Light in a restaurant

We wanted to visit a place that cooked with solar, unfortunately it was closed. So now we had to improvise.

We visited the outskirts of Ouagadougou and stopped at a restaurant because the sun was burning and we wanted to sit in the shade. The restaurant was lively and, as we were thirsty, we decided to drink something. While we were drinking our soda’s we took a look around. Hanging solely from the roof was our object; a solar light.

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Because we did not speak the local language, it was a bit of a challenge to communicate in French.

The main functions of this light are:

1) so that the store can be opened until 23:00 every night.

2) So that it will deter thieves after 23:00.

The light is switched on every evening when it gets dark, and is left on until the next day when the restaurant owner starts a new day. The light is connected to two solar panels that are on the roof of the restaurant, which, in turn, charge a battery in the back. The light can be switched on by connecting the wires of the solar light to the battery; it also has a small hook and it looks like you could take it from the beam its hanging on. However, this never happens. During the day there is no fear of theft and at night the light is working.

The entire setup of the light (solar panel, battery and light) was installed by an external party (an electrician), who the owner calls whenever some electrical work was to be done.

The name of the owner of the restaurant is Diarra. He has a family that lives very close to his business. He has a wife, who is about to give birth, and a 5-years-old child. Diarra is also a professional mason (builder). From 1999 to 2003 Diarra was learning to be a mason. From 2003 until today he has been a professional and he works on a consulting basis. He only works sometimes, when he is given a contract. When he doesn’t have a contract, he spends his time in the restaurant. Sometimes he gets a contract to build a part of a house, but sometimes he also gets a contract to be responsible for building the entire house. This means that he has to find and subcontract work to other such as electricians and plumbers. Diarra really wants to work and he doesn’t like to be without a contract. He loves his job.

While we were talking to Diarra, we were attracting a lot of attention from the people that worked around the restaurant repairing motorbikes; one by one they took a break and came into the restaurant to listen to our conversation. They did not feel that the restaurant was a boundary for them.

The restaurant has 4 employees, who consist of 3 women and 1 boy. They work every day to offer different kinds of food, which can have rice, meat and fish. For preparing these dishes, Diarra has 2 types of stoves, charcoal and GPL (gas) stove. They do not have a specific stove for a specific meal, it is depending on what is available, wood or gas. Yet, they prefer GPL because it is faster; this, as well as the charcoal, is delivered to the restaurant. There are also many drinks available: Coffee, tea, fanta, cola and sprite, as well as multiple beers such as Brakina, Flag and Carlsberg. The drinks are brought by the suppliers with trucks, who also deliver the same drinks to the other restaurants in the street.

Diarra’s restaurant is a place of exchange, where men who do not have employment come together. When someone has a job to offer, they will come to the restaurant and find men that are willing to work.

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Diarra bought the solar light on the market, just a few stores down from him. He decided to buy it because his previous light was broken after 4 years of use. The broken light is now hanging next to the working light. There are also many cables hanging from the ceiling around these 2 lights. But only one cable connects to the battery in the back. By attaching the cable to the battery the light switches on. This is a job that is done by the women working in the restaurant, they demonstrated this process to us. The battery, which had a pack of cigarettes on the top, rests on a crate.

Diarra indicated the exact spot that he bought the light, place tha we also visited. When we got to the kiosk there were many different types of light. But the specific kind that Diarra uses in his restaurant was not available. The light that was available was the same as the previous, now broken, light. The shopkeeper indicated that this light was cheap but consumed a lot of energy. The light that was hanging in the restaurant was a better quality. The shopkeeper indicated that he only sells the lights and not the solar panels, because the demand of the later is low and the investment to supply them is too high. On the other hand, there is a lot of demand for lights.


Maddo est Notre Patronne

(Maddo is Our Employer)

We found a local restaurant, in the area of Polesgo at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where Maddo has been working for the past 6 years – this is her business. Adolphe, who is part of the Burkina Faso research team, used to frequently come to her restaurant when he worked in the area. As we got there, he recognised and exchanged greetings with the owner, smoothing out the atmosphere and enabling us to confidently ask questions.

As soon as we got to the restaurant we identified several items, such as a freezer, cooking pots, cooking stoves (charcoal and gas), flask on the bar, plastics tables and chairs, a water bucket, plates, cups, glasses and cutlery, money boxes, lamps and a Chinese lantern. Also, we spotted some activities such as food preparation and washing (in the washing area located in the back entrance), as well as the services offered as food, tea, coffee and alcohol.

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Maddo's restaurant offered a relaxed atmosphere, where people were often seen socialising. Customers were heard talking about football, the Champions League and Europa, as well as betting on horses and buying credit from salespeople.

We told Maddo about our project and asked her if we could practice some of our methods in her restaurant that day. She agreed. Maddo was busy serving four customers at the time, and so, she asked us if we would mind speaking to her in between serving customers, which we gladly agreed to.

We began by asking about her life. She shared that her partner had left her 6 years ago and she moved to this area of the city to start her own business, the restaurant where we were. Nowadays, she lives with her son who goes to a local school every day. He has breakfast at school, but visits the restaurant after school to eat and help out. Maddo opens her restaurant between 6-7 am every morning, unless some social activity comes in the way, and closes at 11 pm. When she opens, the first thing she does is clean the local and placing chairs and tables. She also starts boiling water in tea and coffee for first customers.

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Maddo boils water in a small casserole pot (using the gas stove) and empties the contents into a flask. When the flask is empty again, she boils more water. On an average day at the restaurant, she would use 4 flasks for tea and coffee. The preferred beverage is avec citrón (with lemon) but lemon is seasonal, so people also have Tamarin when lemon isn’t available. “It is less bitter than lemon,” she said.

The flask that she bought is, according to her, the best in the market, keeps water hot all day. Maddo bought it from a market in Ouagadougou in June 2016. She owns another flask, the same one, in her home that she has had for 8 years. She has had other flasks before, but they would not keep the water hot for long periods of time. They also lasted only 1 or 2 months.

When it comes to the food, she starts cooking after the first flask is prepared. For the former, she usually buys the ingredients in the local market place every 2 days, to ensure that she has enough to feed her customers. All the food offered in the menu is prepared simultaneously. She uses gas stoves mainly, but when gas runs out or there are more dishes to prepare, she uses a charcoal stove.

“Gaz est tres cher" (Gas is to expensive)

Maddo utilises multiple pots for food preparation that are mainly 2 different kinds: The casserole pot, which is thin aluminium, and the marmite pot, which is aluminium with other materials, such as recycled car pieces. Yet, the main difference is that it is thicker, heavy and resistant. With the first one she cooks large quantities of, for example, sauce and soup, whereas with the second pot type she cooks rice and smaller quantities of food.

After the food preparation, the washing up starts. The washing area has 3 bowls to wash up, as well as a small casserole pot for food waste. One bowl is for dirty dishes in water, the other one is a plastic bucket with soap, water and a dishcloth and the last one, contains cold water to rinse the dishes when clean. This content is then transferred back into kitchen/ bar area to be reused next day. Maddo does not take any of these pots and utensils home; they stay in the restaurant overnight.

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Scotch tape is everywhere, it is ubiquitous. Small shops and big shops, rich shops and poor shops. Shops for solar/electrical equipment, belts, jewellery, nuts and bolts.

Scotch is visible

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No-one seems scared that it will be stolen – it has value but also no value. Without Scotch tape, the market couldn’t function but it is not a scarce resource. There is lots of it. It is lying on the counter, held up on a nail or hook next to the door. Sometimes thrown on a shelf, or thrown under the counter. In several places, we saw the Scotch tape, the receipt book, and the calculator all lying together in the same place. 

There are many different kinds of Scotch

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Black, paper, multi-coloured, silver with different kinds of application - but the tape you see everywhere in the market is transparent. Much of it seems to be manufactured by the same company. Lots of rolls have the words Xiangshen Jiao NianZhi Rin Chang, written on them. Scotch is cheap but not that cheap. 5 rolls of medium-sized scotch tape for 2000 is the same price as 2 of the cheapest solar lanterns.

The tape literally holds up the market – as important as cardboard boxes.

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Packaging, used to seal cardboard boxes, used to wrap up other goods (in one stall we saw a sack of belts being wrapped up with tape, “because it is going far”). But tape is maybe becoming even more important than cardboard, because it is lighter and cheaper, so lowers the cost of transporting/shipping goods.


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The tape keeps things secure and safe. It can be used to stop things falling against each other, it can be used to fix things together. Scotch is very sticky – different from the others kinds of plastic that is used to protect the small solar panels on lanterns, scotch would leave a residue.


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Scotch tape is important for the transport of goods to the market from China and from the market to other places/people. The tape is about cost and efficiency, if you can wrap things tightly you can reduce the space/volume of goods.


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Scotch tape has become good business. When businessmen go to China to procure/buy products in bulk they have started buying boxes of scotch tape too. They use for themselves, for their own shop, and they sell it. For example, for the last 2 years Mr Yacuba has been travelling to China to buy solar lanterns. He sells to customers across West Africa (including Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Benin and Mali), and across Burkina. Customers come to his shop because he has a wide range of products and big stock, “customers like to choose" he said. But he also brings back Scotch. On his last trip to China, he bought 35 boxes of large tape, with 24 rolls in each, at a cost of 25,000cfa/box. He uses them in his 3 stores in the market, which are managed by his younger brothers. If they run out, it will cost them about 1000cfa a piece. He uses the tape as a tool: to package the goods from China to Burkina and to package goods for customers in his store, as they take them elsewhere. There are specialised shops where Scotch is sold alongside plastic bags, carriers. But many electrical shops will sell you Scotch tape too. In one solar panel/solar battery shop, they were selling as much scotch tape as they were selling solar batteries. Small electronic shops, like those selling mobile phones and ipods, also sell scotch.



People want to see their products are new. New electronic products sometimes come with a thin foil to cover the screen/panel: scotch on boxes also keeps things as new, convinces customers that things are fresh/unopened. When people are selling goods at a wholesale price – like when Mr Yacuba sells large quantities of solar lanterns – they might wrap the products in scotch so that the purchaser can see how many are there. Scotch is transparent but it also creates transparency in the market, in the relation between the buyer and the seller. Scotch is a basis for credit. Customers who buy lots of goods many times – like the customers to Mr Sawadogo Yacuba’s solar lighting shop – can have credit, “the fourth time, they can have credit.”

* When we started talking to him, and other people, only about lanterns they were a little bit suspicious and they didn’t want to volunteer information. “I can only tell you the price, I can’t give you any other information,’ one man told us. Mr Yacuba was also a bit suspicious at first. But we bought a lamp at his store – from his assistant – and when he realised this and when we started asking about the tape rather than directly about his business, he became more open and friendly. People don’t have any reason to keep secrets about scotch tape.


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Scotch is used to fix and repair other things. Across the whole market, Scotch is used to fix and repair cardboard boxes that are broken or ripped or torn, or wet. Scotch makes boxes last longer. Under most stores you can see flat packed boxes with tape. Scotch is also used to repair other things. In one stall a small solar lantern had been fixed with scotch where the panel had fallen out, the shopkeeper was using this model as a display model.


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In a context in which there are concerns across Sub Saharan Africa with plastic – leading to bans on plastic bags in Kenya and Burkina – there are no bans on Scotch. People are wasteful with it, it is not used sparingly or economically, people use lots of it, rolling and rolling it around boxes and sacks. You can find bits of tape everywhere, on the floor and under stalls. 

Questions - What happens if you run out, can you borrow or share Scotch tape. And if so, who can you borrow it from. Can you trace friendships and kinship and ethic relations through scotch tape? What are the range of different uses for different kinds of scotch tape – could we do a complete audit of all the different uses, and what would that tell us? Could we follow Scotch tape in Kakuma and Goudoubou?

It seems likely that things might be carried into and out of these camps using tape. What could following the tape tell us. We could ask more about the history of the object, has the import of Scotch tape increased (can we find out some statistics from the customs authorities), what does this tell us about trade relations? Where is this tape made and by whom? You can get personalised tape: but nobody has tried to put a message on Scotch tape. What might it mean to develop an intervention using tape: perhaps creating a personalised message.

Better Shelter -- our views

On January 27, Olly Wainwright wrote a review in the Guardian about the Better Shelter from the IKEA Foundation.  He outlined that the initiative had recently been awarded the Beazley design of the year 2016 by the London Design Museum.

Better Shelter Raising -- Edinburgh

One month earlier, on Dec 16, we had our initial research team gathering for Displaced Energy and we thought it might be a nice idea, as an attempt to better understand aspects of being displaced, to construct a shelter in Central Edinburgh.  We procured the Better Shelter from the IKEA Foundation, although our circumstances are significantly different from truly displaced populations.   With this in mind, our aim in conducting this exercise allowed us three purposes:

  1. we wanted a team building exercise to launch the project
  2. we wanted to interrogate some aspect of refugee life, within reach.  Much good designing is about understanding experiences of users -- so we wanted to know what it was really like to have to manage and assemble this shelter
  3. again, as experience, what was it like being in the shelter?  We set ourselves a deadline to have it constructed in time to conduct a book launch for Design Anthropological Futures later that evening. This also allowed us to make full use of the solar lighting equipment provided.

So how did we get on?  

  • The instructions stated the shelter should be able to be raised by 4 adults in 4 hours; this wasn't achieved.  It took more than 4 of us, almost 2 days to get the job done.
  • The assembly was straightforward, if not challenging.  There are a lot of parts to keep track of.  And the instructions, true to IKEA format, were ambiguous in places.  We likely lost many of the parts.  But the tools were much more robust than the standard allan wrenches normally provided
  • Edinburgh is wet, and cold!  The images in Olly Wainwrights article show the shelters in Lesbos, replete with sunshine.  Watch day two of our video on Vimeo to see the rainy, grey and cold assembly in Edinburgh.