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Mud-Slinging Rocket Scientists & Witch Doctors

Updated: Sep 13, 2018

There’s a difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’.

Families in Uganda these days may want a television, but they need efficient, environmentally sound, faster, cheaper, less health-damaging ways of cooking (which may take up around 6 hours of the typical day).

Fortunately, women here don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

If something here needs doing, they get on with it. If they need something at home and they can’t afford to buy it, they find a way to make it.

So, an afternoon of learning how to make rocket-stoves was scheduled.

That meant starting with a pile of clay, mud & anthill that had been hammered together brutally and left to mature over the previous 2-3 days.

The mud was mixed with a little dried grass / banana leaves to add some fibre.

Next, a mould was required. Nothing sophisticated here. A banana pole will do.

Cut the pole in 2 pieces (these girls can handle a knife!).

Then, as usually happens when a bunch of fiesty women get together, the mud-slinging starts.

Oops – did I say that out loud?

The banana pole is used as a ‘former’ to create a hole in the side of the stove through which air will be drawn into the bottom if the fire-grate. The hole from the banana pole doesn’t go all the way through the base of the fire as air is only drawn in through one narrow opening on one side.

Mud is thrown with some venom at the pole, to ensure it is well compacted.

The banana leaves are wrapped round the poles to ensure the poles can be removed later without damaging the mud shape.

Time for a bit more mud-slinging girls.

Margaret (the woman in the blue skirt) is the main instructor within this team of rowdy jokers.

For some years now she has been a preacher at the church in Kajwenge village. She’s a bright, articulate, friendly but fairly sober woman.

That wasn’t always the case (sober, at least). As she is happy to explain, until she became involved with the church and the AWU community she was one of the area’s main manufacturers of ‘moonshine’ or any other booze she could make from what she grew in her garden, and a rather well known Witch-Doctor!

Once the correct amount of mud has been slung, start shaping the stove…

Then remove the top banana pole and start to level the top.

The metal bars that form the grate of the fire are at the bottom of the hole, on top of the remaining banana pole.

Smooth the outside of the fire body and the inside of the fire well.

It’s thirsty work, 30 degrees in the shade and 87% humidity.

Make three ‘sausages’ of clay and mould them into the top of the fire as a pot stand

Continue smoothing the fire surface with a wet knife blade and leaves. Leave the bottom banana pole in place until the clay has dried, or the fire will collapse.

Test the pot stand for size. Stand back, admire your work and continue clowning around.

When the latecomers arrive, tell them how much fun you’ve had, how easy it was, and what they’ve missed.

The clay stove should be made on a hessian mat or a tarpaulin so that it can be moved. Don’t move it yet, it will break. Cover it to protect it from the weather and leave it to partially dry for 3-4 days. Then, using a stick, make a couple of holes in the side to increase the draw of the fire, lift it and put it somewhere warm to dry for a further week.

Finally, mix a small amount of paste made from Casava or potato leaves and water and rub it into the outside surfaces to seal the clay.

Your Rocket Stove is ready to use.

The girls made 2 stoves, and had a good laugh, over a 3-hour period one afternoon.

There is such demand for them (they’re cleaner, quicker, safer and use 50% less fuel than traditional fires) that the AWU women’s co-op group in Bwera had made a bunch of them and are selling them to others.

It’s been a great month working with the Amaha We Uganda team in Kasese and ‘The Mountains of The Moon’.

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