Cooling Earth

Gunjan Singh / 4 min read / Cli-Fi Imaginarium
17 May 2021
A medic in a remote location looking for alternative refrigeration solutions to save her medicines

I have no idea about the time when I wake up, drenched in sweat. After a few moments, I realize where I am. This doesn’t look like my apartment in Bangalore and the persistence of a burnt smell in the air jolts me back to reality. I am in my rickety cot in a small corner separated by a palm leaf divider, occupying a small portion of the Doctors Without Borders facility.

Ade is pounding on my door. He is my fixer and he might have news about the parts I am looking for. Ade has a talent for finding rare electronics in trash heaps, and he can speak four local languages from each of the tribal groups inhabiting this part of the small island country.

‘I need to find a solution fast!’ I think to myself as I look at the white boxes that have just been delivered by the Red Cross. The medicines inside need cooling to stay effective and safe for the injured and sick, but the dispensary’s fridge is broken. A new fridge might take some time to be delivered to this tiny island in the middle of Pacific Ocean and so I have to make do with what is around me – my hope is to find something with Ade. My colleagues have advised against it, but Ade and I plan to go scavenging. Maybe we will find some parts in the junkyard and can ask someone to fashion a makeshift solution.

I walk out with Ade as he updates me about a junkyard that could have some salvageable electrical stuff.

‘Ade, did you find anything?’ I shout from one corner of a junkyard where a lot of electronic trash is piled up. Ade mumbles something and I take that for a no.

‘Madam, no one can build a refrigerator from this crap, la,’ says Ade in a low tone, after two hours of sifting through discarded radios, fans and lamps.

Afterwards, we sit feeling resigned at a roadside stall and sip on some cold water. The water is strikingly cool. I ask the owner if he has a fridge somewhere inside. He shakes his head and points towards a terracotta water pot. And that’s when it strikes me.

‘We are going to build a subterranean fridge!’ I tell Ade excitedly and he gives me a blank look.

I think of the days growing up when we didn’t have a fridge and we craved cold, sweet delicacies. A hawker would pass by our mohalla and sell these amazing kulfies. He would whip them out of a deep red terracotta matka.

I explain the basic idea to him and he nods, as if chewing on the idea. He probably thinks I have gone mad, but I am slowly building this idea up in my head as we walk back to my dispensary.

‘This would be better than depending on parts and electricity,’ I say.

‘How?’ Ade asks.

‘It’s an underground cellar that can maintain cooler temperatures than on the surface. I also remember reading about caves or wells used for food storage. Pitchers of milk, sides of meat, cheese and other foods were kept cool by hanging them in a well. Underground wine cellars also follow the same idea.

‘Now I need to figure out how to make one, and quickly!’ I mumble, lost in my thoughts, praying that my feeble and meager allowance of internet does not die on me and that I will be able to find some more information about how to build a subterranean fridge.

I am hopeful about that box of medicines now.

Original artwork by Gunjan Singh

Avatar photo Gunjan Singh India/ Netherlands A strategic designer and life long learner, exploring systems thinking and sustainable futures. Climate fiction combines my shot at creative writing and a way for me to dream and imagine desirable and sustainable future narratives, sometimes also confronting and living with the trouble. View all posts
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