the other day (friday) when chris was here, we decided to build a mud stove. i learned this skill back during PST (or was it IST?) and have been meaning to do this in the village but it is a lot of work to collect materials and therefore never got around to it. but since chris was here, he managed to convince me and the women were looking forward to having a mud stove so chris and i spent a day collecting and preparing materials. this required us to go to the old swimming hole (that is now dried up) and collecting 2.5 bennoirs (a bennoir is a really big bucket) of clay and me putting it on my head and carrying it all the way back to the compound. that stuff is heavy!!! i was exhausted. it had to be "clay soil" so we sat there for 2 hours -- me with a hammer, chris with a big rock -- breaking big chunks of clay up into little pieces. at one point chris asked, "isn't this what they do in prison? take this big rock and give me smaller rocks." i seem to recall that nelson mandela did some work like this on robben island so i'm glad that he and i have could have a slightly similiar experience in life.
after that it was 1 bennoir of dry horse manure (also a thrill to break into smaller pieces). i managed to breath in too deeply and got a bunch of manure dust up my nose and down my throat. then it was 1 bennoir of millet chaff (the leftover from when the women pound the millet heads). we then mixed it up, added a bennoir of water, and i got to stomp around in it -- which i found was quite beneficial to my dry feet (like a quickie spa!) -- until it was all muddy and squishy. we set some rice sacks over it and let it sit overnight.
the next morning we built the oven. first i had to cut off the unopened end of a tomato can, so i learned how to use a manual can opener on my pocket knife (after 23 years of life i finally know how to use a manual can opener) and cut it off. then i realized the can was far too small (the can is for where you enter the firewood) and had wasted a perfectly good can and had to run all around the village looking for one. finally yaay fatou (always to my rescue) asked me what i was looking for her and when i told her, dug around her boutique and found me one that was big enough. so we built the oven and now it sits and dries for two weeks and then the women can use it. since the clay insulates the pot and keeps in the heat, the use of a mud stove should decrease wood consumption by as much as 30-40%. it's pretty cool and i've been meaning to build one for the family for a while. my neighbor has already requested one (though i think i'll have to make the condition that materials be collected and arranged before i come and build). the women are pretty excited about -- they had one once (probably built by the peace corps volunteer who started my site -- he lived with talla's dad in another village) but it broke. hopefully this one stays together for some time.
the kitchen hut is pretty dark so i couldn't get a proper picture but i'll try again when the women can finally use it. ours isn't as big as the one in the illustration above but it's still pretty nice.