April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Estufa Lorena - the first fire

We recently made an Estufa Lorena or earthen stove with Cecilia and Eduardo. We were pretty excited about it and that made waiting the 30 days for it to dry pretty hard for those of us who are impatient at times (who? me? never!). Luckily, our many guests came along and being guides for them took our minds off of the stove...and before we knew it the time for lighting the stove was here.


Cecilia and her family did a fabulous job taking care of the stove while it was drying. They did layers of mud and later ash every two or three days as directed on the calendar that we made them to follow. That ability to follow directions is rare in any community, but spectacular here. As a result of their daily work, the stove was beautiful. It looked almost like cement and was wonderfully smooth and dry. Unknown to us, Cecilia had carved our initials into the front of it very prominently to remember us as she uses the stove. Of course, that just upped the ante on hoping the darn thing worked well.Below is a view of the inside of the firebox (admittedly not the prettiest view) which allows you to see the upward slant of the smoke tunnel as it heads to the second burner. This style of stove uses the hot air for 2 or 3 pots to get the most efficient use of the wood being burned. In the back you can see bits of the original brown clay that she did not cover.Here is the firebox with a fire in it. Getting it to burn well took some practice, Cecilia is used to really packing in the wood (because normally the fire is in an open area) but this smothered the fire a bit in the stove. You can see the pot on the burner, positioned just above the main body of the fire. Despite good pot placement we had a hard time getting the pot to boil...it formed little bubbles on the bottom but never reached a rolling boil. Not having a rolling boil is a problem, without it no woman would be happy with this stove. We decided that we needed to adjust 3 things:
  1. Sand the indents where the pot sits for a better flush seal between pot and stove (and less smoke would escape too).
  2. Make the burner holes bigger to allow more heat passage to the pot. This limits how small a pot she can use, but made the rolling boil possible.
  3. Adjust the angle of the roof of the firebox to slope inwards so the smoke would head towards the back and the chimney...not out the mouth of the firebox.

In a true show of self motivation, Cecilia did all of these changes while we were out of town...unheard of! She did a wonderful job...even adding clay to the mouth of the stove in a test to see if that helps to limit the blowback when the wind changes direction. She is an amazing woman. The best part is, after the changes she got the ultimate reward: seeing her changes make her stove work better...she got a rolling boil and cooked her first pot of rice with it.

We were able to use the photo above to illustrate that you can use smaller diameter wood effectively with this stove. The wood on the left is the size she would normally use...a bit bigger than my wrist. The wood on the right is smaller, about the size of my thumb. Both can be used, but normally they would not bother to collect the smaller stuff which is typically blown down rather than cut down.
Below is Kevin with the stove that first burn day...note the temperary chimney. They will make a permanent chimney when they finish the new roof (hopefully before rainy season!). Having only a temporary chimney has served well to illustrate how much better the stove works with a chimney. Cecilia is excited about cooking without so much smoke and heat. This could be a good life change for her, and if anyone can take care of this stove and make it last for 20 years it is her.


So what is next? Well, tenemos ganas (we have the desire) to make a stove at the school where the mothers cry from the smoke and sweat from the heat almost every day as they cook lunch. But community development means you do what the community wants to do to better themselves. With that in mind we have a meeting at Cecilia's house on March 5th with the mothers who do the cooking at the shool. The goal is to show them the stove, explain what it is, how we made it, and what are the pros and cons of this type of stove...and then ask if they want one and will work with us to build it with them. I think that they will want one...I mean it is cheap, cooler, safer, no smoke, and less wood to burn. But vamos a ver (we will see) what they want and go from there.

1 comment:

Ginna said...

Yeah, Cecilia!!! From here in the states that stove looks like a great accomplishment. Congratulations to all of you who worked on it -- and please pass this along to Cecilia. Let her know she has made an impression on those of us this far away. I hope she enjoys cooking on it.
Ginna