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November 12, 2008 Word of the Day: ifsi (if-see)

This morning, Ama and two of her friends got up at 4am and were out by 5am to gather ifsi from the shores of the lake. It’s about 5 km away, and most of these women don’t even walk across town more than once a week, so that made for quite a hike. They’d brought a donkey, to load up with ifsi, and Ama rode it on the way out.

Ifsi is a bristle-y shrub that the sheep and goats refuse to eat, probably because it’s well protected with spikes and thorns. It’s dry, though, and burns well, so the women of Berberville gather it to burn. It catches quicker than wood, so it makes good (if painful) kindling, plus it’s free, if you don’t count labor, whereas wood is hideously expensive here. Absurdly expensive. Most of my PCV friends pay 30-60 dirhams for a donkey-load of firewood. That same donkey-load of wood brings 700 dirhams here in Berberville. The nearest forests are over an hour away, and it’s all national park…which means either going yet further to get wood or else bribing the forest guardian to let you poach trees.

Most Berberville women burn about 2/3 ifsi and 1/3 wood in their stoves. They use the stoves primarily to heat the houses, but they also keep kettles or frying pans on the top. The stoves are incredibly inefficient, but some of the otherwise-wasted heat keeps the top of the stove hot enough to boil water. Of course, if you don’t need boiling water throughout the day, the heat is still wasted. Plus most of it goes up the chimney anyway.

Berberville is an obvious place to do a project with more-efficient woodstoves; the problem is that people are reluctant to embrace change, and Berber women who still wrap themselves in blankets and speak a dying language are even more reluctant than most. A previous PCV here tried to do a stove project, but even her modest redesigns – which boiled down to a different chimney shape – were too radical to catch on. :(

I’ll keep thinking about it…

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps