What an incredible two weeks it was. Surrounded by inspiring, service-minded friends, old and new, in a city where we already feel quite at home. Taken into the beautiful home of the heroic Jayesh and Anar Patel, where we were treated as family. Privileged to be on hand to witness the birth of Seva Café. Fortunate to be handed small projects that allowed us to feel an ever deeper connection to the people of Ahmedabad.
As our time in Ahmedabad grew short, my thoughts increasingly turned to our upcoming trip to Darfur, Sudan, to see if we can introduce high-efficiency cookstoves to the refugee camps, where the women expose themselves to the risk of rape and mutilation should they be caught by the Janjeweed militia while foraging for fuel outside the safety of the camps. In part, starting to think again about stoves was inspired by walking through the slums and seeing the wide variety of wood-burning cookstoves, chullas, in use.
Yesterday evening, in the last of our remaining hours in Ahmedabad, Jayesh-bhai arranged for us to meet with ten widows in Ramapir no Tekro, Ahmedabad’s vast slum, to talk about their chullas. As I explained to them, with the help of Jayesh-bhai’s translation:
Yoo-Mi-ben and I will soon be traveling to Africa, to a place that has seen terrible war. The women of this place are now living away from their homes, in special camps to protect them. Firewood is extremely scarce around the camps. We hope to help them build chullas that will allow them to cook with less wood. By teaching Yoo-Mi-ben and me about the chullas you make and use, and helping us to understand more, you are giving a very special gift to these women in Africa.
It was a heartbreakingly beautiful experience to see these women, who exist from day-to-day by ragpicking, manifest their desire to help women they will never know, an ocean away.
They demonstrated a variety of stove designs, all based in mud-and-dung construction. Some of the chullas were simple hibachi-like structures; others involved the application of mud to metal objects (like buckets) or ceramic pottery, for durability and refinement of shape. Having mixed up a batch of clay-mud before our arrival, the women set to work showing us how the chullas are fabricated.
Not all the information we obtained seemed reliable, and most of the designs do little or nothing to enhance fuel efficiency or reduce carbon monoxide and smoke emissions; but they all produced stable, easy-to-cook-on stoves. At least in terms of usability, these chullas were an improvement over the three-stone fire.
At the end of the evening, Anar-ben and the women made rotla (millet chipattis), served with fresh butter and pieces of jaggery. (Ironically, they cooked over a three-stone, since the chullas they had fabricated wouldn’t be flame-ready for another three days, until the mud cured.) It was on of the most delicious, and certainly most memorable meals I will ever have eaten. Ahmedabad’s other Seva Café.