Finding sustainable livelihood from what my grandfather taught me.

Traditional Soda Ash Production

NGAO Society/ABCD Kenya has just embarked on a journey to map the assets, strength and capacities of individuals, associations and institutions within Kangemi. Here is our first story of the one Mzee Dunstone Bedi.  Being in charge of Asset Based Community development at NGAO society, I needed to go to the depth of this individual stories and so I began by asking Bedi where he has come from as far as life is concerned. I won’t go into details of all this but am going to capture what is important, to bring the relevance of someone renaming his world by looking inside himself and finding something that he can do to enhance or rather to sustain his livelihood.

 The story of Mzee Bedi

Dunstone came to Nairobi in the year 1978 to look for employment. This was after he had dropped out of school while in form 3 due to lack of school fees. By his story we can tell that Dunstone was an intelligent kid. He actually schooled in Musingu High School, one of the best schools in Kenya. This is a school with high cut off marks for joining, but Dunstone made it to join.

 After dropping from High school and coming to Nairobi, Dunstone started working as a shop steward. He did this job for quite a number of years, 6 years to be precise. But due to his intelligence he kept on searching for his inner purpose in life and on the sixth year he quit the job. He then found a job as a security guard in Nairobi Central Business District. He liked the job not because he was passionate about it but because it gave him money that would certain him in paying rent and buying food.

 Dunstone worked for the company for many years till one day the unexpected happened. One day as he was seated with his workmates, he saw two police men approaching, and with a blink of an eye they were all taken and put in a police vehicle, drove to a police station where they were locked in a cell. As they followed up on why this had happened they were told that they were part of the team that had organized a security guards strike the previous day and that they had beaten their boss and broken his rib.

 Dunstone’s story is one of many stories we rarely hear from individuals as they are ordinary community members that one cares less to know about their life. It is one of the single stories of how we view others who are not us in many ways. At times the society gets swayed by the stories of extra-ordinary people and we forget that the relationships, the connections and the networks build by this ordinary community members are what make the growth of our communities. A Communities’ successful achievements depend on the success of these ordinary individuals.

Bedi’s case took two years, and fortunately he won. He actually told me that during this case process, he stepped his foot in the court 52 times. This was in the process of mentioning, arguing the case and finally till when they gave the verdict. He said this taught him a lot.

 After all this had happened, Bedi didn’t want to be employed again. He sat down and thought of what he could do as an individual to help him sustain his life. In 2012 Bedi started manufacturing sodium from ash the traditional way that he had been taught by his grandparents. By then he didn’t know how this would turn out, but he carried with him hope that God was going to bless the work of his hands. Today manufacturing sodium from ash (omunyu omushelekha) as he calls it in his native language has become Bedi’s livelihood. He even gets income from this to feed his family. I decided to take a journey with Bedi to go and see how this is done. Please check the illustrations below on how Bedi manufactures his product, how it goes on the market and how it has become his source of income.

 TRADITIONAL SODA ASH MANUFACTURING (OMUNYU OMUSHELEKHA)

During my visit, I requested Bedi to facilitate the whole process from the beginning to the end to enable me understand the concept well.

1)      Collecting raw materials

The first thing we did was to go and get raw materials that are used to make the product. I am going to include some photos of different steps just to help you understand this process. Bedi advised me that his raw material include; maize cobs, banana fibers, beans leaves that have been collected during harvesting. All this he collects from the women who sell vegetables along roadsides. The women always gather the raw materials for him. He has realized that the business women on the markets and side of the road are assets, hence facilitating him with raw materials. To them its waste but to Bedi its important raw material, so they don’t throw them away, they keep them for him to collect. Other sources of these raw materials can be grass that grows along river swamps. This grass is harvested, dried, before burning.

2)      Burning the raw materials to produce Ash.

When we reach his place, Bedi then gets to his burning area where he puts all the raw materials he had collected. He lights them then he lets them burn slowly. Some of the raw materials are wet since they haven’t dried well and so it produces a lot of smoke in the process. I ask him why he doesn’t want to dry them before burning and he tells me there is no big difference in using wet raw material instead of dried ones. The product will still be of the same quality. His production is on a small scale since he hasn’t tapped into the wide market of Kangemi yet. So I realized that this is one area of enhancement that we can work on.

3)      Extracting the soda ash from the raw ash.

Soda Ash, Omunyu Omusherekha (in luyha language), Thudho (in Luo language), magadi (in Swahili language) is extracted in order to get the liquid mixture that is used for mixing with food to make it become soft and cook faster.

The following are the steps followed to extract it.

Step 1:  You need to have a plastic container of at least 500mls and make several holes at the bottom of the container which is used as a sieve.

Step 2: You put soda ash in to the holed plastic container, then fill it with clean water, then put the holed plastic container into another bigger container where the resultant mixture will be collected, which is  used for cooking food to make it soft. 

Take note that if you fill the 500ml container with ashes to halfway full, then that can help you extract solution of up to one litre and can keep for future use. This means that you will keep refilling the container that has the ashes with clean water until you have extracted solution equivalent to one litre anymore extraction will be less effective.

Most of the old generation used to produce omunyu omuselekha for their domestic use. Bedi has expanded the idea and he is producing more of the product for sale.

4)      Extracted Soda Ash  (Omunyu omusherekha) (final product for use)

The product can be extracted in two forms:

Liquid form

The product extracted in liquid form is brown in color, and it has a funny test. It’s not bitter neither is it sweet. It actually tests like sodium bicarbonate.

Solid form

The liquid soda ash is then condensed to produce a solid form. This is done in a pot so that the solid residue should not stick on the surface. If you use equipment which is not the pot then the content will stick on the surface and this will spoil the product. The solid form is used to smoothen the face or the body.

5)      Cooking using soda ash (omunyu omushelekha)

Clay pot (nyungu) was the most recommended for cooking the above although sufurias for the present generation are applicable. The amount to be used depends largely on the size of the food to be cooked, however Two to three table spoonful is enough.

This Soda Ash is used in cooking some food delicacy which include:

LUHYA

LUO

SWAHILI

ENGLISH

Likhubi

Boo

Kunde

Cow peas

Omurere

Apodh

Murenda

 

Emiro

Mitoo

Mitoo

 

Liro/lisebebe

Budho

Malenge

Pumpkin leaves

Eshitiani

Ogira

Borohoa

Mashed beans

Isindu

Aluru

kware

Quail

Inyieni

Rech

Samaki

Fish

 

 

 

 

Ingokho

Gweno

Kuku

Chicken

 

 

 Nyama

Beaf


Production cost of Soda Ash

Production cost is almost free since material used is sort of recycled, i.e. Banana peelings, beans thrashings, cobs and grass harvesting along the river swamp depends on one’s own energy to harvest as much as one is capable of.

Availability of Traditional Soda ash in essence of economic empowerment.

Initially traditional soda ash was make in households only for use within the families. Mzee Bedi produces the product for sale to other people. He even has selling points. He has assigned it to roadside women to sell the product to those women they sell vegetables to. The traditional soda ash is also readily available at various points of markets which include: Gikomba open air market Muthurwa open shades market, Toy market in Kibera and Burma market just to mention a few. Charges of traditional soda ash ranges from hundred shillings for a two kilograms container better known as (gorogoro) by mama mboga and the smallest is a twenty shillings container which is about 200 grams.


Importance of passing Indigenous Knowledge

The soda ash raw materials which include beans leaves are burnt and the ash is gathered and stored in a large pot or traditional basket that has been fine painted using cow dung to prevent wastage.

Traditionally prepared soda ash is free from chemicals hence fit for human consumption in advantage compared to sodium bicarbonate.

Traditional soda ash production has been seen as a Woman’s work hence not many men fork have ideas about “OMUSHEREKHA” preparation but enjoy delicacy cooked using it. Maybe this is so because many African traditional look at a woman’s work as being in the kitchen.

Besides many city dwellers may have little knowledge about this vital commodity, but with this information available and through interactivity those interested can easily pick up and put them in practice.

CONCLUSION
Indigenous knowledge has been and will remain a working force hence it has to be harnessed for posterity.
Finally knowledge is power invest and use “Umusherekha” as indigenous soda ash for better health.

Story by: Charles E. Edward 

Views: 42

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Comment by charles esibikhwa edward on June 30, 2017 at 12:30pm

hi http://aidscompetence.ning.com/profile/MarieLamboray, Bedi's grandparents lived in Western Kenya,its quite far from Turkana. I have illustrated for you on the map below just to show you how far the two places are,have you been to Turkana?

Comment by Marie Lamboray on June 29, 2017 at 1:42pm

Hello Charles,

I'm curious; where did Bedi's grandparents live? Near lake Turkana or Natron?

Please see Eric Uwintwaza's pictures (income generating project with youths in Burundi): http://aidscompetence.ning.com/photo/sam-7181?context=user.

Thank you for "mobilizing youth to take charge of their life and not to wait to anyone to come and do it for them".

Comment by charles esibikhwa edward on June 23, 2017 at 7:46pm

Mzee Bedi's story has been a changing force in Kangemi where he lives,it was so inspiring to see mzee Bedi inspire even the youth to take charge of their lives.Many felt like they have been wasting much time looking at the government to provide for them jobs,if mzee bedi can sustain his livelihood with the asset he has why not young people who are so energetic and creative?

On the other hand mzee Bedi opened my eyes as i am working hard to enhance this product and try to see if it can reach as many people as it can.I would like to see Bedi expand his market and also open up a company that would produce this product in large quantities.I am currently engaged with Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute a government parastatal in-charge of all innovations in foods and beverages  to see if they can take Bedi's product and test it and see if it can be produced in large quantities so that it can be used all over the county.This can enhance the skills of Bedi in a much larger scale and it can even make him earn more from the product.

This is just one of the stories that shows that the moment we stop focusing on deficiencies and focus on assets then we are going to provide solutions to our problems.

 

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on June 23, 2017 at 12:01pm

Thanks for this great story Charles. I particularly liked the conclusion. What happened after Mzee Bedi narrated his story? Also where was this narrated? What was the affect on all present? Warm greetings!

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