

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