Over the last several weeks, I have been trying to build efficient stoves in the community. The average stove, used for up to 8 hours of cooking every day, is a small table with bricks forming a U and maybe a few iron bars on top in order to hold the pots in place. This design has quite a few flaws: it constantly burns wood without capturing the heat and produces lots of smoke as a result of incomplete combustion of the wood. The food usually tastes smoky, which can be an advantage or not depending on what is cooking. Fires are usually started by burning plastic bags or other flammable bits of garbage. Depending on the placement, the entire kitchen can be covered in a thick layer of soot, sometimes an inch thick or more. I can only imagine the health effects from standing over such a stove for hours a day.
The model designed in collaboration with the Peace Corps and USAID has a small combustion chamber and is enclosed to capture a large percentage of the heat being emitted. It has, over the chamber, a concrete slab with a hole in it big enough for a pot. The smoke and heat then passes to another slightly higher slab that has 2 holes, one for a second container, and one for a chimney. This design allows for less wood burning and higher temperatures, as the chimney forms a draft and sucks more oxygen into the closed system. A new stove can eliminate time and money spent on firewood. Money saved adds up quickly, as many people can burn lots of wood a day.
I have had a little bit of difficulty in the last weeks in terms of construction. The stove requires a sturdy base, and few people have an adequate table to build on. That being said, the town has not been able to harvest their products yet, so few people have enough money to afford one. So, in that light, I have only been able to construct three stoves to this point.
Other than that, I have had a great time winding my time down and going around the country visiting various sites. Recently, I have been to the Atlantic Coast, where small communities of English speaking former slaves and buccaneers live, where a few volunteers live. It’s way far away from the rest of the country, and has until now been very separate from the rest of the country. Normal Pacific Coast Nicaraguans are referred by the Creoles as “Spanards” and have been mistrusted for a long time. During the Contra war, there was lots of resistance to the FSLN in the area, as they did not see a place for them in the new government.
I also have recently gone on two volcano hikes in Leon, which brings my total to 8 out of 14 in the main chain of the country. The first, Volcan Telica, was during the full moon and solstice, where we got to the top in time to see the moon rise and reflect off Lake Managua. Later in the night, we saw some lava in the bottom of the crater cracking and reforming under a thick haze of rising gases. The next hike was a few days ago, and with 17 other people, we hiked to the base for 6 k, and then we hiked to 1088 m in the next 6 k. The next day, we went 14 k to a small lagoon for a swim before hiking out to the road and hitching a ride to the bus stop. Now, we have a “Close of Service” conference in a fancy hotel and a meeting in Managua which will keep me out of site for a week.
Overall, service is definitely wrapping up in tangible and intangible ways. I am trying to get the stoves done, but after that, I can not seek funding for another project in my time here. People have been asking me either to donate or sell my stuff(although it has picked up, someone asked me for my bed within weeks of me buying it). Up for grabs is my bed, stove, table, chair, silverware, some games and other knickknacks that I will not be bringing home. Nicaraguans have a thousand ways of asking for money or other favors, so it has been interesting to hear the reasons any particular person should get an item. For example, a neighbor that I have only said hi to in passing stopped me the other day and told me that she was going to kill a chicken for a going away party, and what was I doing with my bed?