Pipe dreams & rocket stoves…

How many people have a pipe dream in which they make a new life for themselves in a sunny climate? Whilst many of us do, particularly in the depths of a British winter, few of us have the guts to make that pipe dream a reality…

How many people have a pipe dream in which they make a new life for themselves in a sunny climate? Whilst many of us do, particularly in the depths of a British winter, few of us have the guts to make that pipe dream a reality…

One person who has achieved just that is Simon Fenton, the former head of the award winning social enterprise StreetWise, who left a 9 to 5 job and career, to make a new life for himself.

After travelling to West Africa,  he found himself in Abene (in the Casamance region of Senegal). Now settled with his partner Khady and their two children, Gulliver (4) and Alfie (2), they run the flourishing guesthouse The Little Baobab which is now a feature of Abene life. With a steady stream of guests – many of them repeat, myself included, the business has expanded from nothing to being able to accommodate up to 16 guests. 

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Returning after two years, the traditional “terranga” (hospitality) welcome from Simon and Khady is enthusiastic. Over the obligatory bottle of Flag (one of the many Senagalise beers), I have the chance to chat to Simon  about his experiences of living as a Senagalise family, customs and life in general.

In the course of his time in Abene, as well as running the guesthouse, guiding tours into neighbouring Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, Simon has found the time to write two books about life in Senegal as the “Accidental African”. They make for interesting tale of life as part of a Senagalise family. Far from being seen through rose tinted glasses, this a warts and all take on life in West Africa…the two books which are available through Eye Books (UK) or from Simon direct – “Squirting Milk at Chameleons” and, “Chasing Hornbills”.

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In the meanwhile, Alfie is running around causing mayhem, with his fingers in everything…including helping with the work of building a “rocket stove”.

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The rocket stove, whilst not a new concept, is a very simple means of increasing the efficiency of cooking. The stove works by increasing the heat output, by means of an L shaped pipe, which by causing an increase in the flow of air through the chimney, acts like a throttle…a bit like the way in which a blast furnace functions. This has the effect of both improving the efficiency of cooking, and also signicantly reducing the amount of fuel needed to a fraction of that normally used (charcoal).

Charcoal is the principal means of cooking for the majority of families in urban West Africa (and in many other parts of the world). In addition to improving the heat generation, it also has the effect of reducing the amount of smoke generated – a major problem in many countries and the cause of numerous respiratory complaints.

Whether Simon’s attempt to bring a more efficient means of cooking will be more widely adopted remains to be seen.

 

 

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Welcome to the Home by the Sea…

Down at the beach, I see a familiar sight…the local herd of African cattle. Wandering along the beach at a leisurely pace, they seem completely content in their surroundings, oblivious to everyone.

After the struggles trying to write the blog yesterday,  today’s is likely to be short and sweet…

My second day in Abene, I take the opportunity to take a walk around the village. Down at the beach, I see a familiar sight…the local herd of African cattle.  Wandering along the beach at a leisurely pace, they seem completely content in their surroundings, oblivious to everyone.

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Sitting on the sand (beer in hand of course), this seems a million mile’s from home, with its myriad problems…which when put in perspective, are seemingly unimportant when considering the hardships of life in West Africa. My minor irritation that despite trying to escape work, through the wonders/bane (you choose) of the internet, I am still expected to deal with queries about work – the disclaimer on my emails that I am uncontactable seemingly falling on deaf ears!

Whilst the majority of people in the UK are concerned about their standard of living, worry about being paid the minimum or living wage, whilst the Government publishes meaningless statistics about who is deemed to be living in poverty, for Africans, the bleak reality is that they would all be deemed to live in poverty.

For a vast number of Africans, there is no regular work, instead living hand to mouth on what work becomes available. Given that a typical day rate in Senegal might only be 1,500cfa (or about £2.60), or if in a full time job 30,000 to 50,000cfa (£50 to £90) per month, it no wonder that the Toubab is seen as an easy target for extra money.


The loose change in my pocket is some 70,000cfa…