Something’s Cooking in Ndorong-Sereer

For many villages in Senegal, cooking is a balancing act; a large cast-iron pot precariously poised atop three misshapen stones over a dancing open flame. Much of the heat is wasted, dissipating into the enclosed cooking hut instead of tightly directed at the bottom of the pot. This inefficiency requires more wood and more time spent cooking in a smoke-filled room. Every day, women venture further and further into the neighboring protected forest to harvest a rapidly diminishing supply of dead wood. The law forbids people from cutting living, or “wet”, trees, but when the supply is scarce, what other option is available?

There are, however, ways to reduce the fuel load and the amount smoke while cooking in the same amount of time or less by using improved cook stoves. There are prefabricated portable iron stoves for sale in larger cities, but a high up front cost often dissuades people (especially men who don’t collect firewood, don’t cook, and don’t sit in a room saturated with smoke three times a day, but who have tight control over the finances) from purchasing them. Clay stoves, entirely free and made with local materials, appear to be a more enticing alternative.

In February, I accompanied four very motivated women from my village, Mariama Diouf, Ami Diouf, Haddie Ngom, and Kumba Diouf, to the CREATE! center in Fass Barigo where we learned to make clay stoves. The stoves are inspired by the three stone cooking method, but built to fully enclose the cooking pot. This concentrates heat of the fire to the pot while significantly reducing the amount of wood needed in the three-stone method. Since less wood is being burned and the wood is being burned at a higher temperature, cooking with the clay stove also produces less smoke. In the training, the technicians did an awesome job in demonstrating how to build the cook stoves and after the lesson, we were able to build one by ourselves.

Upon returning to the village, the women set right to work in collecting materials and inviting their friends over to learn how to construct the stoves for themselves. If a woman wants a stove, she collects the materials beforehand and helps out building a stove at another compound. When it’s her turn, the original four women, those who want a stove and those who built the last stove come by to help. After the stove is built, she goes on to help construct a new stove the next compound. Below are photos of the stove-making process and the women with their finished stoves.

Millet chaff sifted to separate the chaff from the fibrous stalk. A medium sized stove requires around two large buckets of sifted chaff. Millet chaff is found in huge piles in the field where women winnow the grains from the chaff.

Millet chaff sifted to separate the chaff from the fibrous stalk. A medium sized stove requires around two large buckets of sifted chaff. Millet chaff is found in huge piles in the field where women winnow the grains from the chaff.

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Clumps of clay are dug from the clay quarry nearby the village. The clumps are then pounded until fine like sand.

Clumps of clay are dug from the clay quarry nearby the village. The clumps are then pounded until fine like sand.

A bucket of sand, a bucket of millet chaff, and a bucket of clay and many enthusiastic hands are essential ingredients for a clay stove.

A bucket of sand, a bucket of millet chaff, and a bucket of clay and many enthusiastic hands are essential ingredients for a clay stove.

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Women vigorously mixing the chaff, sand, and clay. Adding water and mixing until evenly moist. Its important that the mixture not be too wet or else the stove could topple over. Once adequately moist, the mixture is made into ball form to be pressed down around the mold of the pot.

Women vigorously mixing the chaff, sand, and clay. Adding water and mixing until evenly moist. Its important that the mixture not be too wet or else the stove could topple over. Once adequately moist, the mixture is made into ball form to be pressed down around the mold of the pot.

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The rock is levelled to the appropriate height depending on the size of the pot. One hand with thumb up for a small pot (2 kilo), two hands thumbs down for medium size pot (4 kilo), two hands with thumb up for large pot (7 kilo).

The rock is levelled to the appropriate height depending on the size of the pot. One hand with thumb up for a small pot (2 kilo), two hands thumbs down for medium size pot (4 kilo), two hands with thumb up for large pot (7 kilo).

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The stones are spaced evenly seven finger lengths apart from each other. The pot is then balanced on top of the stones. The stove will be constructed form-fitting  the stones and pot.

The stones are spaced evenly seven finger lengths apart from each other. The pot is then balanced on top of the stones. The stove will be constructed form-fitting the stones and pot.

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The clay balls are pressed down hands width from the stones. The clay is layered until its two finger distance from the lip of the pot.

The clay balls are pressed down hands width from the stones. The clay is layered until its two finger distance from the lip of the pot.

Haddie Ngom (left), Ami Diouf (center), and Mariama Diouf (right) nearly finished with a stove. The base and smoke holes remain.

Haddie Ngom (left), Ami Diouf (center), and Mariama Diouf (right) nearly finished with a stove. The base and smoke holes remain.

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Finishing the base, a single layer of pressed clay, and cutting the smoke holes.

Finishing the base, a single layer of pressed clay, and cutting the smoke holes. Nearly finished!!

The ladies and the finished clay stove. From left to right; Mariama Diouf, Ami Diouf, Haddie Ngom, Seera Ndiaye, Hoija Diouf, Ya Fatou Saar (my host mother)

The ladies and the finished clay stove. From left to right; Mariama Diouf, Ami Diouf, Haddie Ngom, Haddie Diouf, Hoija Diouf, Ya Fatou Saar (my host mother)

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Thus far, the women have completed thirty cook stoves and there are many more to come. I'm so proud of all of them and their hard work!

Thus far, the women have completed thirty cook stoves and there are many more to come. I’m so proud of all of them and their hard work!

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3 comments on “Something’s Cooking in Ndorong-Sereer

  1. Greg Grant says:

    This is totally awesome

  2. Mom says:

    Love it! Great job ladies!!

  3. Maureen Goldsmith says:

    What an incredible achievement. I love the decorations on the ovens.

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