A day building rocket stoves

18th August 2013

Quote 1b

Quote 1bOn a typical day, we’d wake up at 7am to the sound of the school children singing. Breakfast was prepared by the Walinzi (the guards for the day responsible for keeping friendly children out of our campsite). Porridge with raisins, sugar and jam.

Then we’d check our boots for African critters, divide into two teams and set off to Matipwili to make stoves.

Most days, we had a vague idea of where we needed to go, but a lot of the time it was just a small tap on the shoulder by a local with the cry “mazungo” (foreigner) or “jiko” (stove). We had limited knowledge when it came to Swahili but with a few key phrases we understood enough to get by.

In our groups, we had the building process down to a tee. Some dug mud for the cement whilst others arranged and carved up bricks to do the stove design. Whether that was the standard two-hole Raleigh stove or the more premium edition, the Alpha 5 “small hold, big hole” design.


We came back from a hard morning covered head-to-toe with splatters of mud and cow dung to a pre-prepared lunch and hopefully a nice tidy campsite. This was very dependent on the morning activities of the Walinzi.

Anyone who had previously been on trek was very fond of the now hot lunch of noodles and beans, and a nice brew – a welcome change from the crackers!

A few games, a trip to town or sometimes a small nap during the midday heat and we were all ready to go out and make more jikos for those who had requested them in the morning.

Walking around the town was great fun, if you weren’t on wheelbarrow duty, you were usually enveloped with children shouting your name and crawling over you like ants. One particular activity that they enjoyed was standing on your feet, holding your hands and walking with you like a puppet.


Throughout this phase we had plenty of ‘reflecting time’, a chance for us, during an afternoon break or at night in the army tents, to relate back to our experiences of the previous day and realise our accomplishments. It was incredible to think that an hour of our day spent building a simple two-hole rocket stove could have such a vast impact on one less fortunate family who would walk for hours to collect enough firewood for their less economical three-stone fire.

You tend to appreciate those small things in life when living with the bare necessities – without spending time on a phone, spending a night on a comfy mattress or buying a microwave meal. Without these ‘wants’ and only the ‘needs’ such as water, a place to sleep and clothes to wear etc, we truly felt part of the community. Apart from the expendable income we personally brought, we spent a prolonged amount of time living a similar lifestyle to the locals.

After returning from a day of rocket stove-building our two teams collapsed on the tarp to compare pictures of the stoves they’d built… Sometimes, it got a bit competitive! Then, some of the eager boys decided to participate in the daily local football match whereas others sat and played with the local kids or chatted to the Maasai that visited us sporadically.

A particularly memorable moment was when we were talking to a boy of about fourteen or fifteen about science, in particular chemistry, using diagrams in the sand to overcome the language barrier.

The Walinzi usually cooked a more elaborate dinner using local ingredients. At times, they experimented using knowledge of local cooking methods, such as chapatti or chip-making, plus the occasional treat with a British twist, for example caramelised onions and homemade sugar jam doughnuts.

After dinner, we relaxed, told stories and played games under the stars with the intermittent wailing of the call to prayer from somewhere in town. We also visited the market which, due to Ramadan, was far more alive at night.Quote 2b

Then, sleep. Night!

Next up, an update from last phase's intrepid trekkers...