Guest Host: Rebecca Roberts

As the lone American diplomat in rural Afghanistan, Patricia McArdle received a rare look into the struggles of soldiers and civilians in the war-torn countryside. As she gradually gained acceptance among her peers, McArdle discovered a mission – and an idea for a novel – that would change her life. McArdle joins Rebecca Roberts to discuss her first book, “Farishta,” and her work bringing solar ovens to the rural poor in Afghanistan.


  • Patricia McArdle Author, "Farishta" (Riverhead); Foreign Service Officer (1979 - 2006)


  • 13:24:27

    MS. REBECCA ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." For many of us, retirement is something to ease into. You take long lunches, you delegate authority, you mentor newcomers, savor the respect you've earned after a long career.

  • 13:24:41

    MS. REBECCA ROBERTSBut after more than two decades as a diplomat, Patricia McArdle wasn't about to ease into anything. For her last assignment at the State Department, she chose to go to Afghanistan. What she got was a life-changing experience and a mission that would take her far past retirement. But rather than write a memoir about her time in the Middle East, McArdle choose to tell part of it through the fictional eyes of a character named Angela, the protagonist of her new novel, "Farishta."

  • 13:25:05

    MS. REBECCA ROBERTSThe author and her character do share similarities including an epiphany that transforms their work at home and abroad but, of course, like most novels fact and fiction soon diverge, leaving readers to explore the serious issues and colorful stories that shape Angela's stay in Afghanistan. Author Patricia McArdle joins me here in the studio. She's the author of the novel, "Farishta," and she was a foreign service officer from 1979 to 2006. Welcome, thanks so much for being here.

  • 13:25:29

    MS. PATRICIA MCARDLEThanks, Rebecca, it's great to be here.

  • 13:25:31

    ROBERTSAnd you can join us by calling 800-433-8850. Send us e-mail,, or you can get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet at kojoshow. So you went to Afghanistan in 2004 near the end of your career. Why not, you know, London or Paris, when you got the seniority to choose places like that?

  • 13:25:53

    MCARDLEI have always wanted to go to Afghanistan back when I was in my late teens and early 20s. It was a place where a lot of young people went. People don't even realize there was a Peace Corps in Afghanistan as well. And I didn't -- I read James Michener's "Caravans." I didn't take up the opportunity and when the request came across my desk in late 2003 for volunteers to go to provincial reconstruction teams, I thought, okay, now's my chance. Although, I have to admit, I didn't know very much about Afghanistan at that time.

  • 13:26:22

    ROBERTSAnd how much preparation did you get?

  • 13:26:23

    MCARDLEVery little.

  • 13:26:24


  • 13:26:24

    MCARDLEThe State Department, at that time, in 2004, was pretty much focused on Iraq and preparing people to go to the Green Zone and so we going into Afghanistan got little -- very little language training and very little other training.

  • 13:26:38

    ROBERTSHow's your Dari?

  • 13:26:39

    MCARDLEMy Dari is quite minimal. I had about three and a half months worth and the first month is just learning the Arabic script and then -- so I depended on interpreters and they were great. And the interpreter in my book, Raheem (sp?) , is a composite of the various, young interpreters that we had. They were great guys.

  • 13:26:56

    ROBERTSNow, you weren't like Angela in your novel. You weren't in sort of the center of diplomatic life. You were up in Mazar-e Sharif?

  • 13:27:02

    MCARDLEThat's right. I was in Mazar-e Sharif for a year and that's where I place the novel also because, as they say, write what you know and I certainly knew that very well.

  • 13:27:11

    ROBERTSAnd describe to us what provincial reconstruction teams do. What is the mission there?

  • 13:27:15

    MCARDLEThe mission of provincial reconstruction teams varies from place to place, but it's a contingent of soldiers, usually a 100 to 150 soldiers, in fairly remote locations around Afghanistan. And then, later, they started putting them in Iraq as well. And they're more peacekeeping. They're not really involved in combat.

  • 13:27:34

    MCARDLEThey do presence patrols. They sort of make -- they represent the larger force so people can see that we're still focusing on these areas. And they actually have a sort of a calming effect in the region. And people told us there, when I would go on patrols with the soldiers, that the presence of our little six-solider, two-vehicle patrols with no armored vehicles and they didn't wear armor, they just carried rifles, actually kept the warlords in check.

  • 13:28:03

    MCARDLESo it allowed development to proceed, albeit at a small pace, but because people knew that these soldiers would keep patrolling, even though sometimes they didn't go back to a place for a year because they patrolled an area about the size of Scotland.

  • 13:28:20

    ROBERTSIt must've an extraordinary experience so why not write about it in a nonfiction way? Why choose to novelize it?

  • 13:28:27

    MCARDLEI had considered writing a memoir when I came back, but I realized I would, first of all, have to conceal the names and identities of a lot of the people I'd worked with. But I also thought the only people that would read another memoir about Afghanistan are the policy wonks probably inside the Beltway and I really felt...

  • 13:28:43

    ROBERTSAnd now, that's our audience so you...

  • 13:28:45

    MCARDLEI know. I mean no offense friends, no offense. But I wanted more people. I wanted the general public to know what's going on there. People don't know much about it. And I also wanted them to really identify with the Afghan and the British -- the American -- the British soldiers as people so that if and when something happened to them, it wouldn't just be like reading another article in the paper, hearing a clip on the news. You'd really feel it. And I felt I could do that with fiction and I hope I will succeed.

  • 13:29:16

    ROBERTSDid you have to get State Department clearance?

  • 13:29:18

    MCARDLEI did. I had to have the whole manuscript cleared by the Department of State and as they say, other related agencies had to read it, too. And they took them -- they did it very quickly, it was less than three months. They did not change or delete a single word.

  • 13:29:33


  • 13:29:34

    MCARDLEAnd they said they really liked it.

  • 13:29:37

    ROBERTSNow, there is a -- there's obviously a lot of differences between you and Angela, in addition to similarities. But there is one experience where -- was an experience you had that you gave her in terms of seeing this need in terms of solar ovens. And actually, you've brought one here to the studio. It's fairly extraordinary. But describe to me the day that you realized the need and what you've done since then.

  • 13:30:00

    MCARDLEI was returning from a patrol. It was in March. It was very sunny, as it is most days in Afghanistan, and it was very cold, but we had passed more lines of small children carrying brush back to their villages for their mothers to cook with. And Afghanistan used to have large forests. They're almost all gone now.

  • 13:30:19

    MCARDLEThey were cut down for lumber and then the smaller trees for firewood. Driving back, the sun in my eyes, I suddenly remembered that when I was a Girl Scout about half a century ago, I had built a solar cooker. I didn't remember too much about it, but I knew it was a cardboard box with aluminum foil and a piece of glass and that we'd made brownies or something in it.

  • 13:30:39

    MCARDLEAnd I thought, I wonder if -- I don't know much about that technology, but I wonder if the Afghans know about this. So I went back to camp and the Internet was working that day and I Googled solar cooking and up came the website of Solar Cookers International, which I had never heard of.

  • 13:30:56

    MCARDLEI'm now on their board of directors, but then I hadn't heard of them. And they had actual plans that you could download to build solar cookers. One of them was the one I brought in called The CooKit, which was designed by Solar Cookers International and a French physicist.

  • 13:31:10

    MCARDLEAnd I built several and tested them on the roof over the next month to see which ones worked best. And then, I took this one on patrol, demonstrated it in a village way up in the Hindu Kush and all these illiterate mountain villagers, men, came to watch. And they were astounded to see that with a piece of cardboard with foil glued onto it, I could pour a liter of cold water into a black painted pot, just the kind of cooking pots they use and boil water.

  • 13:31:38

    ROBERTSAnd I can see where you could find -- there's obviously plenty of sun, a cooking pot, maybe even the cardboard. How do you source the tin foil?

  • 13:31:47

    MCARDLEThat was a question that the men asked me because I had -- I borrowed tin foil from the British cooks in our field kitchen. And the men in the village, after they had seen this and they all wanted to come up and touch the pot because they couldn't believe it, and they burned their fingers. And they said...

  • 13:32:03

    ROBERTSYou'd think after the first one or two they'd stop burning their fingers. Everyone had to touch it.

  • 13:32:05

    MCARDLENo, everyone -- this is an experience that I've had on at the Mall, at the State Department, at the Pentagon, anywhere I demonstrate, people have to come up and burn their fingers. So the -- one of the men said, well, we have cardboard, but where do we get that shiny paper?

  • 13:32:20

    MCARDLEAnd I was trying to think of an answer and one of them whips out a cigarette, pulls the little foil thing up and said, we could use this. And all the men smoke and they all whipped out their cigarettes and I thought, my God, they're going to all start smoking cartons of cigarettes.

  • 13:32:35

    MCARDLEBut what was remarkable to me was this instant technology transfer. They had figured out a use for this, tea, because the men make tea all day. And they burn this brush their kids haul and they figured out a way to make with something they had, which was cigarette foil.

  • 13:32:51

    MCARDLEI tried to get the Embassy interested in USAID and was not successful. Since I've returned home in 2006, I've continued doing this. I'm on -- I've been on the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves as a technology advisor for solar cooking. Solar cooking is still not really accepted, though, unfortunately.

  • 13:33:12

    ROBERTSWhy not, do you think?

  • 13:33:14

    MCARDLEYou know, it puzzles me. I think that it is a very odd technology, sort of the way microwaves were 30, 40 years ago and people didn't even want to drink water made with a cup of water from a microwave. But I think also there are vested interests who would like to be able to sell fuel, different kinds of fuel. And, of course, if you have a really good solar cooker, most days you don't need any fuel at all.

  • 13:33:39

    MCARDLEYou do need something when it's not sunny, but once you have this, the fuel is free. I think that -- I'm hoping that my colleagues, my former colleagues in USAID and State Department, will eventually listen to us and accept this as a technology that needs assistance, the way they're giving a lot of assistance to the development of other technologies that burn things.

  • 13:34:04

    ROBERTSDo you get that question a lot, what happens when the sun doesn't shine?

  • 13:34:06

    MCARDLEAbsolutely, always. And so what we promote is what we call integrated cooking or solar plus cooking, meaning when it's sunny, use a solar cooker. Don't use fuel, but have a fuel efficient stove to use at night and on rainy days. And then use something we call a retained heat cooker, which is just a big insulated basket that allows you to keep food hot after it's cooked, something our grandmothers used to use and we've sort of forgotten about it.

  • 13:34:31

    ROBERTSAnd we'll put pictures on the website, but we should describe this solar cooker. It is, you know, a flexible cardboard maybe three feet wide...

  • 13:34:39

    MCARDLEThree by four. It's exactly the same size as the boards that kids use to make their science projects. So it's exactly three feet by four feet.

  • 13:34:47

    ROBERTSAnd it's got this reflective surface. It looks like, you know, the things people put in their car windshields to keep the car from getting hot.

  • 13:34:53

    MCARDLEExactly. You can use those, they work.

  • 13:34:55


  • 13:34:55

    MCARDLEYes, they work very well. And this was the design -- the Pakistani man, Mr. Syed, who's organized the solar cooker demonstration at the mosque -- at the Dar Al-Noor Mosque in Manassas this Saturday. He took several of these with him to Pakistan in the spring and showed them to his neighbors and cooked. And they were astounded and that was what inspired him to host this exhibit on Saturday.

  • 13:35:22

    ROBERTSMy guest is Patricia McArdle. Her book is called, "Farishta," and we are talking about her time in Afghanistan and her mission to spread solar cooking around the region and elsewhere. If you've ever used a solar cooker or if you have other ideas about, you know, cheap, simple innovations that you think could be useful for the rural poor, give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send us e-mail,

  • 13:35:48

    ROBERTSWere you able to do much about spreading the solar cooker news while you were in Afghanistan or is it easier to do from here?

  • 13:35:55

    MCARDLENo, I was not. My job there was as a reporting officer for the Department of State so my job really was to meet with local officials on political, social issues, to go on patrols with the soldiers and observe and meet with villagers and report back to the Department of State on what was going on.

  • 13:36:13

    MCARDLEWe also were involved in negotiating some conflicts so this was not my job. This was sort of my sideline so, no, I was not able to do a lot there. I did meet some Afghans who are involved and some Americans based in Kabul, who are promoting solar cooking. But my involvement was very limited, but this is really my life's work now.

  • 13:36:35

    ROBERTSSo you weren't sneaking out of the compound in a burka the way Angela does in your book?

  • 13:36:39

    MCARDLENo, no.

  • 13:36:40

    ROBERTSLet's hear from Shirley in Alexandria, Va. Shirley, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:36:45

    SHIRLEYHi, thanks. I was actually in Kabul at about the same time, 2004 - 2005 and one of the jobs I had was looking into the issue of what are some of the alternatives to fuel there.

  • 13:36:57

    SHIRLEYAnd I was also struck by the real lack of interest from the American government in any kind of alternative, even though it all has to be shipped in and it's an enormously expensive. And it's really bad for the environment because the fumes from all the small sort of diesel engines and everybody's doorways is really, really bad for everybody. But there really seemed to be no interest from the American government on sort of any kind of alternatives like that.

  • 13:37:26

    ROBERTSAnd why do you think that is, Shirley?

  • 13:37:29

    SHIRLEYI couldn't find out. I mean, I couldn't seem to get any handle on why there was this resistance, other than it wasn't the focus, you know. I mean, it just wasn't considered a priority. And if it's not a priority and the current system is working, that is the Americans were getting all the fuel they needed by paying for it to be shipped in, they didn't see the need to make this big, sort of long-term investment.

  • 13:37:53

    SHIRLEYBecause it would be long-term. And some of -- like the cooking thing is shorter-term, but a lot of the alternative fuels require long-term investment and growing different products, you know, growing -- using corn instead of diesel fuel. You know, using vegetable fuels instead of diesel fuel kind of thing. I mean, those are long-term investments and there just didn't seem to be that kind of commitment to it.

  • 13:38:16

    ROBERTSShirley, thanks for your call. Patricia McArdle, in the book, you have this Russian character who sort of serves to explain the mistakes the Soviet Union made in Afghanistan and how the U.S. is in danger of repeating them. In addition to the sort of this is the way it's always been done argument, what do you think are the entrenched interests that's making it hard to find alternatives like this?

  • 13:38:38

    MCARDLEI think part of it is simply a lack of vision. We have the technology now for a lot of renewable energy, solar, thermal, photovoltaic wind, small hydro, micro hydro. And I believe, from what I saw, the area that I patrolled and covered in northern Afghanistan, that those technologies are the kind of technologies we should be promoting, but we are unfortunately promoting and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on traditional electric grids.

  • 13:39:06

    MCARDLEAs you mentioned when we were talking before, there was a opt-ed in this morning's New York Times, critical of the electric generators which require diesel fuel and some of the grid planning. I had an opt-ed in the New York Times two weeks ago that was talking about my disappointment that we're not really having a more sustainable development policy there.

  • 13:39:28

    MCARDLEWith energy, but also with buildings, using traditional building methods. And I do think it's sort of vested interest and lack of vision, which really is a great disappointment. And I think the costs to our soldiers of having to bring in that fuel, in addition to the cost to the American tax payers -- it's actually several hundred dollars a gallon to get diesel fuel in. And, of course, as I heard, I think it was on yesterday. There was a show that we lose almost one soldier civilian for every convoy that goes in bringing fuel to the remote bases in Afghanistan.

  • 13:40:04

    ROBERTSWell, in that op-ed, you also talked about Afghans as sort of the ultimate local force. That's a lot that development folks could learn about the way that these things have been done historically and traditionally. And it struck me that it seems that there has been more attention to recognizing the value of local traditions and a lot of development work and this seemed like an exception. Am I wrong?

  • 13:40:26

    MCARDLEIt did to me. As I said, I was not involved in development. However, I did go into some very remote parts of Afghanistan. I had some of the most delicious meals I've ever eaten using all locally grown food, except the rice. The rice is brought up from the south. But the fresh grass-fed meat -- and they grow their crops. They grow their wheat. They grind their wheat. They dry their fruits and vegetables. Wonderful food.

  • 13:40:51

    MCARDLEBut something else I noticed, in addition to the fact that all the food was local, is that the Afghans -- there's very little obesity and they have the most beautiful teeth.

  • 13:41:00

    ROBERTSThat is author, diplomat and solar cooking evangelist, Patricia McArdle. Her book is called "Farishta." We will talk more after this quick break. You can join us at 800-433-8850 or send us e-mail, I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Stay tuned.

  • 13:43:07

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi and I'm talking to Patricia McArdle. Her book is called "Farishta." It's a novel about a diplomat in Afghanistan, which Patricia McArdle also was, and since then, she has been spreading the word about solar cookery. You can join us at 800-433-8850 or send us e-mail,

  • 13:43:31

    ROBERTSAnd we have an e-mail, Patricia McArdle, from Anna in McLean who says, "How long does it take to cook, let's say, roast beef and potatoes on a solar cooker? It seems like the time it takes to cook would be a downside to these contraptions."

  • 13:43:43

    MCARDLEThat's such an interesting question. When I get asked that question, generally Americans do ask me how long does it take to cook. Europeans always ask what does the food taste like, which shows our different priorities. And I will -- the answer is it depends. On a sunny day, if you're -- the sun is high in the sky, so you're either at -- you're close to the equator from around April, May here until September, October.

  • 13:44:08

    MCARDLEYou can cook, let's say, a whole -- a roast chicken and vegetables in about two hours. A roast beef, probably two or three hours depending. You'd have to keep an eye on it. But it really depends on what you're cooking, and which kind of solar cooker you're using. The advantage, of course, in our society where we like everything to be done fast, the advantage, let's say, if you're a retiree living in the southwest and you don't want to turn on your air conditioning in the summer, you can have roast out in the backyard without having to turn on your oven.

  • 13:44:39

    MCARDLEBut if you're a woman living in the developing world and you have to go out and cut down wood and drag it home, the time that it takes to cook is rather -- is sort of irrelevant compared to the time it takes you to gather that wood and then cut it up small enough and then light it and get it burning enough so you can put your food on. When you add all that together, the cooking time really isn't too long.

  • 13:44:59

    ROBERTSAnd what's the answer to the question of how it tastes?

  • 13:45:02

    MCARDLEIt tastes delicious. It tastes like slow-cooked food, if it's cook in a panel cooker, which is the one that I brought, or a box cooker. Panel cookers cook at about 250 Fahrenheit, like a crockpot. A box cooker cooks at about 350 like an oven, and then parabolic cookers, which look like umbrellas, they cook as fast as a stovetop. So there, you're gonna be frying and boiling, and there you have to keep an eye on it. It cooks very fast. So it depends on the kind of solar cooker and the -- where the sun is.

  • 13:45:32

    ROBERTSAnd we should say that if people want to see this in action, there's a demonstration coming up this weekend.

  • 13:45:36

    MCARDLEYes. We're going to be demonstrating. We've been invited to -- by the Dar Al-Noor Mosque in Manassas, Va. It's an interfaith event so everyone's welcome. It will be outside, and we'll be cooking -- we'll be baking cakes and popping popcorn, and giving out literature on solar cooking, and demonstrating a whole bunch of different kinds of solar cookers.

  • 13:45:55

    MCARDLEThis was organized by Mr. Afzal Syed, who was the Pakistani gentleman who saw a demonstration we did up in New York at the U.N. in January, and he was very moved by this, and has organized this even. So we're really looking forward to it. It'll be on Saturday from 11:00 to 3:00, and if -- it's supposed to be sunny Saturday. If, by chance, it's not, the rain date is Sunday.

  • 13:46:16

    ROBERTSAnd let's take some calls. This is Hal in Annandale, Va. Hal, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:46:21

    HALWhy, thanks. Okay. My comment is I was with USAID in India from 1983 to 1988, and with the social forestry program. We had lots of contact with local NGOs, many of whom -- several hundred were busy demonstrating in the villages and all around the countryside this solar cooking that Ms. McArdle is talking about. Why that technology has not spread out into Pakistan and Afghanistan, I have no idea.

  • 13:46:54

    HALBut as a government employee of USAID, I didn't have to promote anything there. We had a guy from the states writing me complaining he had solar cookers for sale and was trying to get USAID to sell them in India. And he never told me what the price was, but you could buy them in India for about 3 or $4, which so -- which is why I wrote him finally a letter and -- anyway, U.S. government does support these programs.

  • 13:47:25

    ROBERTSThanks, Hal. Is this the difference between India and Afghanistan, do you think?

  • 13:47:29

    MCARDLEWell, China has more solar cookers than any other country, and they -- most of the ones in China are parabolic solar cookers that people have out in their backyards. There are a lot of solar cookers used in India. They're all made in India. Parabolics are the most used, but given the population of India, that's -- it's still a fairly small percentage.

  • 13:47:49

    MCARDLEBut these are not -- today -- there may have been programs in the past. I am not aware of those, but today there's not much support at this time for this technology from the U.S. government, and I hope there will be.

  • 13:48:03

    ROBERTSLet's hear from Hassan in Sterling. Hassan, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Hassan, are you there?

  • 13:48:12


  • 13:48:13

    ROBERTSHi, you're on the air.

  • 13:48:16

    HASSANThis is Hassan.

  • 13:48:17

    ROBERTSYes. Welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:48:19

    HASSANYeah. Thank you for taking my call. My question, or my comment to Patricia -- I'm sorry to address you by your first name, but that's how I like to call people by first name. Have you thought about going back and live in Afghanistan and spread the word that Americans are different from their government? They can help people regardless what American government might think, and build better relationships with the Afghan people, simple people just like the villagers she described, and educate them about how Americans think differently from the government and their interest is to build relationships with other nations at the people level.

  • 13:49:11

    ROBERTSHassan, thanks for your call. Have you considered going back?

  • 13:49:13

    MCARDLEI -- at this point, I have not. I would like to go back to Afghanistan some day. I haven't considered that at this point because it is -- for an American woman, especially, unless I'm there with a group, it's not really safe for me to go on my own. However, I do support what you're saying, and I think it is important that people understand that individuals don't necessarily represent the positions of their government.

  • 13:49:39

    MCARDLEThere are Americans that I know and I am in touch with in Kabul who have lived there for a long time, who are promoting solar cooking on a small scale. But more importantly, there are Afghans who are there building and promoting solar cookers, and those are the ones that I think we really need to support so that you have Afghan solutions for Afghan problems. And these guys are building and teaching people how to use them, but they need more support.

  • 13:50:06

    ROBERTSFran from Washington D.C. is on the line with us now. Fran, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:50:12

    FRANHi. I was just (unintelligible) at least in part that you had, Rebecca Roberts, about other alternative energy sources for cooking. And this is actually not solar powered, and I don't know a great deal about it, but I thought it might be useful for anyone who wants to look up more information on it. It was called the Wonder Box and it almost works in the principle of a crockpot where somebody begins cooking something and then it's put in this insulated box over the course of the day.

  • 13:50:39

    FRANAnd so by the time the evening comes, the food is cooked. I know it was and probably still used widely in rural southern Africa, and one of the groups that promoted it is Women for Peace, or was Women for Peace. I'm kind of going back a couple of decades so if somebody -- the author or anybody else wanted to follow up on it, you could probably Google Wonder Box, Women for Peace and it's -- I think you have to initiate the cooking outside the box, but then once it's begun, it can complete cooking inside the box. And it's a very cheap, fuel efficient, and also labor efficient cooking tool for people in rural areas.

  • 13:51:20

    MCARDLEYes. This -- the Wonder Box, it's also known as a retain heat cooker and a hay basket. It has several names. On the Solar Cookers International website, we have a whole section on that technology. It's actually incredibly simple. We will be demonstrating that this Saturday at the Dar al Noor Mosque in Manassas. It's simply a retained heat -- it's an insulated basket or box, even a hole in the ground.

  • 13:51:45

    MCARDLEOur special forces guys learned how to do this because they can cook during the day, bury their food, keep it hot and then dig it up at night and have hot food without making a fire. But what the -- it allows you do -- and you can stuff a basket with grass or leaves or crumpled newspaper or old cloth, or cotton or wool, and you have about six inches of insulation all around your pot.

  • 13:52:07

    MCARDLEYou can cook, for example, with a solar cooker. You can cook your lunch from, say, 10:00 to 12:00 or 10:00 to 1:00, have a hot lunch, then you put the food in. You cook your afternoon meal from 1:00 to 4:00. Then you take that bubbling hot pot and you stick it in the retained heat cooker or Wonder Box or hay basket, whatever you want to call it, cover it up, and three hours later you open it up, it's still steaming hot, and you have a hot meal.

  • 13:52:32

    MCARDLEYou can also use it, though -- as your caller mentioned, you can take a fuel-efficient stove, use a little bit of fuel get your food, like beans, get them just up to boiling, to a rolling boil, and then you put out the fire so you're saving the fuel. You put that into the Wonder Box, cover it up, it will finish cooking and stay hot, and you've used only a third or less of the fuel. So it's a remarkably simple technology, which we are also trying to get the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves to promote.

  • 13:53:03

    ROBERTSAnd let's hear from Alan in Alexandria. Alan, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:53:08


  • 13:53:09

    ROBERTSHi, you're on the air. Go ahead.

  • 13:53:12

    ALANI had a question. I'm wondering if anyone has ever thought about since we have to ship aid commodities anyway, of simply making a hopefully low cost addition to the shipping containers to line them with foil as you've described, so that when the contents of the box are removed, the shipping container itself is a solar oven.

  • 13:53:35

    MCARDLEThat's a wonderful idea. And the foil liners, the mylar liners that are used in some shipping containers -- but also if you tear open a box of potato chips or juice boxes, that foil liner works great. If you glue it on cardboard, you can make a solar cooker with it. And I think that certainly that sort of dual usage would be wonderful.

  • 13:53:56

    MCARDLEYou also need -- because solar cooking is a rather counterintuitive technology, you can't just bring them in and hand them out. You have -- they have to be handed out with training and with sort of long-term training until people get the hang of it. Once they do, they use it, as I've seen in this one refugee camp in (word?) where this one was actually made, where thousands of women are using them and they're all made by women in the camp.

  • 13:54:20

    ROBERTSWhy is it counterintuitive? You can't just put a pot in the sun?

  • 13:54:23

    MCARDLEWell, the first time people see it, it's all -- some people think it's magic. I demonstrated it once in Ghana -- in Guyana, not Ghana, in Guyana in South America, and people were afraid to eat the food because they just can't believe that without a fire you can actually cook food. So it does require some training, but it works very well, and the food is delicious.

  • 13:54:45

    ROBERTSThis is Erika in Rockville. Erika, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:54:48

    ERIKAHi, how are you? I'm so intrigued with everything you're saying about the solar ovens. And you may have already mentioned this because I had to go to a meeting, but is there a website where I could go to look to find out more information about the solar ovens? And if so, is there one in particular that you would recommend, or are these all just kits that you would have to put -- you know, that you would have people put together with whatever types of material they may have?

  • 13:55:15

    MCARDLEIf you Google Solar Cookers International, their website will come up. It's a very extensive archive. It's been up for about ten years now. So it has everything you want and need, everything that you would need to build a solar cooker or to purchase one.

  • 13:55:30

    MCARDLEThere are links where you can buy them, you can build them, you can search by country and see what's going on. You can look up retained heat cookers. Even we have information on some fuel efficient stoves. So just Google Solar Cookers International, and you can learn everything you need there.

  • 13:55:45

    ROBERTSAbout how much do they cost?

  • 13:55:46

    MCARDLEThey range from this, which is a couple dollars to several hundred dollars, and it depends on the material. There's a group in Boston. They're graduates of Harvard and MIT. They are developing a portable parabolic solar cooker that they hope to market for under $30, that was initially designed to be used by Nomads in Eastern China, Tibetan Nomads. Because they saw the heavy ones used by the Chinese, but they wanted portable ones.

  • 13:56:16

    MCARDLESo they're making them out of mylar. They fold up, and they can strap them to the back of their yaks, but they can cook with them and actually heat their tents with a unit at night.

  • 13:56:25

    ROBERTSAnd we should tell the audience that that link is also on our website as well as is the information about the event at the mosque in Manassas. We've been getting some interest in the solar cooker from here in Metropolitan Washington, you know, not a developing a rural area. Have you ever used it locally?

  • 13:56:43

    MCARDLEYes. I use -- my favorite one is the hot pot, which is -- it's a version of this. It was developed by Solar Household Energy, which is D.C.-based solar cooking organization founded by two goods friends of mine, Dar Curtis and Louise Meyer. Louise will actually be joining me on Saturday, and we'll be demonstrating the hot pot. But yes. We cook -- I actually have cooked in my -- I have a YouTube website, Solar Wind Mama, and I have little films on there showing me cooking during Snowmaggedon last year.

  • 13:57:13

    ROBERTSOh, right.

  • 13:57:14

    MCARDLEOn top of the snow in my backyard, I'm making soup and making tea with solar cookers. So take a look at Solar Wind Mama and you could see my little film. So yes, you can cook summer and winter. All you need is sun. It doesn't matter if it's 30 degrees out. With some solar cookers, you can cook even when it's very cold.

  • 13:57:31

    ROBERTSPatricia McArdle, the book is called "Farishta," and we should say that is Dari for angel, but it was what people thought your name was.

  • 13:57:38

    MCARDLEWell, they heard my name, Patricia, and so they said, oh, that sounds like Farishta, so they called me Farishta. So when I began writing the novel, I was pulling together threads of my story and people that I knew before, and stories I heard in Afghanistan. And I like the name Farishta, so I named the main character in the novel Angela, and that was why they called her Farishta.

  • 13:57:58

    ROBERTSSo the book is "Farishta," the author is Patricia McArdle, and links to all of things that Patricia McArdle talked about here in the last 45 minutes will be up on our website, Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:58:10

    MCARDLEThank you.

  • 13:58:10

    ROBERTSI'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thank you so much for listening.

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