|the traditional three stone fire stove (with an additional wind break) on the left and the new rocket stove on the right|
Earlier in the month of March, I decided to check up once again on the stove to see how things were coming along. Heading over in the evening, I was sadly greeted by an abandoned rocket stove and next to it, a three stove fire burning happily with a pot of beans atop it. No one from the family was in sight of the stove so I knocked on the door. Two young girls that I recognized as the cooks of the house emerged looking a bit nervous. After doing the usual greetings I began to question them about their preference for the open, three-stone fire stove as opposed to the rocket stove. Having to re-phrase my questions a couple times to get the answers I needed I finally understood their reasons for abandoning the rocket stove. To begin with, the rocket stove requires much more attention during cooking than the open fire. The space to place the fuel wood is small, which enhances the efficiency of the combustion but also requires the cook to hang around feeding the fire with smaller pieces of wood. Clearly it was easier for the girls to put a huge hunk of wood in the open fire, set up their pot, and forget about it. After a long day at school, they were more inclined to spend time socializing as opposed to hanging around a stove feeding a fire. The rocket stove also required fuel wood of a certain shape and size. Given that the children are responsible for fetching firewood and this task can take up to five hours at a time, the children weren’t too picky in which pieces of wood they brought home as long as they finished their chore in the shortest amount of time. The girls insisted they used the rocket stove for meals that take a short time to cook and they proudly stated they cooked chapatis (a flat bread and staple of Kenyan cuisine) on the rocket stove. When questioned as to how often they cooked chapatis, they admitted to once a year, when they are given chapati flour for Christmas (chapati flour is relatively expensive). Given that their diet consists mainly of maize and beans, ingredients that take an excruciatingly long time to cook, their explanations implied that the rocket stove went pretty much unused.
Disappointed by the result, I was happy to learn about their cooking needs and preferences of the household and how each stove worked (or didn’t work) for the household’s lifestyle. The rocket stove completely ignored these factors in the design and this is probably part of the reason why they are difficult to implement and fail after a period of time. As I walked away, I thought to myself, instead of designing new stoves for the families it may be worthwhile instead to refurbish the current stoves the families use to improve their efficiency, safety and environmental impact. Yet another project for volunteers to explore in the village!