As I try to confirm news of the sudden availability of a second lot of one hundred Envirofit cooking stoves, for which I had thought the villagers of Dareda Kati might have to wait several more months, a chance encounter with a memorable new work of art has revived some nagging doubts about the wisdom of Karimu’s delivery of stoves to the village.
Though Marianne and I live and work on Staten Island now, on weekends we nearly always take the ferry to Manhattan. On yesterday’s glorious Indian summer afternoon we took the subway with our two daughters, who are visiting from California, all the way up to Amsterdam and West 110th, in Greater Harlem. There we went, for the second Sunday in a row, inside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which disputes the honor of being the fourth largest Christian church in the world—and the largest Episcopal church—with Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
Since the previous Sunday, St. John’s activist congregation had sanctioned installation of the Council of Pronghorn: the skulls of twenty-three pronghorn antelope, mounted on weathered fence posts supported by discarded tractor discs and arranged in a circle of perhaps forty or fifty feet in diameter. One or the work’s creators, Terry Tempest Williams, has written that the pronghorn skulls “bear witness” to Wyoming’s natural-gas industry, now “on overdrive” in order to “fuel our economy, pay for our education, and pay for our lifestyle” (http://invokingthepause.org/blog/council-of-pronghorn-progressive/). Live pronghorn, “frozen in fear,” had “haunted” her and her collaborators, Felicia Resor and Ben Roth, as they all witnessed the “black scars of the open pit mines,” the “burning slag ponds,” and a “forest of lodgepole pines, once green, now red, dry and dusty, a result of local warming.”
At Karimu we work with the villagers of Dareda Kati, but without presuming to oversee them. Many have expressed their eagerness to use the cooking stoves, yet many more have said nothing to us. Maybe some who have said nothing have no intention of using the stoves, and maybe some who have shown excitement will lapse back into the comfort of cooking the old, familiar, lethal way over open fires. Even deadly familiarity can give us comfort: Marianne likes to point out that tens of millions of Americans continue to make unhealthy food choices, in spite of decades of public health education programs which Karimu could never rival. (How many millions of Americans still smoke cigarettes?) So I worry a little that our cooking stoves might become Dareda Kati’s discarded tractor discs, littering the village’s maize fields and crude dirt paths.
But then, as I recall the power of the Council of Pronghorn, I turn my attention from the tractor discs to the antelope skulls. Those could be the skulls of villagers, dead prematurely from respiratory disease caused by open cooking fires. I think also of the forested escarpment towering above Dareda Kati, increasingly scarred not by pit mines, but by women and girls who ravage it for firewood that the stoves could preserve. And I think that we at Karimu have no choice other than to do our very best with the villagers and to hope for the best.—Don Stoll