The sun in Burkina Faso is notoriously hot. In fact, the Jula expression used to talk about how hot it is, especially at this time of the year, is that the sun is “fari,” which is a word that the dictionary says means “brutal, cruel, hard, mean, severe.” And yes, it’s true. Unlike in the US, where we enjoy the sun and want to be in it as much as possible, here we try to avoid it as much as we can and look forward to rainy days when we won’t see it and will instead get a respite from its cruelty.
So how can I say that this hot, hot African sun will cool things down? It’s because last week I ordered a solar fridge and freezer!
As you know, I’m in the process of building a house in My Village. And since there is no electricity (or running water, for that matter) in the village, but I’ll still need to do things like work on my computer, I need to install solar panels to harness the sun’s energy so that I can have some electricity in my house. The solar panels will be on the roof, connected to a set of batteries (think of them as like heavy duty car batteries). Those batteries will then be connected to the wiring in my house and will provide me with electricity. Most of my house will be wired for 12v, which means that I believe my outlets will look like cigarette lighters and I won’t be able to buy a regular 110v light bulb to put in the socket. Instead, I’ll have 12v ones that will use less of the precious energy. I’ve talked with an electrician in the city who knows how to do all this stuff, and he is planning on buying the stuff required and coming out to My Village to set up and install it all.
But now the question became what I would do if I wanted a fridge and/or freezer. I thought that it would be really nice to have some cold water sometimes, or have a place to store meat and cheese and other such things that I have to buy in the city so that they don’t go bad right away. And again, using a solar electric system, it makes most sense to have a 12v (or 24v, I’m not actually sure which it will be) fridge and/or freezer. There’s a group of people with NTM in the US who do research on all this kind of solar electric stuff and figure out which ones are the best, most reliable, and longest-lasting. They often look at it from a perspective of sending it to PNG, where if it needs to be replaced it means sending a new one half-way around the world on a boat, so you really want something that won’t break down on you. Their recommendation is to get a Steca brand fridge and/or freezer. These are chest-type instead of a regular up-and-down fridge/freezer. Think about it – we all know that heat rises, so if you have a regular fridge/freezer, when you open it, a lot of the cold air will escape out the bottom. However, with a chest-type one, when you open it, the cold should mainly stay inside. When you only have a limited amount of electricity coming from a limited number of solar panels (though most days the heat available from the sun is, unfortunately, almost unlimited), the more cold you can keep inside, the better! Solar fridges and freezers are also separate units. They aren’t stuck together in the same appliance, but you can buy one fridge and one freezer if you want them both. Although the sneaky thing is that there’s actually a switch that changes it from being a fridge TO being a freezer, so you can actually get two of the same thing and pick one to be one and one to be the other. Isn’t that fun?
Anyway, I said above that Steca brand fridges/freezers (which are actually the same thing with two different settings) are the best, according to all the research that the NTM people have done. And I could even buy one from NTM for a good price. However, if I bought it from NTM, it would be in the US. Not in My Village. That would then require that I somehow find a boat heading this way and get it on that boat. But Burkina Faso is also a land-locked country, meaning that if got to Africa on the boat it would still be far from My Village where I’d want to use it. I’d have to find some way to get it to Burkina Faso from the coast. Then, even if got to the capital, I couldn’t go and pick it up hours away on my motorcycle, so I’d have to find a way to get it down to the city where I live now, and then to My Village. Once I got it there, I’d have to figure out how to attach it correctly to the batteries and such, since I’m not sure I could just plug it into my wall like you could do if you get a new fridge.
This all sounded like a huge headache and a bunch of work that I didn’t even know how to do, so I decided to see what was available in country. I talked to the electrician in the city, and said that NTM recommended Steca brand. He told me that you can actually get Steca brand here in Burkina Faso! They’re in the capital, but since I’m already paying him to do my whole solar electric installation, he said that if I gave him the money, he could go get them in the capital, bring them to My Village, and install them! SO MUCH EASIER!! It’s true, they cost a bit more here than if I were to buy them from NTM in the US, but it includes all the shipping and handling and installation and everything. So worth it. I had considered just getting one fridge/freezer, using it as one or the other, and then deciding later if I wanted a second one. However, trying to figure out later how to get it from the capital to My Village on my moto (or, rather, by some other means) sounded much more complicated than just having him deal with it all right now, so I decided to get both of them right now. Can you imagine? Instead of trying to figure out how to get them from the US, I’m getting them brought in and installed! It may not sound like a big deal to you who have free delivery and installation, but with how complicated things often are here (For example, the other day I wanted to make a photocopy, but none of the 4 photocopy places I went to that day were working!), it sounds wonderful.
Now, when you come to visit, you can even have a cold drink. Or some cheese several weeks after I’ve been to the city to replenish the supply. And when you look up at that hot, hot sun, you can be grateful that its heat is what is cooling you down.