Rim Stoves: Cooking MamaPut Goodness

I love street food. Everywhere I go, from street markets in Russia, to back alleys of Beijing to side streets in Skopje, to the boulevards of Bamako, I make it a point to eat as many meals from roadside stands as possible. Ghana and Nigeria are no exception. In fact, I love me a MamaPut.

Its only where Mama herself is there to put more of her good eats on your plate, that I really feel I’m getting a good meal. Why? Because I can see ever step of its preparation, talk with the chief personally, and share the transcending bond of food with my fellow man and woman.

Now I wouldn’t call myself a street food expert – I’m not discerning enough for that title, but I am observant in the different styles of edibles vendors. In West Africa, I’m particularly impressed by the stock street food cooking apparatus. Simple, cheap, and recycled, I present to you the “Rim Stove”.

.rim stove in action rim stove charcoal.

Using the steel rim off a car wheel as the basic starting point, three metal legs are wielded to the outside of the rim. Inside, a metal grate is added to the bottom to hold in the coals, and some form of pan or kettle stand is wielded to the top.

I’ve seen several variations on this theme, but the basics are always the same – the Rim Stove burns charcoal that’s been ignited in the middle of the rim, fed by air from the bottom and heating a cooking container sitting either on the pot stand or the coals themselves.

During on extending brainstorming session, I even tried to think of improvements to the Rim Stove – how it might burn hotter with less customization. My only solution? Make sure a Rim Stove is cooking chips for your fresh grilled fish.

Video of home made bicycle repair tools and gadgets in Nairobi

In Africa bicycle repair men can be found everywhere, from under a tree to in the local vegetable market, one of the best places to find African innovations.

At the Karen market I met the charismatic Mohammed Makokha who proudly showed me two of his home made gadgets that are critical for his business.

I’ve obviously been wasting my money in the bicycle stores.

Solution for Nairobi Blackouts

It’s no secret that Kenya’s rivers are running dry as a result of forest destruction and environmental degradation which has led to a season of blackouts in the capital city Nairobi.

Typical of the ingenious people of Nairobi one street vendor has cashed in on the crisis with this wonderful gadget which he markets as

“Perfect for Nairobi black out”

juakali lamp1

As you can see I could actually read by the light of this lamp which is made from a used tin can, some pieces of wire to make the connections

juakali lamp3

And the battery compartment is ingeniously crafted from a circle cut from a retired flip flop.

juakali lamp2

I love my juakali lamp and everyone that I know  in Nairobi needs one of these lamps. Everything about it is so true to the juakali spirit – hand crafted using colourful recycled tins, and designed for a real purpose with a handle so you can move it around from room to room or hang it up. The vendor tried to sell it to me for Ksh 350 but we settled on Ksh 200 (about $2.50) though I’m sure he would have gone cheaper but the traffic was moving and I had to go.

If you want one visit the Nyayo stadium roundabout.  They stood out amongst the chinese junk that vendors are selling you could practically kit out your house from the junk on sale there. Here’s a short list of what I saw during my 30 minute traffic hold up:

Pens, hats, footballs, blow up spiderman (who needs one of these?), peanuts wrapped in newspaper cones,

smelly car things, driveres licence holding cases, scarves, giant maps, Kenya flags, apples, kits (spiderman kites),

Nike shorts, cowboy hats, socks, oanges, backpacks, cheap watches, key chains knives, olympic medals (yes I wanted one of those!),

knee length shorts for guys who sag, hazard ttriangles, cables to cack your car, name tags for meetings, torches, window wipers (!),

car mats, pears, plumbs, tiny folding chairs for children (or Chinese people?), vehicle number plates, fire extinguishers, stickers,

Enormous framed pictures of furry cats and snow leopards (I can just see one of these this in my house), bananas and bandanas, plastic lunch boxes, pillows and cussions, a huge variety of stuffed toys,

posters with Jesus’ sayings, polo shirts, stearing wheel covers, spanners, screw drivers and of course my favourite – juakali lamps.

Nairobi never fails to impress. I love it. What else have you seen on sale in the Nairobi streets?

Cement-bag Bellows in Lamu

I was in Lamu in June and came upon a metal workshop tucked away behind the front row of buildings on the main path from Lamu Town to Shela. Inside were two blacksmiths, Adam Marabu and Abdul Ahmed, working diligently at creating a new anchor. What caught my eye though, was the bellows. They had taken old cement bags and hooked them up to metal pipes in the floor that fed air into the make-shift furnace.

Here’s a short video with some footage of them at work:

Lamu Cement-bag Bellows (AfriGadget) from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

One of my favorite stories on AfriGadget was the other unique bellows I found, this time in Nairobi, made out of an old bicycle. Both of these go examples go to show what can be done with very little. It’s about improvising what you have and overcoming a challenge.

Adam and Abdul make all types of items, but they told me that their main products are anchors, which range from small to large (2000-5000/= or $26-65) and, chisels and coconut shellers. They create a lot of the small metal pieces on the local dhows, and also make doors and window frames for the homes in the town. Really, they can make just about anything that you desire, like experienced metal workers anywhere in the world. What’s amazing is what they do it with.

Cement bag bellows and blacksmiths in Lamu Kenya
Cement bag bellows and blacksmiths in Lamu Kenya

The Kinshasa stove

After all these fascinating AfriGadgets from Maker Faire Africa, here’s another invention as seen by our friend Cedric Kalonji, a Congolese journalist in Kinshasa (D.R.C.):


For the lack of a cheap power supply in the City of Kinshasa, smart mechanics came up with this little stove that speeds up combustion by adding a little electric fan (hidden inside this tube that looks like being part of a flat spring). The fan itself is powered by (Chinese!) batteries and with the burning of charcoal, this quick stove obviously isn’t the greenest solution. But it works and does the job for those who will otherwise have no alternative.

Cedric also mentions on his blog post that it’s difficult to identify the inventor of this device. A perfect example of how low-cost technology easily gets adopted and/or modified (and why intellectual property rights are still a major issue in many places).