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The Costs of Smoke

Alice Kachipapa, 57 years old, proprietor of the Ulema restaurant in Mitundu Market.
3 min read

The first smell that hits your nose as you walk to the outdoor kitchen of Alice Kachipapa’s popular restaurant in Mitundu Market is not the scent of her chicken stew, stewed greens and nsima, but smoke. Along with her three children and six employees, Alice cooks food for her customers, numbering seventy to eighty per day on market days, over as many as six stoves from portable charcoal stoves to a traditional three-stone fire. Bags of charcoal and stacks of fuelwood line the back of Alice’s open air kitchen which she uses during the dry season.

Despite the open air, Alice’s eyes burn from the smoke from the open fires and her grandchildren playing nearby suffer from persistent coughs. Alice begins her day at 6 am, not closing the restaurant until 9:30 pm spending more than twelve hours in her smoky kitchen. The black soot lining the kitchen’s tin roof and along its walls is testament to the level of exposure Alice and her family and employees face each day. Of the nine people working at the restaurant and in the kitchen, Alice estimates that at least two people a week visit the local hospital with a health complaint related to working in the heavy smoke of the kitchen. In the wet season, when they have to work in the restaurant’s small, enclosed kitchen the effects of the smoke are even worse.

Alice and her husband opened their restaurant two years ago and she recalls that at that time no one in the family suffered from coughs. She worries about her grandchildren, not only for the health of their lungs, but for the burns that are always a possibility if they should fall in the fire or charcoal while playing in the kitchen courtyard. For Alice and her employees burns are a constant in their lives, with at least one person per week getting burned using the stoves. Alice can quickly outline the various ‘costs’ of the stoves from the cost of fuelwood (10,000 k/bundle) and charcoal (17,000 k/bag) used at a rate of about one bag per week to the constant worry about her and her family’s health.

C-Quest Capital is providing to Alice both an efficient, institutional stove and a ‘super pot’ – one of the newly designed efficient pots. As Alice began to cook a new batch of chicken stew in the new ‘super pot,’ she called her daughter over after only a few minutes to look at the chicken. “Look how fast it’s cooking,” she exclaimed to her daughter. Still not quite sure if the ‘super pot’ was a gift or merely brought out for demonstration, Alice joked that she would distract the C-Quest team with a good lunch so that ‘they’d forget about the super pot’ and leave it behind for her to cook with! She’s looking forward to the improved efficiency of the new stove not only to save time and money now spent on fuelwood and charcoal, but even more importantly to improve the health of her family, her employees and herself.

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