Sunday, January 23, 2011

The train for the Wa Fire-wood Alternative Project TAKES OFF!!

The 4-unit Briq-a-lizer ... our first model
Danny & I working on our first briquette pellet with our first briquette-maker
One of the various briquette types we did that day with the machine
En route to Aburi

It’s 4:00am … Sunday.
I’m sitting on the floor by my bed, peering through my glasses at the pictures and notes scattered in front of me containing the details and progress markers of the Wa firewood-alternative project I have been working on since last year… thinking through the rudiments, necessities, costs to be covered, and the time limitations.
My 3-year old son lies muttering to himself on the bed, deep in sleep … I wish that was me. He laughs in his sleep … I frown darkly at him … is he laughing at me? Did he read my thoughts by some surreal, supernatural means through his dreams?

It’s 4:00am … I can’t sleep. My little project of 5 to 10 women to start with, just swelled into 3 communities … COMMUNITIES, two of them more than 500 kilometres apart. What to do? How to handle? I can’t help but feel overwhelmed at the sudden growth of this project. I tell myself, perhaps it’s all the usual Ghanaian noise-making … I will get there and meet only 5 – 10 women actually willing to walk the walk and not just talk. But what it that is not the case, the other me asks …
The last phone call from Yargpelle carried all the excitement of this upcoming training with it … I peeked at myself in the mirror facing the bed. The room was dusky, and in the light of the bed-side reading lamp, all that showed prominently in the mirror were my glasses … reflecting what? Hope? Determination? Resilience and Persistence? Sigh …

This past week, I have been to Aburi a few times, keeping track of the design for the briquette-maker(s). Time is short, I have little to spare with the vacation over … Danny Quaynor (of Design Niche, engineer-creative designer with a passion for appropriate technology as much as metal-work designing) has been very patient and understanding with me, of me. He has turned up ideas and produced them in actual, working designs quicker than I could have hoped … but as quick as I needed. He understands, miraculously … how well and yet quickly we need to work on this.

Our focus – designing AND producing briquette-makers for use in Ghana; with affordable, available, accessible, rudimentary, durable materials, looking out for ease and flow of design, good end-result of product (briquette pellets), etc.

On my first trip, I accessed the local ‘materials’ available in Wa, and our preparations are therefore utilizing animal poop, household biodegradeable waste, plant waste (leaves, weeds, post-harvest residues, etc) … which is mostly what the women will find easily and in large quantities to use for this green charcoal.
They are skeptical about how these overly common, disregarded things can actually be turned into coal/fuel for them … cannot believe it is true that will very little, so much can be gained by them … I can imagine them saying “You lying … what!” to the propagators of the training in their communities.
For people whose social status, daily lives, health, incomes are defined by how much firewood they can gain, find, sell, use … getting to know about other such fuel alternatives is like the average Accra socialite being told, “Here … for every organic product you buy at your local supermarket, we ‘dash’ you half the price of that product … free.” … It makes no sense, and you don’t see what the catch is, or how … but in both scenarios, you are probably only being given back what excess you yourself paid for without being aware of it.
You are being cajoled to go for the right thing, and you are rewarded for it by being given back what is really your right, which other services or products have been holding back from you for so long you have now absolutely no idea it was your right … until now.

So here I am, and here is Danny … and we’re preparing, preparing, preparing (See ALL the pictures of these trips, trials of the machinery, the resultant briquettes, etc at

How did I get the poop? And how will we be getting more poop for our commercial-scale productions here in town and other locations in Ghana? I know you’re curious, because my sister sure bugged me to share it! :)

Okay, so I was due at Danny’sin Aburi on Friday morning for the testing, and I had a funeral on Thursday and other appointments to sort out … what to do? Shrug … just do it (says Nike) … so I did!

So, here I was … Thursday morning … in my sharp black pencil skirt, belted-up chic blouse, fresh shoes, hair all done up, looking like I had a meeting with Obama … looking for poop at the Jamestown beach-side slaughter-house in Accra.
I had swung by the beach right after the funeral in Adabraka, and drove up to the entrance, where two typical hard-core Ga guys sat assessing me and the car. I got out and strutted over, and let drop my best typical raw, hardcore Ga … “I want poop,” I said. “Fresh one.”
They looked at me like … “Whattthhheeefuuuccckk” … I repeated myself.
They were now sure that the lady spoke Ga, was not timid, and yes … was really looking for shit.

They said, “For real?” I said, “Like yesterday, mehn.”
They said no probs … we got goat poop … it’s all over, but not a lot cus we kill ‘em here … not rear ‘em. But if you want, we can gather up sacks and sack for you … so discussing it jovially, in nice, raw, hard Ga (I realised how much I missed my growing up days in that area at my Dad’s family house around Mamprobi, during this session) we talked business, and I joined them, bent over in my skirt, picking up … you guessed it! Glorious, fresh goat poop! Haha!

Talking to those guys was refreshing … we’ve got survivors in Ghana ooo!
So, big-ups to Nii Ankrah and his giant of a dude friend “Haggler” who helped me out … if you ever get to read this blog, you guys gon be my first first ever employees for the briquette-business, mehn! You were great, and customer service in the hoods … first-class. They didn’t ask for nothing, no money, no ID, no bitchiness, no rudeness … they helped purely and simply.
You don’t get that that nicely in those “first-class” thingies, you know.

So that’s how I got my poop!

And now, I need about 10 – 15  twenty-unit briq-alizers (the one in the pics is 4-unit … we will make the standard a 20-unit, and I need 15 of those) to train these communities …. BUT, I’m financing all this myself and it’s not easy , so I have ordered 2 to start with from Danny, might likely push it to 3.
That way I teach all of them, but leave the 3 models with a select number of them, and go back on subsequent trips to deliver the rest to other women showing promise …

I must consider cost of the machines, cost of the trip for the team (2-way trip), cost of accommodation, food, drink, cost of the vehicle renting to drive us around the communities, cost of fueling, cost of personnel helping (tips here and there) … and miscellaneous.
Give or take GH1200 to GH3000 will be spent before the project is over or halfway through.

I have some friends who have hinted at helping … may they do! But if not, once you promise to help … difficulty or no, you gotta!
I will be keeping y’all updated as usual as we set off.

I’m exhausted as heck, coordinating all this with my income-deriving jobs, school, motherhood … but as I always say … when I go to sleep at night, even when on a less-than-full tummy, I sleep peacefully. ‘Cus I know I have kept my word.

One love, people!

4:47 am
23rd Jan., 2011
Accra, Ghana.


  1. That was quite an adventure.
    I really like what I just read. You are steadily making progress. Keep swinging at it!
    So.... you have patents on all this you are working on. Right? There has got to be a way to claim one.

    The MPs & DCEs that want to win seats and sincerely help their constituents should be lining up at your door.


  2. Heya Mikey!

    Hey buddy, been a while! Yeah ... steady is the word. No rush ... more beneficial progress. Hmmm?
    Patents ... engineer and I are on it. Lol! Line up at my door? So many haters and saboteurs since I toot-toot'ed my Wa train, sometimes I almost break down. But I love people like you giving my props ... it really goes a long way!
    Love, man!

  3. Hey Empress!
    You know, when haters & saboteurs rear their heads, that certainly is one additional sign that you are on the right path.
    Stay up sis.