A guide to making eco-stoves for the inexperienced builder

A fuzzy wuzzy photo of my new shower

Its all change at our house this week as they have built a new shower and are now extending the veranda. I was quite concerned when they said they were building a new bathroom. The old bathroom has walls made of black tarpaulin and a door made of a pizza hut advert, and as its outdoors everything is a bit dirty and worse for wear. At first this really put me off it. However over time I’ve come to appreciate its rustic charms. The floor is made of large stones and because the walls are only neck height, you can see all the surrounding tropical forest unfurling around you. This makes me feel like I’m in a herbal essences advert.

So when they said the new bathroom would be concrete and two metres high I was very concerned. However its turned out quite nicely and they even left a space in the back wall so you can still see the trees. The professional builder did some beautiful concrete on the outside, which really puts our skill-less attempts on the eco-stoves to shame. Which leads me onto my informational topic of the week…

A guide to making eco-stoves for the inexperienced builder

Three of the wonderful Nicaraguan volunteers finishing the base

To make an ecostove you need lots of materials and they are all too heavy to carry, so either carry them in pairs or look busy while somebody stronger carts them about. To make the base you need to build a rectangle of bricks two layers high. You are quickly gonna realise the Nicaraguan volunteers have a devil-may-care, go-get-em attitude which encourages them to work admirably quickly but with limited finesse. You watch from the outskirts feeling inadequate. The rectangular base turns out to be, like, beyond wonky.
You become very concerned that the walls are wonky. You voice this concern in English and find all the other English people (who are also watching from the sidelines) happen to agree. As the designated translator you then voice the concern in Spanish, and the Nicaraguans all shake their heads and say don’t worry, its absolutely fine! You and the other English people tut and sigh and lament that the wall isn’t straight.

A Nica invites you to lay a brick and you think, okay here we go! Finally a chance to show how to build a straight wall! But for some reason the brick will not go on straight, will not match the other bricks and will not stand vertical. You hypothesise its probably something to do with the bricks underneath, or whoever laid the concrete, or that the bricks aren’t a uniform shape. Or maybe its actually just really hard and you have no idea what your doing. A Nica steps in to help.


Your body aches so you decide to step out of the building process in case you have Chickengunya. Of course you don’t mention Chickengunya as you don’t want to worry everybody, so you just say it “might” be a cold. Everyone is gonna think you’re so brave when they realise you had chickengunya but you tried to pass it off as a mere cold. No wonder you couldn’t lay the bricks straight, amiright?!

The final step is the concrete. You watch the Nicas throw the concrete on the wall with a cement spreader, it sticks on, and then they smooth it over. Now, you think, this looks like fun. You enthusiastically grab some cement and lob it at the wall. It flops straight back down onto the ground. You repeat these steps several times and there is still no cement on the wall. The builder says “you’re good at the cement!” And when you thank him for his kind words, he says “I was joking…” A passerby points out you are really bad at it. You reply with some choice words (in English so he doesn’t get offended). Eventually the stove is finished and you go home for a nap.

This has been my week, and we are now 8 eco stoves finished and only three to go HUZZAH!!! Doing a hands on task has been hard work but actually quite fun. Our leader went to see a lady whose stove is finished and she is able to use it. She says it works really well and she was really excited at how hot it got from such little wood. All the stoves here are wood burning, and some families spend a day collecting enough wood for one or two days. This is bad for the environment and really difficult especially in families with only one parent. Also traditional stoves churn out toxic fumes into the kitchens that make your eyes water and cause lung disease etcetc BASICALLY what I’m saying is, the ecostoves are actually a really good thing for the families.

For anyone overcome with excitement for my next installment, you can subscribe to the blog with your email address.

See you on the flip side!

PS to any troubled fans, it turns out I don’t have Chickengunya…it is “just” a cold. Xxx

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