A child in he corner coughs

mud walls clean and brown

distended stomach could hold a melon,or a sickness

I cannot name

our salesman has oiled hair

but a fresh smile

he will not speak Kumaoni

because he dislikes it’s deep sound.

In Hindi he describes the stoves we sell.

Flies dot the floor like

sesame seeds on bread.

Remember this simplicity.

Remember the quiet and

the silent saturating

scent of smoke.

Remember the smiles,

unabashed displays of missing or damaged teeth

and remember the lines each smile brings around eyes

like a sunrise

creasing a familiar sky.

How language can do so

much but also so little.

Even when you are the other

you are also still the same.

The Pilots


Adjective.  Done as an experiment or test before introducing something more widely.

Theory. A set of mini-interventions designed to tests mechanisms for encouraging household adoption and use of improved cookstoves (e.g., finance plans, demonstration and promotion campaigns, and stove types).

Reality. A cycle of endless sweating, brainstorming, training, surveying, stove demonstrations and meetings with no end in sight.

If we could just explain the benefits of improved stoves to households and they would purchase and use the stove – this would be an easy job. However, households have many reasons why they are not interested in these stoves – they can’t afford them, don’t understand why they are needed, or don’t care about them because they have many more pressing concerns.

In order to determine which set of techniques best encourages adoption, we conduct several “pilots”, each testing a slightly different combination of payment plan, promotional campaign, and stove demonstrations. Before the pilots begin, there are weeks of planning. Days upon days are spent sitting in hot offices in meetings, sitting with villagers doing focus group discussions, ordering stoves, training stove sales staff, and planning the field campaigns. After each pilot there are brainstorming marathons to discuss what worked and what can be improved. 

For one pilot, we planned to distribute pamphlets describing the benefits of the improved stove as part of an intensive promotional campaign. Of course, our plan hit some snags. To begin with, the pamphlets were shipped from Mumbai and arrived late. This delay meant that when Vasu and I arrived in the village to confirm that all households had received the fliers, none of the pamphlets had been distributed yet. Instead, we found very young village boys (ages 9-11) sitting and very slowly writing information about the planned stove demonstration that was taking place the following day… and there were still several hundred pamphlets that were blank.  So, Vasu and I grabbed pens and helped fill out the fliers with the necessary information – those years of learning to write Hindi really came in handy! Some of the village boys that were helping us had gone to school that morning, but their teacher didn’t show up, so left the school (and unfortunately common occurrence). We finished filling in the demonstration information after about an hour – and then the village team passed them out to every household.


Posters promoting the improved stove were hung throughout the village.



Some demonstrations were given to groups of villagers.


Since households in the village are naturally clustered by religion and caste, we ended up doing a group of demonstrations to many small subsets of villagers. These households lived in a Hindu area in one of the villages…


And these households lived in a Muslim are of the village…


We did our best to target the demonstration at the men and women who would purchase the stove – but of course, many children attended the demonstrations, too, crouched at the feet of the adults, and loving the show.


The Greenway Smart Stove (a natural draft, front loading stove) burns brightly during a village demonstration.


We also conducted household level demonstrations in some pilots–  neighbors often came to watch, too.



The point of conducting so many pilots is that we hope to identify the most successful set of intervention strategies, and scale them up across our entire sample. However, the reality of conducting so many pilots is that it often feels like a never ending cycle. Learn some lessons; plan another pilot to learn some more… around and around and around.


After hard days conducting stove sales in the sun, we didn’t need any pilots to determine our favorite way to relax and cool down – the answer was definitively watermelon! If only our questions about the best approach to stove sales could be answered this quickly (and deliciously).


Hidden Mountain Bungalows

Vasu and I retreated to an amazing hidden gem for a night after the Mukteshwar Marathon madness. Sonapani is an eco friendly resort nestled on the side of the mountain. Each little bungalow has solar hot water (for bucket baths) and is simply and beautifully furnished. Meals were served in a lovely dining room where we ate on the porch and shared tales with other guests. After the mountain marathon run, my legs were incapable of going up and down stairs, prompting many humorous moments.


One of the bungalows.



These shoes have seen hundreds of miles.


The best chai – black, with fresh ginger.


The best cheerleader, Himalayan companion, chaiwalla, and spider remover: lovely lady Vasu.




This weekend we trekked to the nearby Dak Bungalow, a 110 year old British building that has been restored as a homestay by an absolutely lovely couple. We trekked to the Bungalow for a few hours, passing many trees showing the classic signs of fuel gathering (bottom and easy to reach branches have been chopped and carried away).




These Dak (Mail) bungalows were built ten miles apart by the british. The old signpost still stands (or perhaps leans is more accurate) marking this spot between the outposts at Kathgodom (the modern train station) and Almora, the large town we saw in the distance.







And then a storm hit. Power was gone for over 24 hours.

Wind blown flower petals scented the air as the first drops fell. The birds fell silent as the rain found it voice. Wildfires stared on the mountain opposite us and raged all night and into the morning; an unbroken circle of flame. Our candles flickered and faltered in the wind.


In the morning, we ventured out for a hike but kept sprinting to nearby shelter when the rain found us.


The Dak Bungalow is in the middle of the village Peora, which was one of the villages that we surveyed for our cookstove research project. Over several days last summer, we walked through the entire village randomly sampling households – here’s a view of the village.



We had such a refreshing stay before trekking back to work.


Marathon in the Mountains

The Mukteshwar Marathon at 7,500 feet. My first half marathon. My fastest! The first 6 miles, all downhill, curving along mountain sides. The second 6 miles back the same route, up sharp turns and past shockingly beautiful vistas.


Friendly faces all along the route. Chirag volunteers cheered the runners on and offered fruit, biscuits, trays of salt, water and gatorade.



Many fellow runners were lived in the Kumaon Hills. It was very inspiring to see so many local runners- kept incredibly fit by life here. Several women ran in traditional clothing. Many people ran in sandals or shoes with untied laces. Couples ran holding hands up the mountains. Many Delhi-ites (Delights) were forced to walk; unacclimated. Mountain children often walk over 5k each way to reach their schools; gangs of them showed up to run the 5K, like those below.



I hope I can run next year 🙂

Why am I in India?

I just realized I’ve been in India for almost a month now – this means I’m terribly over due to start posting. I suspect most blog readers are familiar with my work in India, but I thought the best place to start would be with a summary of what I’m doing here, and why (for a brief overview, see the conundrum).

About 40% of the global population still cooks using solid fuel (such as wood or dung cakes or residue from agricultural crops) in traditional stoves. These stoves burn very inefficiently, and are often used in rooms with little or no ventilation, which means that the women and children who usually do the cooking are exposed to very high concentrations of household air pollution (HAP). The World Health Organization’s most recent Global Burden of Disease report ranks household air pollution as the 4th greatest global health risk factor contributing to illness and death – about 3.5 million premature deaths per year. This is a huge problem – and responsible for more illness across the world than most people realize. I’ve asked a lot of people what the consider the first, second, and third greatest health risks across the globe, and no one has accurately named them.



(Lim et al, 2012)


The health risk is mostly due to cardiovascular disease and lower respiratory infections (pneumonia). In addition to adverse health impacts, traditional cooking practices (cooking itself, as well as gathering and preparing fuel) take time that could be used for earning household income, and can often expose women and children to risk. Reliance on fuelwood leads to deforestation and degradation of local forest resources (Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves). The mixture of pollutants is not only harmful for health but also has negative climate impacts as well – mainly through emissions of black carbon, the second most potent greenhouse pollutant (Ramanathan and Carmichael, 2008).

Many improved cookstoves have been designed in an attempt to address these adverse health, livelihood, and environmental impacts. However, households are often not interested in the technology for many reasons – it may be too expensive, culturally inappropriate (i.e. they cannot cook their customary foods), or not something they are interested in, particularly if they do not understand the adverse impacts of their traditional cooking. This lack of understanding is widespread- and it is understandable — if your family has been cooking this way for generations and you haven’t observed negative impacts, it is hard to understand what all the fuss is about. 

My research focuses on the intersection between household behavior (households stove and fuel choice), household air pollution (measuring levels of emissions), and health and livelihood impacts. On this trip to India, I will be working with our Indian partners to launch several pilots to study mechanisms for encouraging households to adopt (and continue to use) improved stoves.


Here is an example of a woman cooking on a traditional mud stove in Orissa, India. I visited this household about two weeks ago. She is cooking in the kitchen (not all homes have a separate room for the kitchen) and using wood and dung cakes in her stove. There is a small opening cut into the ceiling for smoke to escape, and a piece of pipe acting as a chimney to capture some rising smoke. However, the room was very smoky.


In addition to their traditional stove, this household also has a double-burner LPG stove (that burns liquid petroleum gas). The LPG stove was just around he corner but sat unused while the woman roasted grains over her traditional stove. She prefers to use her traditional stove because she felt it provided a hotter flame that made the cooking go faster. She kept the LPG stove to use for smaller cooking jobs like tea. There is also an issue with getting LGP cylinders – hers is from the black market, since getting official LPG connections can take a very long time (sometimes up to a year).




I visited several villages in Orissa with one of the Principle Investigators for our cookstove study in Orissa, John.


In my first two weeks in India we also took an afternoon to explore a nearby temple in Orissa – the Konark Temple dedicated to the sun god. The temple was built in the 13th century. John and I hired a tour guide who was comical but excellent. This was my second visit to the temple and I learned a lot more on this trip.


After the temple visit, we went to the ancient Khandagiri caves carved into a hillside for Jain monks. The cave below is carved into the shape of a tiger’s open mouth.


It was scorching outside but under cover of the incredible Hat I climbed to the top of the hill to survey the view of Bhubaneswar below.



I welcome all requests / suggestions for future blog posts!

Leaving Jagdishpur, Uttar Pradesh

I’ve left Jagdishpur, the dusty, smoky village that I’ve called home for the past month. Already I miss the company of Alyssa, Dave, and Omkar – and the daily adventures of fieldwork, data analysis, and life in a small town in rural India. I’ll miss our team of 12 enumerators that we trained and drilled and trained and drilled – if nothing else comes from this research project, I will be proud that we gave a employment and opportunity to the group of women in this group, most of whom have not held another job. Half of our team is shown below, since we travel in two separate groups to cover more ground. The woman in the pink salwar in the front right was part of the village council (the panchayat) who acted as our very kind guide as we selected households in the village.


I will miss our dhobiwala, or washer man, who washed my clothes and had them ironed (or outsourced the ironing) for 4 rupees (8 cents) each. Everything came back in a beautifully folded pile. A true luxury! I still washed many of my clothes (always underwear, which was inappropriate to send to a laundry man) and hung them to dry every night – but the dhobiwalla was good at what he did.


The power outages won’t be missed. Two nights ago the power deserted us for the entire night, and I tossed and turned and sweated so much I would wake up for stretches and just fan myself. Twice I awoke with a start because sweat was dripping into my inner ear – I’m still not sure how that was possible.

Train from Lucknow to Delhi is AC, teal seats and teal window shades, a power outlet by my side. I’m at the window and next to me is a muslim woman in a black hijab with sky blue and pink rhinestones along all borders. There are three seats in a row, and in the center seat she sits with either her ~3 year old daughter or 8 year old son. When she swaps with her husband (a row behind) to take the boy, she shoves against me to make room to have him sit next to hear in the seat. Again, I’m struck by how accepted personal contact is here, while I feel uncomfortable with a stranger touching me on a long train ride.The woman looks younger than 25, perhaps, and her husband as well. She feeds her daughter water out of the water bottle cap just like Stewart Little and places Lay’s chips in her mouth. She tries to raise the window screen to distract her child but the man in the seat behind us pulls it back down. She points at the translucent screen and talks to her daughter – the only words I discern are elephanta and tiger. There are no elephants or tigers outside this train.

She wipes her daughter’s face and nose with a Huggies’s baby wipe, and watches this screen as I type. There are six hours left of this train ride.

We’ve done some great work this month. Well over a quarter of the surveys we will be collecting in Uttar Pradesh have been collected. We’re still finalizing the fuel weighing, temperature and aerosol sampling plan – but that will launch soon.

Now, I’m off to the state of Uttarakhand in the farther north of India. To mountains. To the coming monsoon. To training an entirely new group of ladies (and perhaps men) in the survey. To new types of stoves and potentially new types of solutions. To another 6 weeks in India.

Some flashbacks from the field:

All of the enumerators received an ID badge with their name and photo that said “Stove Researcher”.


Ankita particularly requested that I wear my hat in this photo. I think she was in awe of it – she also asked to wear it for a photo. My otherworldly florescent glow is especially prominent in these photos – perhaps because my skin was literally dripped and reflected more light?!



Omkar the fearless field leader.



Tall wheat.


Field Dave.


Beautiful field Alyssa (looking at this picture you’d never guess she sweats, too!)


Simply a photo


Photo: I’m conducting a test on our temperature sensor equipment.

Things you cannot see in this picture:

I am in a very small room, perhaps 10 by 10 feet. There is a small grate in the ceiling where air can escape, and a small door by which I entered, 6 feet tall and less than 2 feet wide.

This is not someone’s home – it is a laboratory where a small team designs some truly promising stoves. This is the same room where they build the stoves from a silica based absorptive cement-like material pressed into molds, and the same room where the stoves are tested.

“Testing” sounds innocuous, but it involves endless cooking trials with names like the Kitchen Performance Test, Water Boiling Test, and Controlled Cooking Test – standardized to record the efficiency of a stove (through amount of fuel burned).

This tiny room is always full of smoke. It’s hard for me to handle physically – my eyes water, sometimes I start coughing, and my clothes are drenched almost instantly, sweat pouring down my arms.

You may not notice – but there are actually four stoves in this picture:

count the stoves

Three of them are in use. There is another stove out of sight, also in use. Imagine crouching in front of three lit stoves in an unventilated room in a concrete building in near-120 degree heat. The stove directly in front of me is a mithai ka chulha, or mud stove, made by the family of the cook at the guesthouse where I am staying. He brought the stove to the lab on the back of his bicycle.

The work being done here on stoves is incredible, and much of the intuitive creativity goes to Lokendra-ji, below:


I cannot help but be overwhelmed imagining the occupational exposure that these cookstove pioneers accrue on a daily basis – how unfair that from their sincere efforts to reduce indoor air pollution for millions across India they themselves inhale such a significant dose.

And finally – the first picture showed but could never do justice to the instrument in my hand – a cell phone (or a “mobile”, as it is called here). This normal mobile has a program designed by Nexleaf Analytics that records the temperature every few seconds using a temperature sensor attached through the headphone jack. “It’s a kind of magic”. 

We are deploying these sensors throughout our study to test (over 24 hours) how often the stove was used. And once our intervention is complete, we’ll return to the same households to test how many adopted an improved cookstove and whether it has had an effect on the usage of their traditional cookstove.

Ultimately, this mobile device may become even more powerful – I hold in my hand a potential source for generating carbon credits for black carbon. If these phones can show a reduction is use of a traditional cookstove, this represents a similar reduction in black carbon released by the stove. If a household wirelessly uploads this data showing they are generating less black carbon, suddenly millions of poor households could be part of the carbon market, receiving payments (perhaps even in the form of cell phone minutes) for reduced stove emissions.

Though this laboratory is densely clouded with smoke, it’s illuminated by the light of possibility.

Exceeding Expectations

My teammate, roommate, Duke classmate (etc.) Alyssa just posted an excellent write-up of the actual status of our field work compared to theoretical expectations. Please check it out:

I thought I’d add a few of my own observations:

In Theory: We are staying in an AC room.
In Practice: We only have AC a few hours a night (if we are lucky), and a fan (if we are lucky).


In Theory:In case of a power outage, the building has a bank of batteries and an inverter, so that power will continue to be supplied to fans, lights, and the modem.

In Practice: The power is out so often that the bank of batteries is always running low (since it gets very little power to charge). Therefore, when the main power supply runs out the backup will follow after some time, leaving us to sweat (sometimes in darkness) and consider the meaning of still air.


In Theory: We are in India for field work, and will explore India on our days off.
In Practice: There has not been a single day off in one month.


In Theory: We ask a community questionnaire to the village leader, or pradhan, in every village or hamlet we visit. This allows us to understand infrastructure, nearby industries, and many other characteristics of a community rather than repeating these questions for each household.

In Practice: It can be hard to find the pradhan, or elected village leader. Instead, it is often necessary to group together several knowledgeable men in the community, frequently teachers (who laugh extensively about the fact that they are the most learned men in the community, including in English, but cannot understand a word of what you are saying). Also, they may not actually know anything about the village.


In Theory: I absolutely, positively love Indian food. I could eat it all the time and never get sick of it! In fact, I’ve never come close to getting sick of it on any previous trips to India, and miss it when I’m home (true).
in Practice: I got sick of having the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner after about a week. Turns out that yellow dal, rice, roti, and some sort of veg actually can get old all by themselves.

Variety is priceless… particularly in the form of Honey Loops, my new favorite treat when I need variety. I’ve found a local shop with soymilk and the two together are unbeatable. Honey Loops are a somewhat less sweet and less-chemically colored version of Fruit Loops.


In Theory:
We are very well hydrated after drinking well over 5 liters of water a day
In Practice: Our urine is constantly a shade of dark yellow/brown that it has never been in the USA. I often go 8-9 hours without needing to use the restroom after being in the field and drinking this much water – we are sweating out almost every drop of the water we drink.


In Theory: 120 degrees is very hot.

In Practice: 120 degrees is like living inside of a hair dryer. You are being baked from the inside out. If there is any time during the day that I am not sweating, it is a rarity. This is not hot – this is like living in an inferno. Somehow, even in this heat, people spend hours a day cooking (top pic) and scientists we are working with spend long hours in an enclosed room testing stoves (bottom pic).



In Theory: Hats are a useful way to protect one’s face from the sun.

In Practice: Without this hat, I would be a burnt piece of matzoh.


In Theory: Peer reviewed publications explain the challenging living conditions and environmental concerns in developing countries like India.

In Practice: These are experiences for which there is no substitute.