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Fuel for Thought: trouble with language

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Emily and James packing our kiln with wood shavings to do a burn.

Emily and James packing our kiln with wood shavings to do a burn.

Communicating with Tanzanians who speak limited English is a tricky balance between talking down to people and expecting too much of an understanding of English. Heat measurement devices, for instance, are difficult to explain. We were preparing to light our kiln on Friday while a VICOBA meeting took place in the other corner of the yard. Our activity around the kiln proved too much of a fascinating distracting for the meeting attendees and we were soon surrounded by a small and curious crowed. One man began asking questions about our work; what are you doing? Is that going to light? What is this for? We tried to answer as many questions as we could, assisted by Tim, one of our Dutch housemates who has taken an interested in our briquetting work and knows all about the work we do.

“What is that?” asked the man, pointing to our heat sensors that we were inserting into the wood shavings.

“That’s for measuring temperature,” explains Tim. A blank look. “To see how hot. For heat. Like a thermometer? It tells you how much heat there is. Like, uh, how warm?” Gesturing with his hands he trails off. This isn’t getting anywhere. “Ok,” take two. “So this is measuring how much heat—”

“Oh, thermocouple. Ok,” the man says nodding. Way to whip out that terminology. I swear Tim’s jaw hit the ground. He looked quite taken aback. “Yep. That would be it. That would be the technical term.” Turning to me, “Yeah, didn’t see that one coming. Thermocouple.” Priceless.

At dinner that night, Tim told the story to the group to much laughter. “But Tim,” says Tucker. “The thermocouples say thermocouple right on them, right on the side in bold letters.” Well then. Does this make the interaction better? I don’t know but I’m still giggling.

Besides our attempts to communicate in English and Swahili which have been to varying degrees of success, we have had a very productive week. Sunday began a full working week for us. We now have the tanuru up and reliably running (horray!). We do a burn about every day now and produce about a 20% yield of charcoal. Basically, if we put in 17 kg of sawdust or wood shavings, we can press upwards of 300 briquettes. Slowly but surely we are covering the EARD-CI yard in drying briquettes. At the end of last week we put our stash of dry briquettes to use by giving a few batches to two of the groups we’re working with, Vision 4 Youth and the Upendo group in Moivaro. Tucker and I brought the briquette batch to V4Y on Thursday for them to test themselves so they could begin thinking about pricing. But perhaps more exciting, we also gave V4Y a grant to begin their briquetting business. We just funded a start-up. That’s wicked cool. This week we will return to V4Y to help them build their very own kiln so they can start fuel production. Both we and they are very excited to finally start the physical work.

Tucker assisting with a briquette pressing demonstration with V4Y. We've since stopped using the hammer press in favor of the more powerful compound lever press; it's just as awkward as it looks.

Tucker assisting with a briquette pressing demonstration with V4Y. We've since stopped using the hammer press in favor of the more powerful compound lever press; it's just as awkward as it looks.

In total, we are currently working with four groups in the Aursha region in relation to briquetting: EMORG, the Upendo group in Moivaro, a VICOBA group, and Vision 4 Youth. EMORG (http://emorg.blogspot.com/) is an organization dedicated to providing educational resources to students in Kisongo area just outside of Arusha. A month ago we helped them paint their library and since then we’ve talked with the leader of the organization, Didas, several times. Didas, knowing about the work we do with briquetting, mentioned that he knew a few local women who would be interested in briquetting. So this past week Tucker and James headed over to the EMORG library and held a session for some of the EMORG personal as well as several local woman. The big accomplishment of the day was the construction of a brick kiln for EMORG; with so many people to help, it only took 2 hours to build! We’ll return next week to go through a full kiln burn with the women and press some briquettes.

The Upendo group is a small group of woman which DHE has worked with in the past. Their previous attempt at briquetting was unsuccessful but they are eager to learn what new briquetting technology we have to teach them. Last Friday, Tucker and Emily dropped of hundreds of briquettes with Sossy to pass on to the Upendo group so that they might test the briquettes and decide whether they’d like to try making their own again with the new recipe we’ve been testing, charcoal and cassava. The briquettes were warmly received (by everyone except the unfortunate cat which happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was stepped on, quite by accident, by Tucker. Ouch.) and the women are excited to put them to the test.

Lastly, the Lulu VICOBA is a group of woman which DHE has worked with in the past. EARD-CI oversees many VICOBA groups which are small community banks. When we visited the Lulu VICOBA last Monday, we discovered that the woman had been briquetting since the last group of DHE students trained them last summer. Quite exciting news. We’ll return later next week to see them briquetting in action!

After a full working week, we took some time this weekend to relax try the touristy side of Arusha. On Friday we defied all American stereotypes and won a trivia game at a fundraising night to raise funds for EMORG. Ok, so we Americans won the first two rounds and then we were joined by our European friends for the last few rounds. And maybe we were 16 people on the team when the other teams only had 4 or 6 members. But hey, it was fun. And the questions were in English; no translating required.

Lala fofofo! Sleep well!

 

Previously in this series:

Fuel for Thought: Travels in Tanzania
Fuel for Thought: Biomass to Briquettes

Rachel Margolese About the Author: We are four students from Dartmouth College working in Tanzania to promote capacity building of cheap and sustainable cooking fuel. We are a part of the student-lead group Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) which focus on providing ecologically and socially viable energy sources through the creation of fuel briquettes in the Arusha region of Tanzania. Follow on Twitter @HumanitarianEng.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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