Saturday, April 19, 2008
The estufa lorena is an energy-efficient wood-burning stove which uses less wood to cook than the common fire cooking. You create an enclosed box with a chimney which is an improvement over the regular "fogón," which is an open fire on a mud table. One balances a pot on three rocks and both the kitchen and one´s lungs fill with smoke. "Estufa" means "stove" and "lorena" comes from a combination of the words "lodo," which means "mud" and "arena," which means sand. One can create a mixture similar to concrete from materials found in nature. That is one of the beautiful ideas behind the estufa lorena.
Migdalia and her husband Marciano improved their house this summer and I was thrilled when Migdalia told me she wanted a lorena stove so the smoke would no longer enter the house. I invited Matt and Lisa,
a Peace Corps couple that also lives in Veraguas, to my community to help me with the project. We made plans a month in advance because estufa lorenas MUST be built in the dry season to dry.
Long story short. . .the estufa lorena is usually built in one day but my friends and I labored for three days and almost abandoned the project on the second day. I kept laughing at our misfortune over the weekend wondering what more could go wrong. Matt and Lisa suggested that we could use the experience for job interviews when we are asked to describe a situation in which we have faced many difficulties.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Matt and Lisa arrived Thursday afternoon. We went to visit Migdalia, who had bags of earth, sand, and dried cow manure redy for the next day.
Dominga had arranged all of the mothers of the pre-school class to come and help and learn the next day. We were only missing the rectangular wooden form into which we would pack the earth. Vidal´s wife, from the town below, assured me that day Vidal would come to help and bring the form the next day. So I did not buy boards from the sawmill while I was down there. Matt, Lisa, and I talked about going down the hill to get them but it was already getting dark. We enjoyed dinner and conversation instead.
FRIDAY, DAY #1
The women showed up and we sifted all of the materials. Vidal did not. He had gotten work for the day. He sent four sacks of earth up in a car but not the form. Lisa walked 40 minutes to get them, in which time she saw two poisonous snakes--a coral
and a big, aggressive, black Equis snake which chased her. She sent it tumbling down the hill with a well-aimed rock. The form was too heavy to carry. She returned to us two hours later without the form and shaken by the snake encounters.
Dominga, the pastora of one of the two Evangelical churches donated a bench to the project. Matt commented that he felt guilty because he is Irish Catholic. The women left one-by-one. Matt fashioned a form out of the church bench while the remaining women and girls sifted more materials.
I went to my house for purified water (for the gringos to avoid parasites) when the form was finished and work could begin. I returned 20 minutes later to find that the base table had buckled under the force of compressing the materials (smashing and beating, really) and broken. We spent the next two hours scratching our heads to come up with solutions. Repair the table? Build the stove under the table to sit even with the top? We decided to create a new base and to put the stove in another corner of the kitchen.
There were still no sturdy boards in my town so Matt built a chicken wire frame which we were going to fill with rocks and dirt. I am sure many of you have seen that construction on hillsides for erosion control. It was getting dark and the base was getting too wide. We went home basically defeated.
SATURDAY, DAY #2
Lisa discovered a nest of carpenter ants in my kitchen cupboard in the morning. We had to remove everything. I covered my dishes and food with a tarp and sprayed the entire cabinet with insecticide.
Matt, Lisa, and I still struggled with the rock base and chicken wire. Could we get boards from down the hill? Remember what happened yesterday? After a layer or two of rocks was in Migdalia suggested that we dig down to sink the rocks and make it sturdier. The only people working were Matt, Lisa, and myself. No one from the community. We were all frustrated and tired.
I put my rock wall-building skills to work.
I built rock walls for trail projects when I was in EarthCorps www.earthcorps.org in Seattle. There was no wood but Migdalia´s yard was FILLED with rocks. I walked around with big rocks and fitted them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Sweat poured off my brow and people who were not helping would come to watch and to offer suggestions. I grumbled in English.
When the base was the right height we found that the form was too big for the base. Matt began to take apart the frame. I went for a walk/break. (Actually, I petted two dogs.) Matt accidentally broke my hammer as soon as I was gone. They all laughed because the table had broken the day before the moment I walked away.
Matt rebuilt the frame to the minimal size. The ladies (Migdalia, Lisa, and I) rebuilt the back wall of our rock base, widening it. We finished the day placing the finished form on top of the finished rock base.
Matt and Lisa were originally (and throughout frustrating Saturday) planning to leave on Sunday. We were talking about leaving Migdalia and Marciano directions on how to build the estufa lorena. Lisa decided at the last moment that she wanted to see the project through.
That´s when Vidal showed up with the form, 30 hours late! He tried to place his form on top of the base instead of ours. Then he offered suggestions about other things we could have done for the base. Migdalia gave him a hard time for not coming on Friday. It started to rain and I walked home alone to drink a glass of wine. My kitchen still smelled like insecticide.
That night after a relaxing dinner we found ourselves locked out of the house! (The house and kitchen have separate entrances.) I went to my landlords´house for the key but both of them were out of town! The parents could not find the spare keys in the house. I almost fell asleep on the armchair, waiting in the dark.
Six people came back with me to help me break into my house. We talked about where we might sleep otherwise. Luckily, Hernán got us in and a sleepover was unnecessary.
SUNDAY, DAY #3
We started mixing the pre-sifted materials with water and packed them into the form.
Vidal, Migdalia, and Marciano all helped. We finished packing the form around noon. Just three hours of work!
Matt and Lisa found a ride out of town so we carved the holes for the pots, chimney, and firebox and smoothed out all the surfaces and edges for another hour.
I filled all the rock wall gaps with lorena mixture with Migdalia and two kids. The project was beautiful and FINISHED!