A “knotty confluence”

This Director’s Note was originally published in the April 2017 edition of the CACHE Quarterly Newsletter.

In the summer of 2005, my research group conducted one of our first field campaigns near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I was pretty excited. Household emissions had rarely been measured in field settings. I had a great graduate student, Chris Roden, who stepped into the role of the first Bond Lab equipment builder, and we were learning a lot. At one home we experienced a long delay in setting up the midday measurement trial. My frustration was building. “What’s the problem?” I snapped. Our colleague and friend, Benjamin Osorto, explained gently, “We had to go get some beans. They had nothing to cook.” What a blow to the gut. I sank down and put my head in my hands, with a feeling of — “What the Sam Hill are we doing measuring emissions?” (I later discovered that I was sitting in latrine runoff.)

So comes the moral dilemma that I, and CACHE, and so many others struggle with. We know one “challenge” very well, and by “we” I mean researchers, domain specialists, and sector experts keen to smooth the energy, water, shelter, and sanitation pains of billions. We are trained and equipped and funded to tackle one challenge. We compete with other challenges and do it with swagger. But those challenges are tightly wound within the system of everyday living. We bring water to homes that don’t have food, shelter to families hungry for lost communities, cookstoves to women who are discouraged and belittled. Many intelligent people are working on this knotty confluence; even more people keep crashing through the jungle with the machete of a single discipline. We’re puzzling through notions of how to harness needed expertise in service of the whole. Keep talking.

Best, Tami

Posted in Director's Notes, News