Every time I am in Switzerland I contact Group
ULOG, a solar energy organization founded in 1980 by Ulrich and Lisel
Oehler. I am indebted to Ulrich, who introduced me to solar cooking in 1985.
Recently, I spent time in their home-office
looking through new English versions of ULOG's documentation and discovered
information on solar cooking in Egypt. A trip to Egypt was on my agenda for
July 2000. Amidst the documents were intriguing reports of an elementary
school teacher from Berne, Switzerland, who has spent one month each summer
since 1993 teaching solar cooking in Egypt.
The teacher, Annemarie Wenger-Marti, trains
women to solar cook, and requires them to keep notes so that she can monitor
progress each year. Annemarie impressed me as being a well-organized,
demanding Swiss schoolteacher. In addition to her work in Egypt, she teaches
solar cooking to local school children, including a group of fourth graders
who built solar box cookers and used them on a 5-day camping trip! This past
July I called Annemarie and told her I wished to do a site visit to the
areas where she had been training and interview some of her students. With
her permission, I headed off for Egypt to meet her contact, Dr. Wadid Eriam,
a professor and soil specialist at Cairo University.
Dr. Eriam, who spoke highly of her teaching
skills, set up Annemarie's training program in 1990 as part of the larger
Homestead Project. Goals of this unique project include: desert reclamation,
employment and land-ownership assistance for agronomy students, and the
creation of towns. Annemarie's students are literate, university graduates
in agronomy, who made an independent choice to learn how to solar cook. They
have the means to cook with gas if they choose. I have worked with refugees
in Kenya and Ethiopia who needed solar cooking for survival, but haven't met
cooks who had the freedom of choice - to decide for themselves to solar
cook. They each paid US $30 for a locally built ULOG solar box cooker.
Louise admiring a ULOG
cooker at work
Our first interview was with Mona Abdul Hakim of
El Zohour, located in the Hamam Zone + Tiba Zone, popularly called the sugar
beet zone, about an hour southwest of Alexandria. The day we arrived Mona
was cooking beans and hard-baked eggs, in addition to drying watermelon
seeds. She solar cooks most all local foods, including meat, eggplants,
potatoes, fig marmalade, and a dish of stewed apples in shredded coconut. In
the winter months she makes yogurt.
Mona showed us her notebook, with solar cooker
drawings and Arabic text, and a tote bag Annemarie had sewed and embroidered
to carry food and a pot in. Mona likes to cook because she can put food out
and forget about it - without worry of it burning. Her family finds the food
tastier and healthier than conventionally-cooked food. Since learning to
solar cook in 1998 she has become president of the El Zohour Solar Cooking
Club, with the duty of organizing monthly potluck lunches where participants
share news and recipes.
The second interview was with agronomist Nahed
Jussef and her husband Hashraf, who live in Zone #22. Like Mona, Nahed is
enthusiastic about the benefits of solar cooking and is president of a local
solar cooking club. Nahed and her mother learned to solar cook in 1998. Some
of the foods she cooks are beans, dried peanuts, stuffed grape leaves,
zucchini with rice and peppers, chicken livers, tomato soup and cakes.
Next we drove to Zone #17 where we were welcomed
by Hala Mustafa, the most dynamic woman of the three. She's a real solar
cooking enthusiast with an entrepreneurial spirit. Hala told us that she had
established a small business selling yogurt that she made in her ULOG solar
cooker. In addition, she proudly showed us the Arabic-English cookbook
Annemarie edited with her students that Hala would like to see published.
Anxiously awaiting our visit, Hala had baked a cake with raisins just for
us. She gave me the recipe: 5 fresh eggs, 1/2 kg. flour, 200 gr. sugar, 200
gr. butter, baking powder, and vanilla. She had chickens in her yard where
her cooker was set up - the fresh eggs made the cake so much better! She let
us taste the apricot marmalade and smell the solar-dried peppermint leaves.
Otherwise her solar meals include: fish, beef, duck, mutton, rice, stuffed
green peppers, stewed apples, dried peanuts, and watermelon seeds. She cooks
As we were about to leave, she took us over into her neighbor's yard.
There, to our great surprise, we saw what looked like preparation for a
birthday party! Hala's neighbor was baking two batches of creme caramel, one
soft, one harder; and stewed apples, cored and stuffed with nuts and honey,
laid out in a circular fashion in shredded coconut.
These site visits incited me to want to learn
more, even to have a video documentary made of these women that Annemarie
had trained. Though I received answers to all of my original questions, I
have many more. Who builds the cookers? How many potential new cooks are in
this area? Did any of these cooks intend to become teachers to generate
income one day? How much money do they save on gas?
Recently Annemarie organized the construction of
two parabolic cookers made from mirrors built by Alec Gagneux, an associate
of ULOG. These cookers are part of a cafeteria built on a huge farm north of
Cairo, where 300 farm workers join to share lunch and rest indoors. I will
report on this project in an upcoming Solar Cooker Review.
Contact: Group ULOG, Morgartenring 18, CH-4054