Lost in Translation

Tekro Chulas

Individual Chula

“Can we visit some women in the Tekro one afternoon to see how they use their stoves and have them teach us why they like the particular stove that they use? Perhaps we can visit three or four women in their homes and see them cook their meal. This will teach us a lot about usability and features for our stove project in Sudan.”

Somehow that request got translated into: invite 10 women to the construction site of the soon-to-be community center being built by Manav Sadhna and have them build us 10 different kinds of stoves. What a mad house! We were a little bit late getting to the community center, and the women (and everyone else in the Tekro that didn’t have something better to do, particularly the children) were already squatting beside a pile of cement (that they’d taken from the construction site), sand, donkey dung and clay, raring to go. As soon as we arrived, they rushed to start, competing with each other to make their designs the fastest and most beautiful. The children also got into the act, building miniature models that they continued to show us, hoping that we’d take their picture.

There were stoves made just of the cement/sand/donkey dung/clay mixture, some made using three bricks as a U-shaped base on which this mixture was formed, some made by packing the mixture on metal (two different ready-made stoves and one transformed metal bucket), some by forming the mixture on the base of a pre-fired ceramic pot, some using a cement flower pot as the base.

It was difficult to get much information from these women. You’d ask a question and seven voices would answer, four of those from the men hanging around. (The best answer was: “Just take me with you and I’ll show the women in Sudan how to make these stoves.”) Other women came around as well, wanting to know why they weren’t invited to participate, so they were welcomed to build a stove. A new bride came by, to get blessings from Jayeshbhai, Anarben, Ishwarbhai (Jayesh’s father), me and Mark. Still other women came to help make rotis after the stoves were done. A hammock was strung up for a sick baby. One woman who was unable to participate slept off her fever under cover of her sari on a raised platform nearby.

In the past, when we’d walked into the Tekro to see different projects (toilets, the community center in progress, the health center, informal schools, etc.), we had no particular agenda of our own. Now that we were trying to learn and document something, it was quite harrowing to have to deal with so many bodies – all vying for your attention. (Jayeshbhai can no longer walk from the edge of the Tekro to wherever he wants to go because it would take him 3-4 hours to reach his destination, stopping at every corner and house to meet and greet the inhabitants. Instead, he drives the narrow alleyways, scraping by bicycles, carts, water buffaloes, cows, autorickshaws, and the one delivery truck whose driver will come into the Tekro (for a bonus) to deliver bricks for the community center.)

In retrospect, I don’t think our original plan would have been easier. All the same people that assembled in front of the community center would have packed each and every house we entered, making our work almost impossible.

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