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preparing the improved cook stove

Did you know that countless women in Africa cook the family meals on 3-stone fires? I don’t have statistics, but I see the evidence all around us both in the city of Bamenda and when we go to the Village. I have mentioned building improved wood stoves frequently since our arrival here, and many women say “I want one”,  but it took initiative and some funding (VSO thank you) to actually start building.

learning about building

It’s a project!

Wopong Jocelyn Achu asked me to come and teach 15 women in the small community of Pinyin in Santa, to the South of Bamenda. She is working as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) national volunteer for HEDECS (Health Education Development Consultancy Services).

We set the goal to build one stove with the women in a workshop, perhaps start a second one and then leave supplies for them to build another five stoves by the end of the month of January. We hope that this will trigger further stoves to be done under people’s own initiative.

Some research into the topic in combination with my own experience from previous stove projects produced a handout with mostly visual instructions. I know what it feels like to learn something in a workshop and try to do it alone the next time: a guideline is helpful, and since not all women read or speak English, it had to be visual.

To make things affordable and easy to repeat I looked for simple, local solutions for elements like form work, chimney building, tools and materials.

presenting benefits of improved cook stoves

The workshop

We left Bamenda in the early morning by shared taxi to Santa, from where we carried on by motorcycle to Pinyin.  Mountainous terrain with densely farmed valleys, this is a highly productive region for vegetables that are distributed throughout Cameroon and beyond.

The women gathered in front of Lillian’s house, where we would be building the stove under a good sheltering roof next to the front door.  But not just women wanted to learn, a group of secondary school girls attended as well and many men and youth came by during the course of the day.

The list of materials :

the main material clay is in the yardMud bricks (the women had produced 230 bricks approx. 10x10x20 cm )

Claysoil ( the pit was in the yard)

Two sacks of sawdust

Small quantity of sand (most precious there because it is brought in)

 

Tools to have at hand:

Tropical hoe to dig and mix clay

Cutlass (machete)

Measuring tape (if unavailable use body measurements)

Buckets

 

Steps to designingsize the stove to the pots

  1. Take the largest pot that will be used on the stove and determine its volume
  2. The volume relates to the size of combustion chamber and heat path through the stove (all the same cm2), a simple chart is available to look this up:  download publication
  3. The width of the stove will be determined by the diameter of the pot plus insulation plus bricks
  4. The length of it is the sum of the first pot plus a second, smaller pot, plus chimney plus edges and channels.
  5. Finally the height of the stove as illustrated in the sketch

drawing of improved cook stove

 

much interest in cook stoves

Building the stove:

  1. Prepare a 1:1 (by volume) mix of clay and sawdust  (estimated 4 wheelbarrows of clay) and a clay mortar mix
  2. Layout on the ground: position pots, mark center lines  and edges on the wall
  3. Set edges with bricks and configure firewood feed and combustion chamber (considering 5cm insulation)
  4. Build up edges and combustion chamber.using banana stems as forms
  5. Insulate combustion chamber. We used banana stems as guides which I saw in my research, but decided to pull them up as we built up instead of leaving them to rot in place, as suggested)
  6. Fill voids with compacted earth or bricks
  7. At appropriate height set the first (larger) pot in place and fill around it with insulation mix.using the pot to form the stove top
  8. At the same height the channel to Pot 2 will be built with insulation mix, followed by pot 2 set into place
  9. Continue building up around the pots to desired height.

10. Make a channel to the chimney and set up a form to build the pipe (banana stem works here too)

11. Remove the pots and smooth all edges and surfaces inside, scraping down the surface around the pots to create hot air circulation. Place three clay supports to lift the pot- allowing heat to move under and around the pot.

proud owner of the improved cook stove

Tadah!

With the experience the women had – they already know how to mix mud, make bricks and lay bricks- we accomplished the first stove in about 4 1/2  hours- with much deliberation and figuring out the process.

To my great surprise everyone got up after the meal that followed, and carried bricks to the next house. And then the women went ahead and within 1 ½ hours built another stove with little input on my part!

women build the second stove Built in less than two hours

We will return to Pinyin to do some surface finishing and to see how things are. And we hope to light the fire in the first stove at that time. When all is done and our feedback is in, I will publish a full report and make it available for download.

At time of publishing this post, the women have built three more stoves and are on track for the last 2. I am now working with another group of women on constructing a cabin, an oven and a stove….stay tuned!

Pinyin workshop group

 

 

There is a group of engaged researchers, builders and restorers in Crimmitschau, Sachsen, Germany who are planning the project “German Czech Lehmstrasse” . Lehm means claysoil – good for building- and Lehmstrasse refers to a selection of houses built with Lehm along a (for now) virtual route.

In preparation for this project (while waiting for funding) the group has conducted a few excursions for the education of members and to build connection with each other.

Here are some notes from the most recent drive on which we visited a number of places inside and on the edge of the future Lehmstrasse region.

The focus for this excursion was largely on the history of local farmsteads and their structures. Our volunteer- expert tour guide, Andreas Klöppel, shared plenty of facts and information in a very accessible way. His knowledge of the area’s sites was extensive, including anecdotes around village life.

A typical farm here was built around a courtyard and was composed of 2-4 buildings: a residence, a stable and a barn. Materials were typically stone for basements and sometimes ground-level, then oak timber frame (Fachwerk) for the upper story and roof. The frame- infill was historically done with straw-clay. Roofs are often slate (black) or clay-tile (red). Inside are large beams supporting wide, sometimes decorated, ceiling boards. What you can’t see is the clay layer above these boards on top of which the next floor is laid.

The buildings we visited date as far back as the 15th century. Old stone inscriptions give the year of construction and sometimes name of the builder. Elsewhere, inscriptions are carved into the timber above the door.

With the abundance of old buildings in the villages, I wonder, how can people use them today? One of the big problems these villages face is the fact that farming has changed and young people are moving to the cities. We see many empty houses and lifeless farmsteads. What are new and feasible strategies to inhabit these large ensembles? To me the large groupings of buildings call for communal living schemes: co-housing, ecovillage, multi generational living.

During our tour we saw the example of the Kunst und Kräuterhof Posterstein , where pottery , basket-weaving and herbal medicine courses take place. Group facilities have been built into the former barn, the main floor of the house holds a storefront for arts and crafts, and guests are invited to meander through the herb garden.

As a builder I see the challenge to carefully restore the old frames, finding graceful ways to fit modern needs for more light (larger windows), better insulation, and open rooms into the existing footprints of buildings. Below you will see some examples including the beautiful mass heater by Eckhard Beuchel  with its warm bench and backrest.

I hope that as the Lehmstrasse project continues to evolve, people will be inspired by examples of modern life in old settings, and that there will be life again in those old courtyards that stand waiting.

 

 

 

The prices of things as experienced Spring 2012
mostly in Mnenia village and Kondoa town
all prices in Tanzanian Shillings: 1500 TSh = 1 US$

A days wages for a laborer: 3000
Tea and chapati at the local teashop: 300
Bus fare Mnenia to Kondoa 5000 round trip
Delivery of a trailer load of stuff by tractor: 60 000
Delivery of water by donkey: 200/5 gal jug
1 bottle of beer: 2000
1 package of cookies 4000
5 tomatoes 500
1 bunch of onions 1000
1 litre of oil: 3000
1 kilo of sugar 2300

1 kilo of rice 4000
1 apple 700
1 banana 100
1 litre of fresh milk 1000
1 container of yogurt (supermarket Arusha) 4000
1 chicken (live) 10000
1 egg 300
1 fired brick 50
1 bag cement 17000
Meal in a local restaurant Arusha 5000
Meal in a tourist restaurant Arusha12000
1 pair of sandals from recycled tires 6000

 

Driving from Arusha to Mnenia brought back memories from just over a year ago: then I was sitting in the passenger seat of Seppo’s aging Land Rover with growing amazement at the changing landscape while the vehicle negotiated the endless bumpy road-construction stretch  between Arusha and Babati.(see Kijiji means village) I remembered the beauty of the country road of red earth on the other side of Babati, lined by large trees and populated by village people here and there.


The picture is different now: the road to Babati is mostly finished and traffic moves very fast, but now construction is underway on the other side. Just like in Bagamoyo a few years ago,  I witness the massive impact that better roads have on the natural environment and can’t help but wonder how this will change  remote villages like Mnenia, where we’re going.


Returning to a place means seeing it with fresh eyes and I was a little anxious as we approached the village and camp. Would it still hold the magic that I felt there last year?
The season is just a little later this time and everything is green and trees are blooming. All the fields are planted or tilled and ready. The sky looked heavy with rain when we pulled into Amarula Camp,the campsite of the Rock Art Project. Daniel, our translator last year, was there and his beaming smile showed his surprise when he saw us. “The women keep asking ‘when will Mma Matumaini  come back?'”, he said. That’s what they call me here; matumaini means hope.
The Camp is looking much more finished: the nice banda with attached kitchen is complete, there are three covered Safari tents, another kitchen, a shower building and a structure for the dry toilet. The grounds are being kept by the staff, and it looks like they’re doing a good job.
We sat around a fire that evening under an almost full moon. And I felt again the peace and the sense of ease that overcomes me when I’m there.
For the next day Daniel arranged for us to meet with the Twiga women around 3 in the afternoon. “After they are finished with their work on the fields”.  Of course- this is a very busy time for them.


I had not seen ‘our’ building with its roof (only a picture), so I was quite excited to find it in good shape and the women proudly in front. They all came to meet us- so many hugs, smiles and greetings- and then we sat down inside.
This was just a visit, a re-connection to see what is possible. We touched on some ideas but it will take more talking and thinking before something can be organized. So we enjoyed some sodas and each other’s company and of course some dancing.
I feel encouraged to go back for a longer time to continue the work in the village. Real soon!

 

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The best blog is the one I’m actually going to write- so here are some notes after walking from Burgos to Santiago between September 25 and October 15, 2011

1. Community:

I think in my mind I expected a “pilgrimage” to be a fairly lonely experience with little contact to anybody. That was corrected on day 1: we had casually met Sue from Toronto as we walked out of Burgos. A few miles down the road entering a small village where we hoped to have a break and some food we were greeted by her waiving to us from a cafe inviting us to join her and another friend. This is an attitude we would see frequently – peregrinos (pilgrims) inviting others to their table at restaurants and bars. There was always the option for solitude but also the possibility of connection.

 

2. Peregrino culture:

Very quickly after joining the walking ‘community’ the group behaviour becomes obvious:

a. People take their boots off anywhere- in restaurants, on park benches, in the lobby of an albergue. Often this is accompanied by some treatment of blisters etc.
b. Upon arrival at the albergue you set up your bed space with your sleeping bag etc and
c. proceed to take a shower. Refreshed you then
d. go to the washing station and wash your walking clothes (since you only have one set of clean clothes)
e. Take a rest after hanging the washed clothes
f. Do some journalling
g. Scout out the best place for pilgrim’s menu in the village and take in the sights, perhaps go for a beer
h. Optional visit to the local church and or pilgrim’s mass
i. Join other peregrino’s for dinner ca.7 pm (long before any locals look for food, but the albergue closes at 9 or 10)
j. Full and tired go to bed at 9
k. Wake up early- if you’re the very early type you best learn how to do your packing very quietly
l. Leave the albergue before daybreak to get a good start on the walk and better chances at a bed at the next location
m. Wish everyone ‘Buen Camino’ as you pass them – also allow people to pass and exchange a greeting
n. Peregrinos loose all good habits when it comes to traffic: they wander all over the road, pay little attention to vehicles…

     

    3. It’s Peace making in its own way:

    The common goal of  ‘doing the camino’ gives a connection point that removes differences of status or other background. We are all pilgrims at this time. We talk to each other in many languages (with more or less skill) laugh and cry, struggle with our bodies, our backpacks and our minds. And we practice tolerance when we get frustrated about the behaviour of others (snoring, zipping bags, flashlights at 4 am etc) . Men and women share sleeping rooms and bathrooms, and we have to give space by turning our glance at times.

     

    4. Pushing my limits

    I never thought of myself as a hiker, and before this a 6 km walk seemed like a daunting exercise. Now when we look at 15 km I think “that’s just 3 hrs” and I feel quite able to do 25. Walking has become a serious mode of transport and is in fact a very pleasant way to explore places ( I knew that for visiting towns but hadn’t considered it for longer distances).

     

    5. Simplicity

    All there is to do is walk: Follow the yellow arrows and the sign of the shell and you will get there.

    Getting dressed is pretty simple too: One spare set of clothing and perhaps something in the morning to offer some warmth.

     

    6. Other Highlights:

    • The rich textured stone walls along the path and in the villages
    • The sound of Church bells and birds
    • Regional foods: ham in many varieties, Cheeses and Wine
    • The City of Leon
    • Stork’s nests everywhere
    • The changing colours of Earth
    • Harvest time and trailside gifts of food: figs, apples, pears and grapes