Actual people making actual charcoal from actual maize/corn cobs.
Reading this week:
- A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
- Bombs Away by John Steinbeck
“Hello everyone!” Peter began. It was the following week. “Today we are going to learn how to make charcoal out of corncobs!”
The villagers, after greeting Peter, smiled and nodded. They paid close attention.
“But today will be different!” So far it was. Today, Peter was standing next to a hole in the ground. “I figured out that you guys weren’t making charcoal out of corncobs because you didn’t want to build a kiln!”
The trouble, Peter had figured, was that he had been using a brick kiln to make charcoal out of corncobs. Although it was cheap and easy to make, it might have proved too much of a hurdle to ask the villagers to build a kiln before they started making charcoal out of corncobs. So, on the internet, he had found a technique for making charcoal in a pit dug into the ground.
More excited than usual for today’s demonstration, Peter continued with not only gusto but a little giddiness.
“Okay! So here’s the trick!” Peter hefted a stick. “With this technique, first you put a stick in the middle!”
Peter put a stick in the middle of the pit.
“Now! You layer in the dried grass and corncobs, like we usually do!” Also like usual, Peter invited some villagers to help him put dried grass and corncobs in layers into the kiln. The hands-on approach, after all, really helped to drive the point home.
“With that done, you take out the stick!” Peter took the stick out of the middle of the pit, leaving a hole in the layers of dried grass and corncobs. “And now we get to light it on fire!”
Using the stick to help him, Peter shoved a burning piece of paper down into the middle of the hole, lighting the bottom of the pile of dried grass and corncobs. Enclosed in the pit, the pile began to emit smoke.
“Alright! You guys know what comes next!” Peter checked to see if the villagers really did know what came next. “We light the smoke on fire!”
Using another burning piece of paper, Peter lit the billowing smoke on fire. Then, quickly, Peter covered the pit with a piece of metal and sealed all the edges with mud.
“Okay! Now, just like when we used the kiln, we’ll let this pit smolder here overnight. Tomorrow, we’ll uncover it, and we’ll have charcoal! No kiln needed!”
Peter beamed. The villagers smiled and nodded.
“Well, that’s all I have for today! Thank you for coming!”
The villagers, smiling, left. Today’s demonstration had been a refreshing change of pace. It was exciting to learn a new technique for making charcoal out of corncobs. Peter was excited to show them and they were happy to support their friend. The villagers nodded in knowing, silent agreement with each other that it had been a very good demonstration.
The spread of the nanites was a hard phenomenon to find out about. Anyone who witnessed technology dissolving around them usually reached down to their phone to take a picture, only to find their phone gone. When they went to get back in their car and drive somewhere to tell someone, they would find their car gone. If they then felt a sudden, eerie gust of wind, it was usually because they found themselves without their synthetic clothes.
People started to figure out something was up when no one could get hold of anyone in California. Of course, what with all the world’s technology fueling the spread of the nanites, along with the inevitable math of expanding powers of two, it didn’t take anyone long to figure out why. Or, if they didn’t figure out why, they were soon busy with their own problems of missing phones, cars, clothes, and every other piece of technology they formerly had laying around.
Peter stepped out of his hut into the sun. The day had dawned remarkably bright and clear. He got on his bike to head into town. The bike ride into town was grueling. It was uphill the whole way, and entirely on a dirt road. The dirt road was sometimes okay but got worse and worse as the rainy season went on. Peter wished that there was a way to get the road paved. If they laid down asphalt and made it a tarmac road the bike ride would be a lot easier. He might even be able to call a cab. Convincing any of the taxi drivers to take their cars off-road was a challenge, and when Peter could find someone it was astonishingly expensive. A road would be nice.
Peter turned the last corner into town and promptly fell down. He fell down because his bike was suddenly no longer under him. He didn’t notice that for a few minutes, however, because he was too busy noticing that the town was in ruins. The walls of some of the mud brick buildings still stood but almost everything else was gone. He didn’t see any cars and the cell phone tower was missing. Peter went to go pick up his bike, found his bike was gone, looked around, and got up to start walking towards his friend Pearson’s restaurant.
Peter walked into the ruins of the restaurant. Inside, he found Pearson sitting in the middle of the floor. “What… what happened?” asked Peter.
Pearson looked up to see Peter, and sprang to his feet. “Peter! It’s gone! Everything’s gone!”
“Yeah but how?” Peter was suddenly frightened of Pearson. “What happened to everything?”
Pearson staggered towards Peter, putting his hand’s on Peter’s shoulders. Then, gesturing wildly “We were here! I was cooking on the stove, preparing for lunch. I… I looked up to check the time on the clock and it was gone. Just gone! Then I looked down at the stove, but it was gone. I left the kitchen, and… and everything was just gone!” Pearson slumped back down.
Peter backed out of the ruins of the restaurant and back into the bright daylight. He thought, finally, to call someone and find out what was going on. He reached for his phone to find it missing. It wasn’t until then he really panicked. He started running. He tripped almost instantly on a loose rock, spilled into a gully, and skinned his knee.
Picking himself back up, Peter calmed down slightly. With no bike, no phone, and with nowhere else to go, he started walking home. It was dark by the time he reached his hut. He collapsed onto his mat and passed out.
For several days, the villagers had fretted about Peter. They had seen him come back without his bike. Since then, he had stayed largely in his hut. When he did leave, he had looked stricken. He hadn’t called any meetings. The villagers didn’t know exactly what was wrong with Peter, but they had noticed some other changes. The days had been brighter and more clear for the past few days. They hadn’t noticed any planes in the sky. A few items had gone missing, like plastic buckets, but these were largely of no consequence. The man from the NGO had said he was coming, but had never arrived.
In a few quiet gatherings, the villagers made a plan to make Peter happy. The happiness of their friend was very important to them. He was a man that had given them many gifts, and so deserved one in return.
The procession of villagers found Peter at his hut, looking at the distant hills. He had been waiting since his return to see if someone would come rescue him. Waking the morning after his return from town, Peter had realized that if some catastrophe had occurred, and they hadn’t heard from him, a rescue party would drive out to find him. So he had sat, and waited. Some of the time he had spent looking for his model car. It was gone.
Peter turned around and was surprised to find a crowd of villagers standing in his yard, smiling. “Oh, uh, hey guys. What brings you here?”
One of the villagers stepped forward carrying a bundle. Kneeling, the villager unwrapped the gift and presented it to Peter. Peter looked down at the bundle. He looked up at the villagers. Peter reached into the bundle and took out a piece of charcoal. It was corncob charcoal.
Clutching the charcoal, Peter turned around to hide his tears. Hey, he thought. Something terrible must have happened. That was for sure. But finally, he was doing something about climate change.
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