(Written April 2016)
It is not dramatic, nor something that you notice everyday.
It is in the small things, the imperceptible changes that the hints reveal themselves. Every autumn I fit a tarpaulin on the landing by the elder’s flat door. In winter the winds and rains can come through the gap between us and the neighbour and a properly fitted tarpaulin provides a safe haven from the elements.
It was, maybe two years ago now that I took note of it. I was previously aware, but it really caught my eye then.
Fitting the tarpaulin requires me to ascend a ladder and then stand on the top of the wall, where on our side it is a bit over a metre and a half to the landing, on the opposite side it drops down a floor and a half into the neighbours courtyard.
As I stand and manhandle the bulky tarpaulin I find my mind alive to the situation, my surroundings and the inherent risks attached. It is in this state that my attention is drawn to the back wall, where our neighbour’s building abuts ours.
There was once a small fissure running vertically between the two. Nothing significant, not truly noteworthy. But now I am acutely aware that our little crack is growing up…well, maybe not ‘up’ per se as much as ‘out’.
I am drawn by the fact that it has expanded so much.
When I completed hanging the tarpaulin, I was left with a new awareness, and since then I find myself actively and passively looking for additional, er, growth.
We are blessed with two loos in our home. The one in the shower room is an ‘ala franka’ (a loo you can sit upon) and in a separate little room next door there is a ‘ala turka’, or a squat toilet. Our shower room is at the end of our house that is bordering our neighbour. I noticed, in the shower stall, a hairline crack in the tile. The tiling was done when we moved in August 2008, and there was no crack, hairline or otherwise at that time.
Now there is a definite fracture crossing the tile. On examination, outside the shower stall it continues downward. It is a multi-tile hairline crack.
In the ala turka toilet next door, there is another hairline crack, and where it crosses two tiles it is clear there is a 2 or 3 millimetre lateral shift.
These are all noted, and now I find myself passively monitoring them whenever I find myself in one or other of these rooms.
Above the kitchen, shower room and ala turka we have a one third height storage space. I was up there recently when my eyes were inexorably drawn to a new, rather ugly chink. Nothing subtle about this brute. Noted.
In discussion with various neighbours, it seems that some years ago there was one of the deluges that occur in this part of the world. An overwhelming inundation that the storm drains and the design of the streets to draw water away were vanquished and were completely unable to cope. It was at that time that many homes were flooded.
The common scuttlebutt is that the flood water drew soil and other material away from under the street and buildings creating a void. When you recall that modern Antakya is the direct descent of ancient Antioch, a city which is both multiple millennial in age and also throughout its long and turbulent history has been frequently destroyed by earthquakes and that it has been reconstituted upon the rubble of the former city again and again, and that our modern foundations in this part of the city are resting of the detritus and debris of earlier demolished buildings, it is believable that a massive downpour could excavate a void under our feet. This part of the city is not built upon a firm foundation, not on rock or natural earth but upon the demolition layer of earlier civilisations.
It has also been drawn to my attention that at the back corner of our home, where our two buildings join at the back street (it is a poured concrete street) that it sounds distinctly hollow when the street is thumped. Not a scientific observation I know, very subjective…nevertheless, it does sound rather hollow.
Our neighbour’s testimony is that there is a visible void under their home at the back of their property.
When I go and examine the back of their house it is abundantly clear that this part of their home is both settling and moving laterally away from our building.
As it moves away from us it, naturally, begins impacting their neighbour on the opposite side.
Now our neighbour of the sinking house is not using this part of their house – they used to, but not any more. It is comprised of a basement, ground floor, first floor and on the flat roof, a small roof room and both a water storage tank and solar energy system complete with its own storage tanks.
From whatever cause, it seems clear that this structure is ill, tired and looking decrepit to the point that sooner or later it will give up and either move into the neighbours house or collapse into the basement – or a combination of the two.
It may not even be waiting for an earthquake (we live in an active, notorious and historically volitial earthquake zone). Having acknowledged that, there are times when, for no apparent cause, buildings collapse…give up and tumble down. This building seems to be a candidate for this.
Potential remedial actions present themselves. As the structure is not inhabited, demolish it, filling in the basement in the process. This would relieve the pressure and may be a total solution.
If that is too much, shift all the water storage and solar hot water onto the front building which is not exhibiting signs of subsidence.
Barring that, have the city council come and investigate the back street with a view of repairing the street – this is the riskiest for it carries the potential that the council may very well discover a void and condemn both houses – the neighbour’s and ours as we are affected by the subsidence, maybe more of our neighbours as well. This then, would not be fixing the basic problem….but rather end up rendering at least three families homeless and with no solution.
So, our neighbours, true to the philosophy which is sourced from the dominate faith here, believe that if it is God’s will for the building to stand, it will stand, regardless of the state of the foundation or building itself, and, likewise, if it is God’s will for the building to fall, the building will fall regardless of whatever remedial work is undertaken.
Result? Well nothing is being done. Well, that is not strictly true, the roof over the front house and extending across the courtyard and resting on the decrepit building has been replaced with a new roof – spanning the same distance and still resting on our candidate for collapse.
If that house were ours, I would have moved the water storage tanks and removed the building and filled in the basement long ago. But it is not ours.
It presents the greatest risk to our neighbour and his children. The only point of access to their home is via the slumping back building – the only way in and the only way out.
Our neighbour’s building is talking. It is declaring its intent. From a Judeo-Christian world view it behooves us to act, to do something to take responsibility. In this place, with a very non Judeo-Christian world view, fate, kismet, what will be will be world view, the response is acceptance and a total lack of personal responsibility.
And so, I monitor my cracks. I measure, observe and otherwise am mindful of the situation. There is frightfully little that we are in a position to do.
Pray – yes.
Trust in sovereign God – true.
Rest in His grace – affirmative.
Live in fear – rejected.
Abandon that part of our home? Well without the loo and kitchen, life becomes somewhat more challenging.
And so life goes on. We come and go, and watch our walls and measure our cracks.