How to Make Charcoal the Gambian Way: Part 2

In my last post about our charcoal kiln, I explained how Amadou had built the wood into a huge pile, carefully arranged with very few gaps, so there was as little air as possible within the pile. Once everything had been completed, the pile was ready to be lit.

Amadou had left an entrance to give him access for lighting the fire in the very middle of the pile, and he used a long stick with some palm leaves wrapped around the end to get the fire started.

Charcoal making

Charcoal making

Once it was well lit, Amadou blocked the entrance with sticks, and then covered them with earth to seal the inside from the air outside. It’s important that the wood only smoulders rather than burns, in order for the charcoal to be formed.

Charcoal making

Charcoal making

Charcoal making

Charcoal making

An area had been cleared around the pile as a fire break.

Charcoal making

Amadou went carefully all around the pile, adding earth wherever smoke was escaping, until he was happy that everything was sealed.

Charcoal making

I managed to ask in broken French how long it would need to burn, and he replied that it would take about ten or eleven days altogether.

I was amazed to discover that Amadou intends to stay with the kiln the whole time it’s burning, making sure everything is properly sealed and there is no escape of the fire. He has short naps at night, but he won’t sleep properly until the burning is finished.

To start with, there was a slight smell of smoke around the camp, but now you would never know that anything special is happening, unless you happen to go into the area where the kiln actually is. So hopefully, in just over a week, we will have plenty of charcoal to see us through this year, and also have plenty to sell.

Of course, I will keep you updated and let you know what happens when the kiln is finally opened. And as for Amadou – he says there is so much wood left over that he wants to start all over again with a new kiln close to the original one!

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