Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Hot Water Demand Survey

In the interests of improving the utility of scholarship to the community and honoring Community Based Participatory Development, I am publishing the English translation of the survey questions I used to collect my data here. It is hoped that others can improve upon this survey to get better, more complete and more reliable and accurate information in the future that can help influence public policy in Egypt to help the poor achieve a higher standard and quality of lifestyle.

The original Arabic version can be downloaded from here.

The survey reproduced in this post was developed by myself and the friendly staff  in Darb Al Ahmar, who ran through my original survey questions (nearly 200!) and selected and field tested various subsets until he narrowed it down to the 12 sets of questions (totaling 70 discrete questions) that we actually used.

I developed another survey consisting of 12 open ended questions with Talat Kamil and Ezzat Naem Guindy of Roh El Shabab that they felt was more a propos for the Zabaleen community, but after field testing it 10 times, we decided to abandon it and use the AKTC survey for both communities for uniformity's sake, despite the cultural differences, which we discussed in a meeting between Zabaleen researchers and Darb Al Ahmar researchers.

Chief among those differences, making the use of the Darb El Ahmar questions difficult to implement according to Talaat and Suzy, are the fact that the Zabaleen almost invariably live in single family buildings -- generally several stories high, mostly unfinished and of recent origin, made of brick with a rebar reinforced concrete skeleton, in which each family member occupies a separate floor within the same dwelling as their relatives.

The Darb Al Ahmar community is almost invariably multi-family apartment buildings, mostly very old to ancient, many made of load bearing stone with no reinforcing skeleton.

In the Zabaleen community there is a greater fluidity of movement and use of space throughout the whole building since it is all one family, and it is sometimes misleading to talk to only one "head of household" to get a profile of the whole family's economic status and cultural practices.

For example, in Talaat's own home an interview with his arthritic mother, who lives on the ground floor and cannot climb the stairs, reveals that her daughter heats her bathing water on a small portable butagas stove in the living room by the door. The daughter also uses this method for herself. One could walk away believing that the whole household uses the small portable butagas stove. But one floor up, Talaat and his wife and their baby have an electric water heater. There is a tradition to prepare an apartment for marriage by installing a water heating appliance, either electric or gas. The mother never gets to use this heater because she can't climb the stairs, but the sister occasionally (though rarely) does; usually she bathes downstairs with the water she prepares for her mother, or carries the portable stove upstairs to her own room in the building. Talaat says that sometimes, to save money and time he asks his sister to prepare water for him on the stove (since, because they turn it off between uses, it takes a half an hour to an hour for the electric heater to warm the water). In other homes, the hot water heating appliance exists because the husband-to-be bought and installed it to attract his wife (like a bower bird, it is the suitor's duty to prepare a nest to bring in a mate), but after the marriage the family decides not to use the appliance so they can save money, and the wife or the girls in the family go back to preparing water on the stove. This is facilitated when the whole extended family lives in one building.

In Darb El Ahmar, by contrast, each apartment is usually a separate family with no relation to the others in the building.

One could conceivably get a larger sample of households by sampling within a single apartment building. We didn't do this however. For uniformity's sake we treated each building as a separate household and interviewed only one head of household per building. We chose our buildings at random within a Shaykhiya (District) and tried to cover roughly the same surface area of Shakhiyas in each community.

The spatial geography and construction as well as the social dimension of the built environment thus has a profound influence on survey methodology and we had to decide which protocol to use. We chose the Darb Al Ahmar protocol because we felt it was better to go with the experience and expertise of the Darb Al Ahmar team and build future capacity. They are working with us to create a research support office at the Darb Al Ahmar that can help future graduate students and foreign researchers eager to do work in Cairo, and this was a first step in making that dream a reality!

The final version of the survey was hammered out in a series of household site visits that I went on with leaders of the Darb Al Ahmar Research Initiative. It emerged as a compromise between the vast amounts of information I wanted to find out and the terrible problems of respondent and surveyor fatigue. It also had to happen within and short window of opportunity that we had to work with the official survey teams when they weren't busy with their own jobs (since it is illegal for graduate students to do research themselves in Egypt without going through the long complicated process of getting official approval -- something that can take years -- I had to work within the work schedule of established and official local entities who were willing to conduct the survey as if it were "their project").

While initial trials of the surveys took up to an hour, this final version was completed on average in 20 minutes. This figure ironically increased to 30 minutes when the surveyors followed my instructions and went into the households to inspect the bathrooms and kitchens -- this was supposed to save time because much of the questionnaire could be filled in by observation, but the social niceties required in Egyptian culture made the process of going into the intimate spaces of a home take longer.

At times surveys were completed in 15 minutes, but I was not happy with the results; often a rush through the survey led to misleading conclusions, such as when a respondent would say they had an electric heater and the surveyor would simply note that. When I went on site visits and actually asked to see the heater I personally discovered in 5 cases that the family had an electric heater that was unplugged or broken. When I asked about this the family often said, "oh, we stopped using it a couple of years ago -- it is too expensive to repair, and the costs of electricity are too high, so we heat water on the stove instead."

To get this kind of information, one has to go into the households and talk outside the formalism of the survey since most people who have electric heaters see them as signs of upward mobility, and want to "show off" by saying they have electric heaters. My own landlady insisted she used an electric heater, just like we had in our apartment, but when I went to hook her up to our solar hot water system I discovered it had never been plugged in, and didn't even have a plug. She wept when we gave her hot water from the sun saying, "for years I've had this thing on my wall in the bathroom, but I'd been afraid to hook it up. I know people who died from electric shock in the bathroom -- you know, water and electricity in these old buildings. And then there is the cost... so I use the stove." But when she had been surveyed she reported having an electric heater!

You can see the same phenomenon when riding the crowded public buses in Cairo and asking people with watches (those that have them!) what time it is. Many people turn out to have watches that are broken, but are wearing them as "jewelry" for the status!

The survey tries to get around these problems by asking questions in various ways to triangulate information, but many of the redundant questions I had wanted in for error checking and bias checking were thrown out by the surveyor teams for expediency's sake.

Another issue that we had was in getting price information and willingness to pay information. In Darb Al Ahmar the community was suspicious of talking about money and after much field testing the AKTC team thought it better to drop the issue wherever it seemed to create tension. For this we need to conduct a special focus group.

In the Zabaleen area interestingly there was greater openness to talking about money (or the lack thereof).

In both communities the social dynamic of implementing the final survey was easy to achieve once we got on the ground because it was co-created, endorsed, supervised and conducted by teams from the community. In Darb Al Ahmar, along with Dalia (21 surveys), it was the expert AKTC trainees, Mohammed, Sana and Sharihan (70 surveys each); in Zarayib it was Talaat, Suzy, Hanan (100 surveys) Raheel, Maryam, and Iman (100 surveys) and Amal (25 surveys).

As a foreigner I didn't have to say a word or justify myself. In both communities the surveyors simply knocked on a door and explained that they were from the AKTC or the NGO Roh El Shabab, respectively, and said they were conducting surveys on community infrastructure and needs as part of their on-going work to improve the quality of life in their communities. Since both groups are known to their respective communities there were no questions asked.

Hot water Household Demand Survey

(This version is unformatted and doesn't contain the tables and check boxes found in the real 9 page collection of paper survey sheets. An electronic version of this survey in English is found at Unfortunately, while they have free student accounts in some languages, they don't let students use their Arabic language services for free.)

Group 0: Location information on respondent

0.1 Shakhiya (Area):

0.2 Date of the interview:

0.3 Telephone number:

0.4 Name of researcher:

0.5 Name of Respondent

0.6 Educational level respondent attained:

0.7 Address:

Group 1

1.1 What type of material is the dwelling made of?

1.1.1 Concrete and brick with skeletal structure
1.1.2 Load bearing walls
1.1.3 Other

1.2.1 Number of floors in the dwelling (excluding ground floor)

1.2.2 Unit of respondent is on which floor?

2.1 Number of family members

2.1 Number of people in the household

2.2.1 Number of family members less than 10 years

2.2.2 Number of family members between 10 and 20 years

2.2.3 Number of family members between 20 and 40 years

2.2.4 Number of family members greater than 40 years

2.3 Type of work for head of household

2.3.1 Steady
2.3.2 Unsteady

3.1 Description of the respondent regarding dwelling

3.1.1 Single owner of the dwelling
3.1.2 Shared owner of the dwelling
3.1.3 Renter -- new rental
3.1.4 Renter -- old rental
3.1.5 Unofficial dwelling
3.1.6 Other

3.2 Electric meter is in whose name?

3.2.1 Member of the family -dwelling in residence
3.2.2 Member of the family not dwelliing in the residence
3.2.3 Previous resident
3.2.4 Other

Group 4: Building

4.1 Number of units in the building

4.2 Number of units in the building occupied all the time

4.3 Number of units in the building occasionally occupied

4.4 Number of units in the building permanently empty

4.5 Does the building have easy roof access?

4.5.1 Yes
4.5.2 No
4.5.3 Other

4.6 Type of roof

4.6.1 Roof has safety wall
4.6.2 Roof has no safety wall
4.6.3 Unfinished roof
4.6.4 Ruins
4.6.5 Other

5.1 Length of time in dwelling

5.1.1 Less than a year
5.1.2 Between 1 and 5 years
5.1.3 Between 6 and 10 years
5.1.4 Between 11 and 20 years
5.1.5 Between 21 and 40 years
5.1.6 More than 40 years
5.1.7 Other

5.2 Nature of dwelling

5.3 Live in dwelling only
5.4 Live and work
5.4.1 Note activity if both live and work

5.3 Number of rooms in dwelling (excluding bathroom and kitchen)

Group 6: Facilities/Amenities/Services
(In the event that there is no public water supply, ignore questions 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4,
and indicate source of water in 8.1)

6.1 What services are present in this dwelling?

6.1.1 Electricity from public service
6.1.2 Water from public service
6.1.3 Sewage connection to public service
6.1.4 Other

6.2 Water availability (If water is constantly cut ignore question 8.2)

6.2 How often is water available?

6.2.1 All the time
6.2.2 Some of the time
6.2.3 Constantly cut
6.2.4 Other

6.3 Is the water pressure sufficient to lift water to the house?

6.3.1 Yes
6.3.2 No
6.3.3 Other

6.4 Do you use a water pump (motor)?

6.4.1 Yes
6.4.2 No
6.4.3 Other If no, why not? If yes, is the water pump private or shared? Private Shared Other If yes, where is the water pump located?

6.4.2 Do you use a water storage tank Yes No Other If no, why not? __________________________ If yes, is it private or shared? Private Shared Other If yes, where is it located?

Group 7

7.1.1 Bathroom (1) Private (2) Shared (1) Has water source (2) No water source (1) Has ventilation (2) No ventilation

7.1.2 Kitchen (1) Private (2) Shared (1) Has water source (2) No water source (1) Has ventilation (2) No ventilation

7.2 Services in the Kitchen and Bathroom

Kitchen has Kitchen doesn't have Hot water pipes Cold water pipes Sink Ceramic tiles

Bathroom has Bathroom doesn't have Hot water pipes Cold water pipes Shower Bathtub Sink Ceramic tiles

7.2.7 Is there a water faucet at the entrance to the dwelling? Yes No

7.2.8 What type of toilet? Balady (squat) Afrangy (throne)

8.1 Has you experienced anydangers to your health or safety during the last 12 months in this dwelling or building?

8.1.1 Yes
8.1.2 No
8.1.3 Other

8.2 If yes, what was the source of the danger?

8.2.1 Fire
8.2.2 Building related (walls, roof, stairs)
8.2.3 Sewage
8.2.4 Other

Present (Y/N) What size? Paying on installment (Y/N)
9.1.1 Refrigerator
9.1.2 Stove BW Television Color Television Automatic Washing Machine Traditional Washing Machine Landline Telephone Mobile Phone Satellite dish Cable TV connection

9.2 If you had extra money, what would be the first three things you would buy?
(Start with open ended question, have them rank and list the top three; write down in other category if not only list, then prompt for fourth or fifth choice from list if none are present)

First choice Second Choice Third Choice Fourth Choice Fifth Choice
9.2.1. Hot water heater
9.2.2. Shower
9.2.3. Cassette player
9.2.4. Washing machine
9.2.5. Refrigerator
9.2.6. Television
9.2.7. Stove Other ________________________________________ If "other" what item was mentioned?


9.3 How do you heat your house in the winter?

9.3.1. Electric Heater
9.3.2. Butagas
9.3.3. Natural Gas heater
9.3.4. Babur
9.3.5. Logs (wood)
9.3.6. Close the house
9.3.7 Other

Group 10: How the household obtains hot water: (Show respondents the numbered pictures for uniformity)

10.1.1 Which of the following water heating systems (shown in the pictures provided) are you familiar with? (Respondents should point to the numbered pictures for accuracy) Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heating Portable stove heating Bottle gas with floor grill Solar hot water Other

10.1.2 Which is the current source of your hot water? Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heating Portable stove heater Bottled gas and floor grill Solar hot water Other ____________________________ If user has electric heater, how many liters?
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100

Other _______________________ If respondent has gas heater, is it automatic (self igniting) or normal ?
("normal = user must light) Automatic Normal Other

10.2 For how long have you had this heating system?

10.2.1 Less than one year
10.2.2 Between one and three years
10.2.3 More than three years 10.2.4 Other

10.3 What influenced your decision to purchase this system?

10.3.1 Convenient from a material conditions standpoint (financial)
10.3.2 Easy to use
10.3.3 Clean
10.3.4 Safe
10.3.5 Other

10.4 Did a lack of constant monthly income affect your choice of the water heating
system you use?

10.4.1 Yes
10.4.2 No
10.4.3 Other

10.5 How much did you pay for your current hot water system (capital costs)?

10.6 How important is hot water to you?

10.6.1 Very important
10.6.2 Important
10.6.3 Not so important
10.6.4 Not important at all

10.7 Does the WAY you obtain your hot water make a difference to you?

10.7.1 Yes
10.7.2 No
10.7.3 Other

10.8 How long do you estimate it takes for you to heat water for bathing on average?

10.9 Who is responsible for heating the bathing water?

10.10.1 What was the water heating system you used before the current one? Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heating Bottled gas and floor grill Solar heater Other

10.10.2 If previous system was electric, how many liters?

10.10.3 If previous heater was gas, was it automatic or normal? Automatic Normal Other

10.10.4. (Respondents should look at provided, numbered pictures to answer this

Which of the following systems have you used before in your life? Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heating Portable stove heating Bottled gas with floor grill Solar heater Other ____________________

10.11 During what times of the year do you use hot water?

10.11.1 All year long
10.11.2 Only during the Winter
10.11.3 Other _________________

10.12 Do you leave your water heating system on all the time, or do you turn it off
after each use? (For electric heaters this means unplugging or turning off the heater, for gas systems turning off the pilot light)

10.12.1 Leave it on all the time
10.12.2 Turn it off after use

10.13 Has your hot water system given you any problems?

10.13.1 Yes
10.13.2 No

10.13.3 If yes, what were the problems you experienced? What are the advantages you see with your system?
________________________________________________________ What disadvantages do you see in your system?

10.15 How much do you estimate you pay each month to heat your water (whether for electricity or gas or any other fuel).________________________

10.16.1 What will you do to heat water if the price of gas or electricity goes up?


10.16.2 At what price per month would you decide to switch to another method of
heating water?


10.17.1 If somebody were to give you a hot water system as a gift, which one would
you choose and why? Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heater Portable stove heater Bottled gas and floor grill Solar heater Other __________________________

10.17.2 Why would you choose this system if given as a gift? Safety Clean Easy to use Monthly running costs New Like my friends or neighbors Other

10.18.1 Respondents should look at provided, numbered pictures to answer this

10.18.1 Rank the following systems in terms of safety (1 safest, 6 least safe) Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heating Portable stove heating Bottled gas and floor grill Solar heater

Rank values must be between 1 and 6

10.18.2 Show numbered picture cards for preference ranking.

10.18.2 Please rank which, in your opinion are the least expensive ways to heat
water? (1 cheapest, 6 most expensive) Electric heater Gas heater Stovetop heating Portable stove heating Bottled gas and floor grill Solar heater

Rank values must be between 1 and 6

Group 11: Cost of living Ask respondents to tell you about how much they spend each month on the following items (in Egyptian pounds LE).

Value Comments
11.1.1 Rent Electricity Water Gas
11.1.3 Food
11.1.4 Commercial work expenses
11.1.5 Education
11.1.6 Health
11.1.7 Savings
11.1.8 Loan payments
11.1.9 Telphones (landline and mobile)
11.1.10 Other expenses

11.2.1. If family uses gas bottles, how many gas bottles are used in a month?

11.2.2 What is the current price of gas bottles?

12.1 If you could get a water heating system that offered instant on-demand heating (waiting time less than 2 minutes for water to be hot), was safe, provided hot water 24 hours a day (because of insulated hot water storage tanks) and which had monthly running costs that averaged less than 5 LE per month, but cost about 1000 LE to purchase and install, would you be interested in purchasing such a system if you could buy it on credit?

12.1.1 Yes
12.1.2 No
12.1.3 Other ______________________

If yes: How much would you be willing to pay as a downpayment?
______________ How much would you be willing to pay per month?
______________ How long would you be willing to make monthly payments?

If respondent answered no, ask:

"If such a system were offered to be installed in your home and you could not afford to pay anything in money, how could you help defray the costs or contribute?"

12.2.1. Share technical expertise and/or opinions
12.2.2 Share in the work effort
12.2.3. Share in the provision of tools and materials
12.2.4. Other


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Use of Hot Water Heating Systems in Old Cairo

Photo 1: 231 water heaters in the Darb El Ahmar Project Area (Red = Electric, Green = Gas, Blues = Different kinds of Cooking Stoves, Yellow = Kerosene flame):

(Download the .kmz file for display in your copy of Google Earth here)

Photo 2: 231 water heaters in the Zabaleen Zurayib Project Area (225 from the official survey, 6 additional from personal observation; Red = Electric, Green = Gas, Blues = Different kinds of Cooking Stoves, Yellow = Kerosene flame; Orange = campfire):

(Download the .kmz file for display in your copy of Google Earth here)


Eyeballing for Fast and Frugal Spatial Analysis:

Differences between communities ascertained by eye.


Of the two paradigms in Urban Sociology described in Nancy Kleniewski's "Cities, Change and Conflict -- A Political Economy of Urban Life" (2006, p. 41) -- those being 1) Urban Ecology and 2) Urban Political Economy -- the effort displayed here reflects a bias toward Urban Ecology.

Urban Ecology has, stemming from its theoretical foundations, an interest in Human Ecology, Neoclassical Economics and Social Area Analysis. As such it extends the insights of Tonnies, Durkheim and Simmel (as opposed following the ideas of Marx, Engels and Weber).

Urban Ecology makes the assumption that the built environment and urban land use are influenced by the spatial separation of different functions, their relation to the city center and to land values within a free market. It posits that residential patterns are influenced by human adaptation to the natural environment, that there is competition among groups for space and that there is cohesion of racial and ethnic groups. The paradigm also assumes that urban social norms are influenced by the size and density of the population and its differentiation into subcultures.

The Urban Ecology paradigm suggests therefore that cities in the third world differ from Western cities primarily due to their culture (rather than their occupying a low position in the world economic system), and that they have potential for economic development because of, rather than despite, their differences from the hegemonic or wealthier nations.

If the urban ecology perpsective is useful for interrogating the preferences and choices that the urban poor of Cairo make in hot water system demand, then, following Kleniewski, a typical research project would involve 1) the "Mapping of natural areas (CBD, ghetto), examining realtionships among neighborhoods, identifying group norms and patterns, and tracing population change and stability."

While it is beyond the scope of my research to trace population change and stability, it is suggestive to consider that of the two groups living in the ghettoes of Cairo, separated only by a 15 minute walk through the city of dead and Al Azhar Park, one population has dwelt in their area of urban residence for nearly a millenium while the other has recently immigrated from the countryside. We can use this as a starting point for thinking through possible factors influencing the norms and patterns of water heating technology use, and see if it maps onto observed practice.

Certainly my research does help identify group norms and patterns as regards hot water systems, and does so by examining relationships among neighborhodds (as opposed to the political economist's task of investigating how public policy affects urban areas).

Significantly for this part of my research, my effort in mapping the spatial distribution of hot water system use falls easily within the Urban Ecology paradigm, and the photographs reproduced here are a bid to see how this approach "maps onto" the theory that there is something more than an understanding of income needed to explain the differences we see between these two poor communities.

This kind of work goes back to the ideas of Robert E. Park (1864 -1944), the founder of the Chicago School of Urban Sociology (appropriate since I was born and raised right near the University of Chicago!)

Park's insistence that we investigate the social world through direct observation of ethnic ghettos and other aspects of city life normally hidden from view has definitely influenced my work, and his patterning of urban work on the emerging biological field of ecology also resonates with me, since I began my career as a researcher in rainforest ecology at Harvard's Gunung Palung study site in Borneo. In that work we tried to map the spatial relationships between tree fruiting phenology and the population density patterns and fruit choice preferences of large mammals and birds (particularly orangutans, gibbons, fruit bats and hornbills). In a similar vein, taking Park's argument that cities are like living organisms whose parts must be related to the structure of the city as a whole and its otehr parts (Kleniewski, p. 29), my attempt here is to show that there is something about the space in which people are operating, its topography, its relation to the city center and its underlying resource affordances, that is influencing their hot water technology decisions.

Spatial analyses of urban patterns have a long history. Park's disciple, Ernest Burgess laid a theoretical foundation for the growth of cities by suggesting that competition within the land market would result in each group getting the best location it can afford, and we certainly see this in looking at the map of where the Zabaleen live, on the outskirts of the city by the desert at Muqattam hills. Nonetheless, in historic cities like Cairo, the idea that there are gradations of class moving outward from a prosperous city center to a peripheral informal ghetto is disrupted by centuries of development imbrication and radically mixed neighborhoods throughout most of the city, disregarding the current growth of rich suburbs outside the city, even in Muqattam hills themselves.

Homer Hoyt back in 1939, disputed the simplicity of Ernest Burgess 'concentric zone model' and developed instead a "sector model theory" which was further modified by Harris and Ullman (1945) to reflect the complex reality of the American city (to say nothing of old world cities!). The Harris and Ullman analysis suggested a mosaic pattern of development which they called "the multiple nuclei" model. This model showed that in many cases there is little predictability about where different land uses and social groups are to be found in different cities (Ibid, p. 34).

Further refinements in the 1950s created a "factorial ecology" approach to urban sociology that used "factor analysis", a statistical technique, to understand urban questions. The approach, in the hands of Shevky and Bell (1955), became known as "social area analysis" and in many cases was able to show regularities in the characteristics of different neighborhoods.

Shevky and Bell are known for famously reducing population differences to three dimensions - the average socioeconomic status of households in the area, the family size and structure and the area's racial or ethnic makeup. Using just these three basic characteristics "could help predict man other features of life in those different settings" (op cit, 34).

Like many models, the reduction met with many critics, chief among those William Form (1954) who argued that there was too much reliance in these models on economic competition and not enough attention paid to shared cultural factors such as social prestige and ethnic prejudice or cultural practice.

In this exploration of the use of hot water heaters by indigent Cairenes, we want to see what yields can be obtained by a cursory spatial or social area analysis, and we use Google Earth as a quick and dirty tool to eyeball the differences between the Zabaleen and the Darb El Ahmar communities, both with similar economic status, yet apparently different with regard to hot water system use. Later we will subject these to statistical analysis and try to explain any significant differences that emerge.
This is the aggregate data...

... and this is how it lays out spatially:

Photo 3: Darb Al Ahmar Project area Water Heater use with underlying GPS maps:

(Download the AKTC GIS maps for use in Google Earth here, 20 MB)

I. Distribution of hot water heaters from a household survey sample of 231 homes in the Darb Al Ahmar project area.

Red represents electric heater apliances (wall mounted in the kitchen or the bathroom, usually under 50 liters). There are 126 of these (54.5% of the sample)

Green represents gas heater appliances (wall mounted in the kitchen or bathroom, fueled by exchangeable butagas bottles). There are 45 of these (19.5% of the sample)

Dark blue represents families that heat water on the kitchen stove (fueled by butagas bottles). There are 48 of these (20.5% of the sample).

Light blue represents families that heat water on small portable "one eye" butagas stoves. There is 1 of these (0.4 % of the sample).

Blue balloons with stars represent families that use a "Hamil" (a floor grill connected by a rubber hose to an exchangeable butagas bottle). There is 1 of these (0.4% of the sample)

Yellow balloons with stars represent families that use the "Babour" - a small portable kerosene stove. There are 9 of these (3.9 % of the sample.)

Amazingly one family was cleverly using the hot water from the electric washing machine in order to heat bathing water because a previous hot water system had broken and they couldn't afford to replace it! Though its frequency in our sample is the same as tha of the one eye and the Hamil, we don't consider it a "heating system" because in our informal surveys and experience living in the community we haven't seen it used elsewhere, whereas we have seen other families using Hamils and One Eye portables (in fact we have one ourselves). Thus we don't believe that a larger sample would scale up the number of households using washing machines as heater for bathing water.

The map does not reflect the 2 solar hot water systems we built or the 3 others currently under construction. There were no other solar hot water systems in the community. Khalis.

A fast and frugal attempt at spatial analyis (by eye!) suggests that there is greater use of electric and gas heaters toward the downtown area, near Bab Al Khalq, and more people relying on kitchen stoves up toward the old wall by Al Azhar park, i.e., deeper into the community.

This intuition has to be corroborated by statistical analysis and correlated with income and other variables.

Photo 4: Zabaleen Zurayib Project Area with Underlying handdrawn maps:

(Download the Roh El Shabab maps for use in Google Earth here, 1MB)

II. Distribution of hot water heaters from a household survey sample of 225 homes in the Zabaleen project area.

Red represents electric heater apliances (wall mounted in the kitchen or the bathroom, usually under 50 liters). There are 64 of these (28.4% of the sample)

Green represents gas heater appliances (wall mounted in the kitchen or bathroom, fueled by exchangeable butagas bottles). There are 16 of these (7.1% of the sample)

Dark blue represents families that heat water on the kitchen stove (fueled by butagas bottles). There are 105 of these (46.7% of the sample).

Light blue represents families that heat water on small portable "one eye" butagas stoves. There are 10 of these (4.4 % of the sample).

Blue balloons with stars represent families that use a "Hamil" (a floor grill connected by a rubber hose to an exchangeable butagas bottle). There are 26 of these (11.6% of the sample)

Yellow balloons with stars represent families that use the "Babour" - a small portable kerosene stove. There are 3 of these (1.3 % of the sample.)

One family was using a "Kanoun" (a traditional balady campfire, fueled with waste wood and trash -- indicated in the photo by a "volcano" icon) It would be tempting to consider this an abberation, but we found that this heating system, which descends from the rural practices from the Zableen region of origin, is the system many poor families say they will return to if the price of electricity and heating gas goes up. Some families in our sample still use this "heating system" to boil water for washing white clothing (underwear) even when they have another way of heating bathing water. Women will carry the white laundary down to the street and light a "kanoun" campire and boil water there. Mina's house, however, on the edge of the community in an open space, was the only one regularly using the kanoun for all hot water because they live at the edge of the quarry in a shanty with no internal water pipes or bathroom and live as if they are still in the countryside.

Because in our informal surveys and experience living in the community we haven't seen it used regularly elsewhere, we don't believe that a larger sample would scale up the number of households using Kanouns as heaters for bathing water -- at least not until the price of other systems gets out of reach.

The map does not reflect the 8 solar hot water systems we built or the 3 others currently under construction. There were no other solar hot water systems in the community besides the one's that Solar CITIES has created. Khalis.

A fast and frugal attempt at spatial analyis (by eye!) suggests that there is greater use of electric and gas heaters toward the central business area of the community, where Warsha Street (Workshop street) and Furn Street (Furnace Street) intersect near the post office, and more people relying on kitchen stoves and Hamil's deeper in toward the Association for the Protection of the Environment Recycled Paper Making and Rag Recycling factory (the open green area to the right). This could reflect greater prosperity of people living on the central artery leading out of the community to downtown Cairo.

This intuition has to be corroborated by statistical analysis and correlated with income and other variables.


Methodology: For Darb Al Ahmar, I took the 10 district area (shakhiya) GIS "street and building number maps" (generously supplied by Heba from the AKTC) and transformed them into reasonable sized .jpgs that can be zoomed in without losing resolution (i.e. you can still read the street names and the house numbers). I did this using The Gimp (open source graphics software for those without the funds to purchase Photoshop). For the Zabaleen community of Zurayib in Muqattam I took the hand-drawn paper maps given to me by Amal from Roh El Shabab and scanned them into my computer. while the general area map was successfully scanned, only one of the close-up district maps was scanned before my HP 1315 All-in-one printer/scanner started giving me "overcurrent on USB port" (on my Mac) and "powersurge on USB hub" (on my PC) messages. After this it stopped working completely. Fortunately I was able to do most of the work with the general area map, which had a few squiggles on it in difficult to read arabic handwriting helping me orient the streets. There are no formal maps of the area.

I then pulled the maps into Google Earth with the "use image overlay" command, and carefully stretched, rotated, sized and adjusted them to fit with the underlying google earth image. In most cases they are now pretty accurately overlaid on the satellite photos. This was important to do because there are as yet no street maps in Google Maps for Cairo and certainly no address books with house numbers. Since the areas being studied are the ancient historic Medieval area of Cairo and the informal housing area of Muqattam/Manshiyat Nasser, they were never "rationalized" by surveyors. It's all winding unpaved alleys and streets, filled with donky carts, sheep and goats, cows and camels; absolutely wonderful but difficult to navigate. The AKTC are the first to produce reliable street maps of their area and Roh El Shabab are the first to begin mapping their community. Hopefully this project will help in both those efforts.

The next step was to look at the address information in my Excel data base and extract the house number, street name, district and type of hot water system used from the data base. I then plotted this information in Google Earth using post pins of different colors for different heating systems. In all cases the post pins are in the shakhiya, or district, they belong to and in most cases the pins are located precisely on the home they pertain to. In some cases they are within a hundred meters but must still be ground truthed; one of the difficulties of an informal or slum area is that there is no rationale for the numbering system and there can be several names for any given street. Rarely are their street signs. Some exist in Darb El Ahmar, but there are practically none in the Zabaleen informal community. So when conducting household surveys it is extremely challenging to get the exact address.

Some of the locations were captured on my handheld GPS, but it was not feasible to do this for all the data -- for one thing I only have the one GPS and there were 5 of us in the field doing the surveys. For another thing, GPS devices are considered "illegal" and "forbidden" in Egypt (I had mine confiscated crossing the border to Israel when I was on my way to conduct a workshop at the Arava Institute for the Environment, but the nice Egyptian border guards later returned it to me after we spent an hour discussing our solar cities work and demonstrating foldable solar panels and model fuel cell cars and other props we use for teaching about renewable energy. When I came back to the country they cheerfully helped me cross the border and said, "you are welcome back in Egypt Mu'allam (teacher) but we must warn you that you should be careful about where you try to use your GPS -- other security forces may take it away from you if they see it". It is not supposed to be in the country. We understand your work and appreciate it, but these things cause problems". We discussed how in the age of Google Earth a hand held GPS isn't going to give a would be terrorist or spy any given advantage, but Google Earth is not well known among the average population of police and state security officials, and a handheld GPS is still regarded by the Mukhabarat as a suspicious device that demands explanation: i.e., "why are you so interested in this data". This kind of questioning could take hours and create deep complications since conducting household surveys itself or doing any research without a permit is also not allowed. To avoid problems we simply don't bring the GPS with us often, and I turned over most of my surveying to the competent and friendly local team that I hired working through friends in Darb Al Ahmar and through Dr. Layla Iskander at Roh El Shabab).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sustainable development and the video Ipod revolution: takin' it to the streets!

(Photo: A picture from Adham's cell phone showing Mahmoud and Hanna viewing pictures and watching little videos on a mobile device to help them build their do it yourself hot water systems. Here they are preparing styrofoam pieces to insulate the hot water tank on Adham's roof and debating the best way to do it.)

(Another photo from Adham's cell phone, of Adham foam-gluing the styrofoam strips to the plastic hot water tank -- they are experimenting to see which is more labor intensive or more efficient, building a styrofoam box, which uses less foam spray (35 LE or 7 dollars a can!) and is therefore less expensive, or making a round insulation of strips which makes maintenance of the tank easier.)

Photo: A still image from a video taken on Adham's cell phone that Mahmoud took of Adham and Hana explaining their experience dealing with the goats on the roof, now on my Ipod so I can share it with people who can't visit Adham's roof and so I can review the issues they are facing when I'm on the plane.)

I don't know how many of you out there in development who work in remote places or infrastructurally challenged urban environments also use your Ipods or palmtop computers or Iphones or media-friendly cell phones as effective participatory development communication devices, but I have to share with those who don't that these mobile technologies are a Godsend!

Back at the turn of the century (almost a decade ago!), when I was working for the L.A. Zoo, I had an HP Ipac palmtop computer and a foldable pocket sized QWERTY keyboard that I took with me to the bush in South Africa. It enabled me to climb steep rock faces to get to places where the baboons I was observing lived, and then quickly take my field notes; I could also use the convenient presence of Windows Media Player to show local people pictures or video of the plants I was interested in finding.

These days, having switched from my Master's studies in what could be considered Rural Agro-forestry to a Ph.D. ostensibly in a form of Urban Ecology, I am using an Ipod.

My Ipac's battery is stone dead and (maddeningly) irreplaceable. I thus rely on my Apple Ipod -- At least until its battery dies -- shame on these companies for forcing us to pay through the nose for "technical service" to do something as simple as change a battery! I took apart the Ipac and found that the battery is a lithium pouch -- not a removable battery. The pouch is soldered to the board -- impossible for most of us to fix even if we could find a replacement -- these battery pouches aren't sold off the shelf! Aargh!)

Fortunately, I had a Video Ipod and learned you could use it to do far more than merely listen to ITunes and watch Britney Spear's vapid Music Videos...

The fact that the Apple Ipod (I have the 30 GB version) can be used as a portable external hard drive is one reason why it comes in so handy for people in the field. The other is that I can use it to show videos and photographs of the technical issues I want to communicate wherever I go and despite language barriers.

In many meetings throughout the Middle East, from urban ghettoes to small villages, I have been able to make my point by pulling the Ipod from my pocket and simply saying "tafaddal, take a look". This came in very handy when doing my household demand survey for hot water systems -- I could show pictures of all the possible systems and simply ask people to point to the one's they use or prefer. Then I could show the alternatives. Seeing is believing.

The problem with the Ipod, as those of you who own them must concurr, is its slavish devotion to Itunes and the single computer (that sounds like a good name for a sitcom about a romance between cybernetic organisms in some future robotic big city: "Don't miss 'Itunes and the Single Computer', Wednesdays at 8 Eastern 7 Central time!)

The biggest problem in my work is that almost all of my colleagues in the poor areas of Cairo (Adham Fawzy, whose pictures accompany this article, is the best example) have invested in media-ready cell phones with cameras, and they frequently take little videos or photographs of the problems they are facing when building solar hot water systems to give to me, and while I can download them on a PC computer, I have to then put them on a USB stick and wait until I get home to put them in my ITunes library on My Macintosh and only THEN load them up on my Ipod so I can share them with others in the field who might have ideas or solutions.

Well, I'm blogging here today to tell those of you with similar frustrations that there ARE solutions. There are ways to use your Ipod without succumbing to the tyranny of Apple and Big Media's bid for monopolistic control over file sharing. They are listed here.

The very best of them in my opinion is called Sharepod. It allows easily file transfers from your PC to your Ipod and back. After hours and hours of frustration with some of the alternatives I have settled on Sharepod as my very favorite. It is easy to use and doesn't conflict with ITunes in any way that I've discovered. If it has a limitation it would seem to be that it works with the PC only.

A cross platform solution is called "Floola".

Floola, like Sharepod, is a program that you put on your Ipod that allows the Ipod to then talk to many different computers and hard drives, NOT just the Itunes Library folder on your main disk (which is always overfull anyway). Floola also lets you use your Ipod with both a PC and a Mac.

The concept is simple. You download Floola's free program or Sharepod's free program (Please make a donation to the friendly developers if you are financially solvent and able, so they can continue to make it freely available for those who aren't!) Then you make sure your Ipod is enabled as an external disk. Ideally you format your Ipod as a PC disk, because then you can use it with both Macs and PCs (I had to reformat my Ipod to do all this, but there may be ways to do it without that).

Next, you launch Itunes ONCE and let it restore the program on the IPod. Then you add at least one song to the Itunes library and add it to the Ipod (make sure you are using manual sync!). Then quit Itunes.

In the case of Floola, you then open your Ipod from the finder as an external disk drive and copy the Floola.exe file onto the Ipod itself.

Launch Floola.exe and tell it what kind of Ipod you have if it doesn't automatically recognize it (mine is a30 GB Video Ipod "5G", meaning 5th generation. It wasn't written on the device so I had to look it up on the web. You might have to also)

From there Floola will display a window familiar enough to those who use ITunes, and just as functional for playing media, but with very important differences: You can now simply click "Add" and literally drag media for ANY source into your Ipod.

You can even download files and videos directly from the web. Within Floola you simply click on "Add from Web" and paste the URL into the window and all your favorite Youtube videos can now be taken with you to those remote locations (with a solar powered backpack you don't have to worry about finding an outlet to recharge your iPod either!)

(here is a video of how to set up Floola).

Mac users: Note that you can install both the mac and Pc (and Linux) versions of Floola on your ipod and it can then talk to and import files from literally any computer! But do be careful -- when I updated my ITunes software on my mac, Floola stopped working with it -- perhaps those crafty monopolists at Itunes don't appreciate our attempts to use these technologies in non-consumerist ways and are fighting back... so make sure you use an older version of Itunes to start your Floola experience. Then you won't need to use Itunes any more after that.

FLOOLA 2.7, the latest version, is very buggy and doesn't work reliably with my Ipod 30 GB 5th gen device. Every time I launch it and add songs and videos everything checks out well on the computer but when I disconnect the ipod everything has disappeared -- all playlists, songs, videos, everything! Apparently they are still on the ipod itself, but hidden and inaccessible. When Itunes is started again it says I must restore my Ipod, and I lose everything. The Floola site talks about changing the FWID number, which identifies your ipod and can be obtained by looking in the device manager. But though they say you can enter it into Floola by restarting Floola holding the alt and control keys and potentially resolve the problem, it didn't work for me. And version 2.6 is no longer available. So I have given up on Floola, as good as it seems to be, until they make a better release that is stable. To save you hours of frustration, I'm saying "Go with Sharepod!" It doesn't let you easily download videos from the web as Floola does, but you can put the videos on your hard drive and then bring them on to your ipod.

Using Sharepod, I was able to load my Ipod Marcel Lenormand's animation of using heliostats for partially shaded roofs and my own Sketchup animation of tilting solar panels 1 degree and installing a pipe from the cold water to the hot water tank (see the two previous posts for those) as well as James Dean Conklin and Elisa Zazzera's music video about the Zabaleen from my song "Talkin' Trash" (also in an earlier post) and a bunch of YouTube videos that Marcel and Andy Posner and Rebecca Tobias and Byron DeLear and Ted Stern and so many others of our friends and supporters have suggested would help our project.

For those of you privileged enough to have a computer with internet access it is probably hard to appreciate the impact multi-media presentation has in areas where so many people are not only illiterate, but have no access to DVD players or computers or the world wide web. Our study has shown that many poor families DO have a television (in fact more people have televisions than hot water appliances -- reasoning that, as Hana's aunt, Um Romani told me, "being connected to the outside world is more important to us than comfort or convenience") but what they DO see on television is mostly State Controlled information. Not very informative. Even those who have satellite dishes and thus access to the "free world" are being fed a pablum of corporation controlled advertising, which is usually useless for finding a way out of poverty (soap operas are the sopium of the masses, Karl Marx might have said!).

So what about all those great little YouTube vids -- the one's you find on sites like, on rural projects using "human poop and urine to provide cheap biogas in Uganda" and on urban rooftop biogas projects using garbage (like this one at ARTI in India); what about the one's on do-it-yourself solar projects, and better ways to compost, on how to convert you car to run on vegetable oil, and Michael Rains' neat videos on how to make hydrogen from water with Stainless Steel Arrays, or those news reports that those who don't watch American TV didn't get to see on how a group of MIT students built a solar concentrator on the roof that generated electricity using used car parts ?

Most of us in the "developed countries" take them for granted and routinely share them with one another.

But WHO is taking these things into the field, into the streets, into the homes that have no electricity, much less computers with fast internet connections and decent bandwidth? How are the people who really really desparately NEED to see these little miracles of multi-media interconnectedness and the "you-ness" empowerment of self-production "of the people by the people for the people" supposed to get access across the digital divide?

It will have to be those of us who are a little bit tech savvy and willing and interested toin sharing our love of our toys, interested in tranferring tech-knowledge as much as technology, enthusiastic about teaching others how to use the intuitive software and hardware we enjoy playing with so much, and idealistic enough to take our vacations in places where we can combine our joy of technology and the satisfaction of helping others. The great thing is that so many of the disadvantaged on this planet, of all ages, are really hungry to learn (not like the bored students we find in many industrialized nation's schools) and really appreciative of the gifts we can bestow (and equally willing to bestow the gifts of their knowledge and perspectives with us!)

Open source software, freeware, shareware and the 100 dollar laptop give us a chance to get the needed intellectual materials out there and into the hands of those who need it most.

I ask everyone I work with to try and honor the cyberpunk motto: "Information Longs to Be Free"...

...At least until we kick the oil habit, decommission all the nukes, reverse climate change, clean the carcinogens out of our environment, preserve biodiversity and our natural heritage and fully deploy the technologies that can guarantee at least the minimum subsistence rights and resources to ALL humanity. Then we can continue bickering about "intellectual property" and whether "I want to have more than you have even when I have more than I need" is a viable philosophic position.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Videmail" - a way to communicate across continents and cultures?

Marcel Lenormand has started what I think will become a serious trend here at Solar Cities -- the use of what I call "videmail" to communicate otherwise complex concepts across continents and cultures.

(A propos, for zose of you who are Frranche, ze word "videmail" should be prrronounced "viddy-mail" -- as the Nadsat speaking teens in A Clockwork Orange would say it, "mail you can viddy with your glozzies, mate!" I know zat "vide-mail" means "empty mail" in ze Frrrranche language eef you prrrounounce it "veede-maile", mais qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire, ennnh? "Kara-te" means "empty handed" in Japanese but it doesn't stop it from ze hand being considered a lethal weapon against ze tomato... and perhaps ze vide-mail will turn out to be a lethal weapon against ignorance and poverty. Vive la liberte, egalite, fraternite! Vive la videmail!)

Umm...err... right. Sorry for the digression -- it's getting late and my glozzies are knackered and my rookers are all tunnel-carpel like, so basically I just wanted to express how excited I was when Marcel posted his animated answer to our question about building systems on roofs with inadequate sun due to partial shading on youtube, and how it inspired me to therefore answer the questions of solar cities' field coordinators Mahmoud Dardir and Hana Fathy down in Cairo, by posting the following viddy-o where not only Mahmoud and Hana can reach it and utilize it, but where anybody in the four corners of our non-euclidean world can comment, update, add to, learn from, teach to, share and make salad with.

The idea of this really short video (which is far far shorter than this lead in and is also dreadfully boring but for an (almost) original piece of music I composed by taking an orchestral sample that came with Apple Soundtrack software and adding live bass and guitar and an atrocious "we will rock you" drum sample) is to demonstrate a principle I learned yesterday at the Mullheim Umwelt conference.

There, Engineer Hans D. Sturmer, the Freiburg based inventor and patent holder of Sky Solar Tec's new hybrid Photovoltaic/Solar Hot Water System that uses silicon tubing instead of copper pipe, discussed our problems in Cairo with our do-it-yourself solar hot water systems and declared,

You must make sure when you use a copper pipe grid that the panels are not completely level because there are too many places for little air bubbles to get trapped in the system, and if you aren't using a water pump they won't get purged and the whole thermosiphon system will shut down. You should angle the panels slightly upward, just slightly. One degree is even enough, as long as there is a small incline. Remember that hot water, being less dense than cold water, rises, and bubbles rise, and you have to give them somewhere to rise to."

I immediately wrote that information in an email to Hana and Mahmoud down in Egypt and then, as I reread it, I thought -- "as good as their English is, being native Arabic speakers, they will probably have trouble with this. Even a native English speaker might have trouble understanding the way I explained what Engineer Sturmer explained to me (okay okay, the Americans might have trouble; the English, the Irish, the Scots the Welsh and the Aussies won't because they are naturally clever but 'I'menamerikinguddamit so i i what i'm sane').
The deal is that when I was with Herr Sturmer, he was holding a solar panel in his hands, demonstrating visually. But since I didn't have a video camera with me, I "quandered" (another made up word), how can I give Hana and Mahmoud, who don't have the luxury of traveling to meet inventors in Germany, an quasi-equivalent experience."

So when Marcel posted his solar heliostat animation on Youtube everything fell into place!

So here's the pitch:

Basically with the ostensibly free versions of multimedia tools we can get off the web you can now communicate your complex ideas in simple ways to simple folk and underprivileged folk and even your Aunt Bessie so we can all go solar fast. You don't gots to go to no fancy expensive school like Cal Arts or work for the Disney Studios.

This is something our family friend Richard Williams (director of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit") told me when I interviewed him for the Reader's Digest in London. He took me around his charming small studio in SoHo in the mid-eighties and said, "back when I first worked for Disney we had to have a whole production lot to make a single picture -- artists, inkers, painters, storyboarders, multiplane cameras, all that stuff. But today I can make complex films in a room in my house here in England by myself. And in a few years you'll see -- the computer will make it possible for anybody with a good story to tell to do fantastic things in film-making and animation."

Well Richard, your prediction came true -- and just as Disney used animation and film edutainment techniques to help the free world get through a terrible world war and to learn about the "wonderful world of nature" and the happiest things from utopian dreams to space technology, we can all now communicate about hopeful futures with one another around the tumultuous world from the safety of our laptops, and we can reduce the barriers that separate the technocrats and the body politic, the artists and the scientists, the engineers and the lay people. All the tools are out there, all we have to do is put them to use!

We will need to help each other out and give details of course:

Marcel used Flash, I think (Marcel can you let us know?). For my first attempt at a videmail I used Google Sketchup 6 to do the modelling of the actual Zabaleen school where we built our first solar hot water system, and a program called FRAPS to capture video on the PC.

I put the audio and music in using the voice over function in Final Cut Pro on a Mac, from which I was also able to export to mp4, and I know that Macs and FCP cost far more than most Egyptians (and most people on the planet) can afford, but perhaps somebody reading this can turn us on to a good freeware video editing program (note we absolutely hate the Windows Video Maker software ... ick!).

By the way, please don't judge the quality of this first effort too harshly -- it was meant a) to quickly get a concept across to our field coordinators in the slums of Cairo that is of vital importance to them and b) to encourage those of you with more talent and time to think about making CUSTOMIZED instructional material that can help people in the real world move quickly toward a fossil free future within the strictures and constraints of their local situation.

Your move...

Heliostats for Heliopolis!


Our friend up north, Marcel Lenormand, the inimitable and ingenious engineer from England, has blessed Solar Cities with a fantastic 21st century way of communicating information across borders and cultural boundaries, creating domain general information that is at the same time intimately domain specific.

In this "videmail" (is that a word?) posted on Youtube, Marcel uses a devilishly simple and clever animation to help answer a question plaguing us in our efforts to bring solar power to urban rooftops in congested Cairo: "what do we do on buildings that don't have full solar exposure?" Marcel's doesn't just write a possible solution -- he makes his ideas manifest!

Marcel's suggestion for solving our specific urban Cairo problem can be viewed below:

This video gives great confidence to Solar CITIES coordinator Mahmoud Dardir, who is facing exactly this problem on his roof in Abu Nomros in Giza and who has been thinking of using reflectors (inspired by the traditional Egyptian use of having men with silvered boards posted at corners of the Saqqara pyramids shining and reflecting sunlight into the tombs before there were electric lights -- the use of torches was prohibited to keep soot from damaging the antiquities and to keep carbon monoxide from killing the visitors.

Now the question is, "how do we make a diy heliostat?" :)

As Mauro Cherubini over at EPFL would probably agree, the medium of animation is ideal for communicating these concepts across cultures!

Thanks Marcel!! You are inspiring, not only in your willingness to share and help the world with your expertise, but with the examples you set of the best way to use the multi-media available to bring the world together and get information to everyone!

Sincerely, T.H. and the Solar CITIES team

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Honeymooners, Talkin' Trash!

Documentary Filmmakers James Dean and Elisa Zazzera Conklin have to be the only people in the world to have spent their honeymoon in the slums of Cairo.

During their 10 day "Shahr Al Asl" they only spent two days in Alexandria. In fact, their first night in Egypt (the newlywed bride's first time in the Middle East!) they spent in our Solar Cities slum apartment in Darb Al Ahmar. When they arrived they had to tramp through the rain and mud, dragging their luggage and movie-making gear along the bumpy unpaved roads in the rabbit's warren that is historic Cairo.

The rest of the week they spent lugging their draggage through the garbage in the streets of Manshiyat Nasser/Muqattam hanging out with our buddies in the Zabaleen NGO "Roh El Shabab" and playing a little Arabic and environmental message rock and roll at community get togethers on sustainable development.

On one particular occasion, while in the street by a local workshop, video taping the torch welding of the copper pipes we use to make our solar hot water systems , a crowd gathered to find out what about the usual job of welding was of such unusual interest it would draw a couple of American film-makers.

We explained that James and Elisa were here from New York documenting the solar hot water project that was part of Solar CITIES' US AID grant helping Roh El Shabab bring renewable energy and infrastructural improvements to the community. But once we had uttered the words "U.S." people started hurling invectives about how awful America was and how Americans were the real terrorists, and a minor little commotion started. One older man, trying to keep control of the situation, immediately confronted James and Elisa and asked "what is your opinion of George Bush?"
With his usual aplomb James gave a thumbs down sign and Elisa corroborated with the universal language of facial semiotics (making a face of disgust) and we explained that most American's didn't vote for Bush (because, in fact, most didn't vote at all!) and many many many didn't agree with his policies, and that we certainly didn't want to be judged by our current administrations politics.

This explanation usually finds a friendly and sympathetic ear on "the Arab Street", because most underclass Arabs themselves are loathe to be judged by the behaviour of their governments (who do NOT represent their wishes) and are happy to have their theories that democracy is often hijacked by the rich and powerful corroborated.

Once it was established that James and Elisa were freelance documentary filmmakers, not part of CNN or some other corporate news show, had come here on their own time and their own nickel during their own vacation, and were not members of the elite society of "Haves" who have come to further exploit and make the "have nots" look bad (which is why few people are given permission by the community to film in their area) the encounter turned from muted hostility to open curiosity, but still with reservations about them filming.

That reservation faded however, once James and Elisa explained the true nature of their trip. When asked what brought them to Egypt (besides pro-bono filming the Solar Cities project of their friends T.H. and Sybille Culhane) they revealed that it was, in fact, THEIR HONEYMOON.

This was astonishing news to the local people. As they pointed out, like everyone else, even they left their garbage strewn community to celebrate their honeymoons if they could afford it -- nobody WANTS to be in the slums, even if it is home. Certainly not for a HONEYMOON!

But James and Elisa explained (through translation this time, and not just gestures!) that they have a dedication to environmental issues and social improvements and that spending their honeymoon among the Zabaleen and among the residents of Darb El Ahmar was one of the most eye opening and wonderful experiences for a young American couple starting out the journey of married life, because it put them in touch with "the real", helped them understand the world and its challenges, got them to know new friends from truly different cultures, and gave them perspective on how fortunate they were and how they could share their blessings. What better way to start a new family life?

After this admission, the crowd was all smiles and "tafaddals" ("welcomes") and from then on, filming was easy. The community got to know and trust James and Elisa (especially thanks to Solar Cities coordinators Hana Fathy and Mahmoud Dardir, and Roh El Shabab director and playwright Ezzat Naem Guindy) and people knew that they wouldn't be "talking trash" about the trash collectors. In fact, they would help people to understand and see "trash" in a new light.

One of the results of The Honeymooners' Zabaleen Odyssey is a music video called "Talkin' Trash" which is part of their upcoming documentary "Recycle Circus", part three of the Environmental Circus trilogy:
Solar Circus: The Circus Guy Egypt Tour, 2004
Water Circus
Recycling Circus

You can view a preliminary cut of the music video here:


Oh... and don't forget to take out the trash, and when you do, to separate organic and inorganic wastes. The Zabaleen, and we, will thank you for it!

An Open Letter to the security guard Karam Ahmad Alladin about using a refrigerator to heat water...

Photo: Karam (left) with T.H. (Taha) Culhane and fellow security guard at the Al Azhar Park gate.

Dear Karam,

Many people know you only as the friendly Egyptian security guard who protects foreign visitors to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and guards the gate at the ancient wall separating the well-to-do dining in fine restaurants in the verdant playground Al-Azhar Park and the crowded urban poor ekeing out a living in the muddy winding unpaved streets of Darb Al Ahmar. Others know you as the reliable plumber always willing to lend a hand (as you did when I was building a solar hot water system on the roof of our Solar Cities building in your neighborhood).

I have the great fortune to know you as all this and more; I know you as Karam the visionary and innoventor, a man who is always thinking and dreaming of new possibilities. I know you as Karam the public welfare enthusiast, who has taken me around the community to meet with 80 year old pensioners in 700 hundred year old buildings with sunny roofs who would like their grandchildren to live in a more hopeful Egypt and are thus willing to let us (and to help us!) experiment with home-made hot water systems in their building. I know you as Karam, as generous as the meaning of the name "Karam", a storehouse of local information, the karam who gave of his time and risked his job one night to take me by the hand to a decrepit, recently closed, once beautiful, but still fascinating 300 year old public bath to meet with the owners so we could find a way to revive this lost tradition in historic Cairo. I know you as Karam the solar enthusiast who explained to the owners how they could bring back the public baths by switching to solar heating and lighting and thus, in the long term, keep costs low so that the whole community could enjoy the health and psychological benefits of abundant hot water.

Photo: Karam (left) introduces Taha (wearing his characteristic Solar Powered Back Pack) to the Wahiya family that has been running the recently closed 300 year old Darb Al Ahmar Hammam (Public Bath), around the corner from the Solar Cities office, for more than 80 years. Karam used to go there as a child, and wanted to see if there is a possibility to re-open it and run it on solar energy. The baths used to be fueled by waste heat generated from the cooking of "Ful" (Fava beans); the heat was supplied by the burning of waste paper from the city's garbage, collected by the Wahiyas (the garbage recyclers who came from the Oases, or "Wahiya" in the desert, preceeding the migration of the Zabaleen from the Countryside 50 years ago. Both the Wahiya and the Zabaleen are intensely interested in reviving the public bath tradition and finding sustainable ways to heat the water. The burning of waste material to heat water was forbidden for health reasons, but the costs of oil, gas and electricity make heating public baths too expensive to keep operational costs within reason.)

Photo: Solar Cities Coordinator Mahmoud Dardir (left ) on a roof overlooking the public baths with the owner of the local garment factory housed within the building. Karam (right) has convinced the factory owner to let Solar Cities build a demonstration solar hot water system on his building so the family running the public baths can get an idea of how the system works. The factory owner loved going to the public bath next door as a kid, saying it was easy for his mother to get all the kids clean in no time. Many residents, who must now heat water on the stove to get a bucketful of hot water for their evening "shower", lament the passing of this tradition -- there used to be more than 300 public baths in the Darb Al Ahmar region -- so many that at the turn of the century a visitor remarked "you could bathe in a different bath every day of the year!" Today there are only two remaining.

I also know you as Karam the security guard with a real interest in the true security of the Egyptian people -- security from the things that really count -- security from hunger, security from power failures, from water shortages, from impending energy crises and from the rising price of goods.

Finding solutions to these problems, you have always understood, is "real homeland security". And you have impressed on me that America's homeland security depends on real homeland security in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, where freedom from the tyranny of worry is the only thing that can really prevent young idealists from getting hijacked into following the empty, deadly promises of fundamentalist insanity.

Today at the "Umwelt" show in a shopping mall in Dortmund, northern Westphalia (the part of Germany where the eternal optimist, Candide, came from in Voltaire's social satire) my wife and I were reminded of you when we saw a vendor's exhibit on the Geothermal heat pumps he had for sale.

The vendor was a very forward-thinking German "Braucherwasserwarmepumpe" company called "Vaillant Deutscheland GmbH & Co." Brauchwasserwarmepumpe is an extremely long word that literally translates into "Needwaterwarmingpump". I had the good fortune to meet Vaillant's patient and knowlegable salesman, Timo Krugman, who knows that you don't have to hard sell renewable energy products - moving customers to clean, sustainable energy systems and away from its addiction to filthy carcinogen-spewing, smelly, war-fostering fossil fuels is like moving water from the mountain to the sea. It is so inevitable (though so long in coming) that it sells itself. All the salesman has to do is build your confidence that his company is the most reliable and knowlegeable. In this spirit, Timo was not at all pushy, on the contrary his interest was in helping me understand the physical principles, the engineering, the mechanics and the environmental and economic advantages undergirding the ground source heat pump revolution, something virtually unknown in Egypt, but well established in Europe and California.

In order to capture the attention of the public, wandering between McDonald's and GameStop and H & M, the principles behind how ground source heat pumps work (and why it is worth investing 20 to 30 thousand Euro in such a heating and cooling system) the clever folks at Vaillant had taken a compressor out of a refrigerator and mounted it on a display board that showed a picture of a house and had some pipes simulating a geothermal system.

It turns out that a heat pump is basically just a super-sized refrigerator or air conditioning system that makes use of the stable temperatures underground as a heat sink.

In true science museum fashion, the clever vendor had hooked up a normal refrigerator compressor up to some copper heat exchanger coils above and below the compressor, with digital temperature read-outs next to both. The upper coils were mounted on the drawing of the household's basement water storage tankand the lower coils were mounted on the plastic pipes running down the picture of the household's backyard, from the backyard lawn to the sandstone 100 meters deep.

The legends around the pictures explained that a geothermal heat pump (a full sized version of which was sitting next to the exhibit) is basically a refrigerator or air conditioner compressor that uses the heat generator by compressing the HFC refrigerant to heat water in the house, and lets the cold created by the endothermic phase change of the refrigerant (after it passes through the expansion valve -- the larger piece of copper tube with the tiny coil beneath it that you find on the back of your fridge) be reheated by the warmer ambient temperature of the water in the geothermal tubes. This warmed gas can them be compressed back into a hot fluid as the cycle starts again back at the compressor.

The vendor had a button you could push that would start the compressor. Within minutes the compressor had reached 56.6 degrees C, and you could put your hand on the copper coils to fell for yourself what the temperature gauge showed.

Meanwhile, the lower coils began to accumulate frost, just like the inside of your freezer, which kids could touch and play with as they observed the temperature gauge dropping to - 2.2 degrees C.

It was a simple way to demonstrate the principles of geothermal or ground source heat pumps. But to us it was much more -- it was proof of "Karam's concept."

Do you remember, early on, before I got to know you and thought you were "just another security guard", when you were letting me into the gate at the old Ayyubid wall one night around 2 a.m. after I had taken my wife to Salah Salem street to catch a cab to the airport, when you asked if I thought is was possible to use your refrigerator to get hot water?

As we climbed up the inside of the ancient stone staircase by the light of your torch you suddenly paused and said something like "You are Taha who builds solar hot water systems in the community. I would like very much to build a solar hot water system on the roof of our house, but even if I could afford the materials, I don't think my uncle would agree to it. We are having a dispute and since he technically owns the roof space he might forbid me.

"But I have been thinking for some time now why it wouldn't be possible to use the heat behind the refrigerator to make my water hot. I noticed that the compressor gets very hot, and we waste this heat letting it go into the air through that metal grill behind the fridge. All it does is make the kitchen hotter -- the one place in the house we don't need extra heat! So I was thinking, 'couldn't I use that heat to make hot water?' It would not only provide hot water, but it might keep the kitchen cooler. Also, if the hot water tank was above the fridge we would naturally have some water pressure, we wouldn't have to buy or build a stand, and we wouldn't have to mount a heater on the wall, which is a problem in these old buildings with crumbling walls. What do you think?"

I remember replying that I thought the idea was brilliant, and that I certainly thought it was possible, and that I had even discussed the idea once with fellow Solar Cities founder Mustafa Hussein, the local carpenter, when we learned his roof couldn't hold the weight of a solar hot water tank (I had read somewhere on the web once that an American company during World War II had built and marketed hybrid refrigerator/water heaters, but that they had ceased production when oil became cheap in the 1950's.) But we abandoned the project, I said, because sadly I had no experience in such matters and gaining experience takes time and money. I told Karam back then we would simply have to try if we could ever get some seed money to do some experiments, but I didn't know when that would be because, as I told him, it is hard to get seed money for unproven ideas. And it is certainly hard for the poor, like us, to put money into things that have an uncertain payoff.

Photo: Carpenter and Solar Cities local co-founder Mustafa Hussein, on his way home from the woodshop, discusses his new device with Karam -- an easier method for putting grooves in aluminum sheets so that copper pipes can be put inside -- a very important step in making absorber plates for home-built solar hot water systems.

Sadly, in all that time, we never did get money to make hybrid refrigerator/water heater experiments, though we fortunately DID get the money from U.S. AID to build the solar hot water heater that we are going to put on your new apartment now that you have moved from your uncle's!

But I never forgot that question you posed when I first met you, and today Sybille and I found the answer in a shopping mall in Dortmund! Because it was a hands-on-exhibit, and not some theoretical paper or some 2 dimensional diagram, I got a real firm sense of how we can build your refrigerator/heater, and I am hoping somebody can help me translate this letter into Arabic and share it and these pictures with you.

First of all, I would suggest you remove the compressor from the bottom at the back of the fridge and place it on the top of the fridge where it will be closer to your fridge top mounted water tank. That way we won't lose more heat to the air (which is why those refrigerator coils are there on the back of the fridge to begin with) and we won't have to invest much money in insulation; we want the shortest run from the compressor to the hot water tank as possible. The heat exchanger could come right off the compressor, and to increase its heat we could even wrap some of the copper coils around the compressor itself. This should also keep the compressor cooler and that should make it run more efficiently, no? I think I would make a metal stand for the water tank, and place the compressor underneath it on the top of the fridge, and put styrofoam around the whole thing so that all the heat goes into the water, but I'm not sure about that part -- I think we need a way for the compressor to cool down when the water is hot in the storage tank, so maybe we should leave it open. Experimentation will tell.

The bottom part of the system, where the expansion valve is, would remain the same, cooling the freezer from the top (because cold air falls; it thus seems better to cool the top part of the fridge).

I have posted these pictures and suggestions on the internet, Karam, because real engineers with much better understanding will be able to comment and help improve the system, making it more and more feasible to bring it to fruitition. Hopefully, next time I am in Cairo, we can start experimenting.

Until then, keep coming up with those great ideas, keep up your innovative curiosity, and keep having the insight and courage and enthusiasm to bring them up to visitors to your beleagured community who have the great great fortune and luxury to be able to travel around the world meeting with people and seeing exhibits that can provide solutions and turn the dreams of "the other 90%" into realities.

I know that such a combination of local and outside expertise can bring true homeland security to all of us!


Taha Rassam (T.H.) Culhane
Founder, Solar CITIES