'The Dance' Begins

Newsletter August 2015
New Cooking Bag

As Hamdia and I stand opposite each other, 'the dance' begins. 

We each hold to corners of a large piece of fabric in a vibrant African design and we lay it out on the square table. We bend over simultaneously to pick unbleached cotton up from the floor, and in one flowing movement we spread it out evenly across the colourful fabric. We reach for the big wooden ring standing up against the wall and skilfully place it on top of the cloth. As if on cue, we move our right hands to our heads simultaneously to reach for our pens. Hamdia takes it from her headscarf and I pick it from behind my ear. We draw lines, following the outside and the inside of the big wooden circle, until our pens meet. Hamdia starts to cut the pieces out while I mark the different compartments the women will be stitching with their sewing machines later. We take a step forward or back, never stopping what we do, when we pass each other around the table. Our bodies slowly describe a circle as we stand over the two pieces of fabric and pin them together with ten pins. We loosely fold the fabric a couple of times, pin the case for the covering cushion to it and put the lot on a stool nearby.

Then we start again.

A large piece of cloth in a vibrant African design is spread out on a table and we bend over simultaneously...

I love the rhythm we work to. Effortless and completely attuned to each other. It's an ideal job for two women who always have a lot to talk about. We just do the talking while we work: it's an easy job so it gives us the chance to discuss it and ask each other questions while we work. 

We wonder how we can involve more women in the project, because the demand for New Cooking Bags is growing. We decide to ask three women in Tuma Viela. These three have been working with us for years. We are convinced they will see it as a promotion and will commit to our small business fully. 

We can't help but laugh about the telephone call we had the day before, of a woman asking if the New Cooking Bag could be washed. 'Unfortunately not, the kapok doesn't allow for that. It would lose its insulating qualities. But may I ask what happened?“ The woman told me she went to church and told her daughter to put the rice into the cooking bag as soon as it had boiled for a couple of minutes. That way, the food would be ready by the time she came back from the service. The daughter had given her a doubtful look and had asked her if this 'new thing' really was as practical as people said. She had eventually given in when the woman had convinced her it really worked and would save a lot of time and charcoal. When the mother came home from church, however, she understood why her daughter had had her doubts. Guess what she had done? After boiling the rice, she had taken off the lid and poured the whole thing straight into the New Cooking Bag. Which isn't really something the NCB is made for... We advised the woman to undo some of the stitching. She could then take out the kapok to dry, wash the fabric and fill it with the dried kapok afterwards. That way, she will be able to use the NCB for many more years. 

We discuss the fact that Wonderbag comes to Ghana to put a similar Cooking Bag in the market here. We want to collaborate on ways to save the environment and people's health through cooking. It's a challenge that will keep us focused and make things even more exciting.

We consider the possibility to start making two different types of New Cooking Bag: an Economic and a Premium. They will both be fully functional, but while one of them will be made from a cheaper fabric, the other will be a little more elegant for its thicker quality fabric. And what about a larger version - which is something Ghanaians have been asking for - to make communal cooking for a whole family easier? 

Meanwhile, we are still drawing and cutting the pattern because at the moment we are producing over fifty New Cooking Bags per day. We have to stay ahead of the seamstresses who make sure the cut pieces of fabric on the stool don't turn into a pile. 

Hamdia, who is a jack-of-all-trades, is called to a defective sewing machine by one of the other women. I want to keep on going and I ask Musherifa to give me a hand. This is a job you really need to do as a pair. She puts her work with the schoolbags down and quickly catches on. The 'dance' doesn't take long to continue. I'm thinking: “She's a great girl, that Musherifa” and I enjoy working on this with her for a while. She is a young temporary worker but with great potential. If we would need more women here, she would definitely be a candidate.

Hamdia only returns to the table to let me know we got a phone call from Accra, from one of our promoters ordering 40 New Cooking Bags. Musherifa and I don't stop working for a second, at the same time stepping aside for the two boys responsible for packing and shipping the New Cooking Bags under Hamdia's watchful eye. Our space it limited now that our business is growing, but I love how we simply make do.

We are dancing on a full floor.