Before living in the jungle, I had never put much thought into the making or care of dirt floors. I assumed they would be care free! Not so.
The first few years in the village, we only had dirt floors. This is because the cost of flying cement out to the village by plane was very expensive. And then, the fact that all the sand and gravel had to be dug out of the river bed during dry season when the river is at its most shallow, carried up to the village and hand mixed with water which you also hand carry, bucket by bucket, slows down the process greatly.
So, dirt floors it was! When making a dirt floor, the first step is to dig down and level the floor as much as possible. Then, using water and a heavy tamp, you begin to pound away. You must use enough water to dampen the floor, without actually making mud. This process goes on for several days in each room.
After the floor is deemed 'finished', you may then begin to use the room. Dirt floors do need to be swept daily. Lint, thread, and other debris does accumulate just as on any floor. Each day the floor is swept with a handmade broom. Once all debris is removed, you sweep the floor yet again, this time adding water to the floor as you sweep.
This is to settle the dust which comes from walking on and sweeping of the floor. If you do not keep the floor dampened, it will turn to dust and everything in the room, including small children, will be dusty. The dirt is of a high clay content and leaves an orange stain on everything. I had orange feet for years!
Dirt floors do not show dirt, but it is amazing how trash, such as paper and such, will show up! The other problem with dirt floors is when you have accidents, such as spills. How to clean it up? There are many vermin and insects and if you leave anything organic, you will be overcome.
I learned this when we first arrived and our children were all still small. We all came down with malaria and had several bouts of vomiting. How do you clean that up? With a shovel! Then you bring in fresh dirt to fill in the holes.
I did learn that by occasionally adding kerosene to the water I used on the floors, I was able to keep many insects at bay.
We finally laid a cement floor in the main room after about a year and a half . It took us several days to carry up all the water we needed for the cement. We had been collecting the sand and gravel from the river for a few weeks and we were excited to finally lay the floor, by hand. What a job!
Once it was dry, we prepared a concoction for sealing the floor. I heated kerosene on the stove and melted candles into it. We then applied this while still hot to the floor. It worked great! I kept the floor polished by adding 1/4 cup kerosene to each mop bucket. Again, to fight the bugs as well as add shine.
We slowly added floors to the house and eventually added up our costs to be nearly $15,000 US! For rough, hand laid cement floors. The floors helped our children's health by cutting down on parasites and also the ever present "nigua".
A "nigua" is a small burrowing tick which lives in the jungle dirt. They especially like to burrow into the toes and even under the toe nails. They are barely visible to the naked eye, but once under the skin, the nigua lays an egg sack which grows and grows and grows... until the eggs hatch and all the new baby niguas begin to reproduce! Not fun. Neither is it fun to dig them out of the tender nail bed.
I once had to remove an entire nail of my toe to get to an egg sack under the nail. OUCH!!! And, of course, any opening in the skin is likely to become infected. So the floors, though expensive, were needed and greatly appreciated.We would eventually come to the point of feeling the small niguas before they even burrowed.
A new problem occurred when we laid the first floor. The Sanema chew tobacco. They keep a large plug of it under their lower lip at all times. This produces a green slimy spittle. The Sanema generally spit a lot! They spit out the nasty spittle. On my floors.On my walls. It was a constant source of irritation to me.
I finally had to come to accept it. I did keep a spray bottle of bleach and paper towels handy and taught them to clean it themselves. The bleach was also needed to clean up after the many diaperless babies that came to visit each and every day.
Needless to say, our only furniture was wood or plastic so that it could be cleaned and disinfected daily. I felt it was better to have things I did not mind them using, than to have nice things, but perhaps worry that it would be damaged. I did not want 'things' to come between me and the people I was there to serve.
On the other hand, I did feel it was wise to teach them what behavior would be expected of them by the Venezuelans in town. After gaining their confidence, I was able to teach them that spitting would not be acceptable in town. Nor would babies without diapers! Nor looking inside through windows...nor using yards as an out house... nor walking in unannounced ... nor burping loudly at the table...and many other activities deemed perfectly acceptable in their own culture.