When I first came to the America, after a 49 hour long difficult, sleepless journey, I found myself feeling a sense of disequilibrium. This feeling came upon me as we set foot inside my grandparents home in Rolla, Missouri. No it wasn’t the sleeplessness or jet lag, it was a physical sensation as I felt the hollow ground and the echo of my feet as I waked on the floors of a house built from wood. It was a solid construction and in a very good condition, however if felt vastly different from the concrete floors I had grown up and walked on for nearly two decades of my life. It did not feel supportive, and was a very strange sensation to experience.
Years have passed and I have lived, worked, studied and experienced variety of buildings and structures and I no longer give it much thought as the equilibrium centers of my brain and spine have desensitized to the variations of structural material used in each of these places.
Today as I was driving home, I passed by several large developments and structures under constructions, some where single family homes, some apartment complexes. The structures where largely being built from wood. I could see the entire skeleton of these structures with the exposed wooden beams, walls and frames and suddenly I remembered the old fairly tale of Three Little Pigs. You know the one with first pig building his home from straw, the second one from wood and the third one who turned out to be the wisest, built his from solid bricks – yep that one.
We are now amidst the tornado and flood season in the great plains region of America and yesterday several structures where flattened in the neighboring Oklahoma, and last week we had massive tornados destroying many homes and neighborhoods near Dallas where I live. I can’t help but wonder, why the buildings in these parts of the country that are exposed to annual massive storms, tornados and floods, are made of wood? Is it because it is cheaper, or perhaps because it is quicker to build? What ever the reason maybe, it is sad to see that the middle pig continues to make the same mistake … The middle pig in many instances also turns out to be the poor pig so apparently he isn’t missed much or talked about once his wooden home is blown away. The wise third pigs with their mansions and massive bank accounts, now they seem to know better as I haven’t seen their homes, lives and work places blown away. Granted I am generalizing but still I can’t help but draw this comparison.
Now back to my country of origin, in Iran everything was built more or less the same way, from steel, concrete, cement and brick. I remember when we were building our home, we had hired an architect and the two story structure took over two years to finish. We often visited the site and I was mesmerized by seeing the workers laying bricks or mixing concrete and plaster. All the walls and ceilings were plastered as we did not have or use dry wall. This was the norm, the way all buildings were built and are still being built. Another major difference between our homes in Iran and the ones here is that the majority of people in Iran did not and do not own their homes. They rent. If you owned your home, you had fully paid for it. There was non of the “pseudo home ownership” that we have here with people calling themselves homeowners to property that is owned by banks and pay what seems to me like a monthly rent to these banks. We also did not have a bank come and take your “owned” home if you missed a payment.
No, we did not own our homes. Also we did not have tornadoes, hurricanes or floods. We had earthquakes and the eight year war with Iraq when our cities and homes were bombed day and night. I don’t know if that makes us any wiser than the middle pig with his wooden home. In the face of bombs and earthquakes, steel, concrete and the bricks crumble without much hesitation.
But this is one instance when I think the new world, America, might be better served if they learned lessons from the old world. To build their structures more soundly, and more appropriately to the environment. To run the electrical wires underground, to have better foundation for their cities, their people and their homes. To have basements or other structural necessities in areas prone to tornados and massive storms. I am sure there are learned experts in this area who can figure out ways to better protect innocent lives when faced with these types of disasters. The question is cost – cost of making us more immune to the disaster vs. cost of reacting to and cleaning up after the fact. One way or the other we will have to pay, the question is when? These are just some of the thoughts that run through my mind every time I see a new subdivision appear out of thin air over night with identical cookie cutter homes, every time we lose power during a storm, every time I see neighborhoods flattened and lives lost during another storm, tornado or flood.
Yes I am an American. I live in a land where we don’t seem to learn from the past. Where we’d rather pay with our lives and homes and pay to clean up than pay to prevent disastrous outcomes.