DAY 10: Cow Dung and Co-Design


Hi All: Erica here updating yall after another productive day in Dolatpura. Actually, productive may be an understatement. But I’ll get to that. It all started last night after a rousing game of Settlers of Catan, where I monopolized the wheat, settled on a wheat port, and proceeded to erect cities like it was my job. Feeling the pure adrenalin of victory, I led the team in a discussion about toilets. We were trying to address whether our timeline is reasonable, considering the new information that we got about the Setco Foundation’s toilet project in Katol. Due to some encouragement from Urja, we decided that our academic, experimental approach to composting toilets is beneficial to our village partners, the Foundation, and ourselves. After coming to a consensus about our toilets direction, we made an agenda for a Google Hangout with the team back home that happened early this morning.


Shout out to all of our team members who stayed up late to chat with us about toilets and stoves. We were so excited to see familiar faces (and smiles! and hear lots of English!), update everyone, and get feedback. During our call, we also figured out a way that our friends in India could contact us on our American phones. This is a problem that we have been conscious of; it isn’t fair that we can call for pennies from Google Voice, while they would have to make an international call to reach us. What we determined was that they could call us, let it ring three times, and then hang up; as long as they did not play a voicemail message, they would not be charged for the call. Then, we could call them back from a Google Voice and they would know to expect a call. This is a working model, and better than what we had before (only one way communication), so let us know if you have any other ideas!


After our Google Hangout, we headed to Dolatpura for the MOST EXCITING THING WE HAVE EXPERIENCED: a real live build of our stove prototype! But first, we had to finish the stove that we built yesterday; it needed a coating of cow dug mixed with red dirt to keep it from cracking. All of the kids watching giggled when Kaylla and Sai kneeled down to help with this task; no one in the village thought that we would want to get our hands dirty with cow dung. Well, guess again, Dolatpura!

While Kaylla and Sai were playing with poop, Shilpen mixed up some more mud with straw to build the body of today’s stove prototype. Today, Munjulaben was helping us build the stove because Sumitraben had guests.


Munjulaben’s stove building style was slightly different that Sumitraben’s and we didn’t realize until halfway through the build that she had no idea what we were doing. Zoha noticed the confused look on her face and pulled out the paper with the stove design that we have been sharing with all of our partners. After she saw that, the direction was clear and she began instructing and correcting Kaylla and Shilpen as they shaped the mud mixture into a stove.


Sai and I built the metal pieces that are incorporated into the stove: the chimney, the front bridge, and the chimney brace. Manojbhai taught us how to work with the metal so that it did not have sharp edges. As we were constructing the stove and adding the chimney, everyone who was watching was constantly giving input. At one point, we had to take out my notebook so that people watching could draw their ideas so we could understand. Prakash taught us a way to twist the wire out of the way and the horde of kids insisted on helping us roll up the metal for the chimney. This was the most exciting part of the whole day.


I have been talking about co-design and cultural exchange since I started the BLUElab India Project (way back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth), but this is the first time I have seen it really in action. Previously, we have taken into account cultural drivers and talked to people about our designs (which are both very important actions), but we never built something together. As we build, everyone is able to experience what we have been discussing so the ideas about process, design, and structure start flying.


Our prototype will harden over the night and we will coat it will dung tomorrow. After that, it will dry more and then people in the village will begin testing it. Then, we will iterate our design based on input and testing. We already have some ideas that we discussed today about how the “burner” should be shaped in relation to the chimney.


What an exciting, rewarding day. I am so proud of all the work that has been put in by the team over the last couple years and I am excited to hear the feedback on this first prototype. We’re hangin in there!


PS: I’m sorry that the picture of my business dress is still in the corner of the blog. We are having trouble updating our Instagram, which is where that photo came from.

PPS: All gastrointestinal system have been behaving correctly! This might be even more exciting that the stove build today…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s