Friday, August 5, 2011

Time Flies When You're Having Fun... (8.3.11)

…Or when you’re working so hard you forget to look at the time. It’s incredible how quickly time passes here. Monday marked the beginning of our 14 day countdown until we leave Kalinzi and begin our journey eastward to Dar. Seeing the days on our calendar getting crossed off one by one has pushed the throttle to the floor, and we’re pushing hard to get as much as possible done by the 15th.

Instead of slowing down last weekend, we filled it with SODIS testing, performing burn tests on various coffee husk stove concepts, and smashing up biomass in preparation of our final batches of briquettes. We each tried to take a bit of time for ourselves so that we could come out of the weekend with a full charge, but it was certainly no cabin retreat.

Sunday was a handful, to say the least. A bemused local pausing to watch from the front of the field station might easily have thought that they were looking at the center of an enormous wazungu circus. James and Kevin Dahms, having traveled to Matyazo and learning that many farmers near the dry mill have been building their own coffee husk stoves out of termite clay, set about building one of their own. Being the multi-tasking maestros that they are, they managed to run preliminary emissions testing on the metal CH stove while also experimenting with various ways to construct and light their mud brick creation.

While fluctuating wafts of clean air and smoke indicated the respective success or failure of the CH testing being performed outside, the rest of the crew worked to make preparations for the upcoming rocket stove training session. To prepare for teaching the women how to use the updated modular mold set, Kevin and Kim designed notecards that depicted how to use the molds and assemble the completed bricks.

Though our Sunday had kept us all busy, we had a relaxing evening of dinner (Tuma’s delicious cooking), a great round of Karata Moja, and conversation below beautifully bright stars.

Monday was an early morning for James and Dahms, who headed out to Matiazo to meet again with Prosper. They returned triumphantly with pictures of the clay coffee husk stove whose construction they had observed. We learned that many farmers had previously owned metal stoves based off the sawdust-style stoves used at the German mission, but had grown tired of the frequent breakages due to the intense heat created by coffee husk combustion and it’s destructive impact on commonly available metal. Since it is difficult and expensive to get metal of the quality used at the mission, they began building stoves out of clay. Seeing this innovation and creativity is really inspiring to us, and has led us to the conclusion that a metal stove such as we have been designing for the past year or so may not be the answer for this community, as the clay stoves are a good alternative to the high cost and low quality of metal stoves built here. We hope to be able to share some of what we have learned with the farmers building the clay stoves so that they can build stoves that are both inexpensive and clean burning. The boys will head back on Friday, once the stove built Monday has dried, to fire it up and assess how it burns. Since we still think we have the best coffee husk-burning metal stove design out there, we intend to continue optimizing it. Pursuing this end, James and Dahms spent today, Wednesday, sculpting hourglass-shaped flow materials from metal mesh so they can conduct emissions tests tonight. …Quite literally, they are planning on taking several-hour shifts to conduct tests for the next 24 hours. I think we have just enough Africafé to get the through the night!

Today marked part two of our clay-tray rocket stove training session with our stove women. We had hoped to show them both how to create the bricks and construct the stove at our first meeting on Monday. Unfortunately, the bricks we made last Friday were not quite dry yet, prompting the second session. This was just as well, because the first meeting was productive but long – many of the women had to run back home to break the fast for Ramadan. The highlight of the meeting was our discussion with the women about how to set up the rocket stove program in Kalinzi before we leave. These women essentially formed their own union right in front of our eyes – we are anxious to see how the program turns out when DHE returns to Kalinzi. Today, the women showed up again to see how to assemble the stove bricks. Our snafu of not having enough clay to cement them together turned out better than expected, as Faida suggested that they use the loose bricks to practice putting them together properly. Our productive afternoon ended by socializing with a few of the women.

SODIS testing has taken a unique turn lately. Thabo and I have been running out of ideas for testing different sources and variables, primarily because we’ve found that the water sources here are actually pretty clean. We needed a way to really prove the efficacy of the SODIS method. On Kevin’s suggestion, we created a “super positive control,” which is a nice way of saying “poop samples.” I’ll bypass the gritty details of how we achieved our E. coli-rich sample, but the upshot of it all is that SODIS has been super effective at eliminating fecal coliforms. This is great news!

While we’ve been busy with our projects, we’ve found some time to have fun as well. Yesterday morning, before Kevin, Dahms and I headed to Kigoma for a short meeting with JGI and to run errands, we jogged to the nearby soccer field to play Frisbee. As Tuesday is a market day, numerous people passed us on their way to the market, slowing or stopping to watch our crazy antics. In the evenings we’ve continued to play Karata Moja, but have also become interested in stargazing. Not that we know any of the Southern Hemisphere constellations (although Dahms claims to see Orion’s belt and his bow and arrow…), but we’re having fun making up our own and looking for shooting stars.

Unfortunately our work ethic and fun breaks have been dampened by many of us feeling under the weather the past few days. Perhaps the fact that we haven’t had a day off in over 10 days is catching up to us… Everyone in this group is a trouper though and we’re pushing on through the weekend. With one final push of meetings, presentations, and last minute tests, we’ll finally be able to go to Gombe and Mwamgongo next week.


  1. didn't realize you guys were working with ritta and tuma again! tell them i said hi! also i can't believe the road through Burundi has been paved...

  2. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to write these interesting, informative and humorous blogs! They help keep us somewhat involved in your daily activities and understand what life in Kalinzi has been like this summer. It sounds like you're allowing for some fun soon,'s well deserved! Keep posting when you can. And, as always, be safe!