“production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life.” E F Schumacher
You could call this the mother of all light bulb moments: a piece of African technology transfer that would have been right up E.F. Schumacher’s street (Small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered). Of course light bulbs aren’t much use to people whose politicians have failed to connect their villages to the national grid. One might also assume that a blown light bulb isn’t of use to anyone anywhere. But well, think again. Here we have the proof of it: some very natty Tanzanian recycling. And in case it is not entirely obvious from this photo, here we have a used light bulb, and a remodelled tin can made into a very handy carrying lamp. The cap that holds the wick in place, can be removed to refill the bulb with oil as needed.
And talking of E F Schumacher, his book Small is beautiful has been rated one of the 100 most influential books written since World War 2. It has inspired highly inventive Intermediate Technology Development projects around the world, low tech solutions that use the kinds of materials and spare parts that can be maintained, replaced and replicated locally. Adeyemi’s floating school in Lagos (see earlier post Floating not flooding) is a good example of such principles in action.
This particular light bulb lamp was bought in the market in Tabora in central Tanzania. Graham lived there two years in a house beside the old Arab slave route, while working as an agricultural extension officer for V.S.O (Voluntary Service Overseas). These were in the days TBT – Time Before Tish.
But then much later there was another light bulb moment. When we were in Kenya doing fieldwork on the Central Province farms ( Looking for smut: work on Kenya’s highland farms ) I came across quite another use for a cast off bulbs. We had been invited into a Kikuyu farmer’s home for tea and cake, and there it was hanging on the sitting room wall. Our hosts had already told us the sad tale of how they and their neighbours had made financial contributions to a political candidate who promised to bring electricity to their community, but then conveniently ‘forgot’ once he had been elected. I wrote a poem about it.
Joe Maina, small-time farmer, says
before the polls he paid
some local boss three thousand bob
to bring the power lines down the Rift.
The big man won the vote,
but now, as ever,
Faith Waithera Maina cooks githeri,
bending at her hearth,
three rocks to hold the pot,
sleek skin cured hide in smoke-house fug.
Next, slogs like an ox on cow-track paths
to fetch more wood to feed the fire.
“Our days’ career,” she shrugs.
Till dusk she lights her
sofa room with fumy lamps,
where, hanging on the wall with
keep-safe snaps and family memorabilia,
a cast-off city sixty-watt has second lease;
recharged of course,
a perfect vase
for garden sprays of purple