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Ambatolampy has a thriving pot casting business, and although visiting backyard foundries with non-existent health & safety controls might not feature on your 'Must Do' list of Madagascar experiences, it is certainly not something that you are likely to stumble across often!
Aluminium is a particularly amenable metal for recycling as it has a low melting point and there is a readily available source (beer and cold drink cans being the most obvious). Given that aluminium smelting has pretty well the highest energy requirement of any metal per unit of product produced, at least recycling is an environmentally responsible way of ensuring that greatest benefit is produced from each unit of metal as it is repeatedly reincarnated into different forms.
The technique used is skilful and interesting to watch. The metal is smelted by one worker in a crucible until it is molten (it's actually rather attractive - if extremely dangerous - in this form as it looks like quicksilver). In the mean time, another member of the team creates the inverted shape of the inside of the pot on the floor of the workshop using a very fine grained foundry sand. Once this shape has been completed, a wooden mould is lowered carefully over the foundry sand, and more sand is packed around it. Finally the molten metal is poured into the cavity between the two to create the pot. The pot is then left to cool - which is a surprisingly quick process - before the mould is removed and the foundry sand is gently swept away to expose the new pot. It is then sanded and burnished to remove the rough edges and reveal the characteristic silvery white colour of the metal.
You do not even want to think about the health & safety controls for this process: any sort of personal protective clothing is non-existent, as the team - who work within inches of the molten metal - are usually bare chested and bare footed and work under conditions of poor illumination within the workshop. The only safeguard against serious injuries and death would seem to be the skill and concentration of the workers, and all in all, it's hair raising stuff.
Aluminium has a very low density, so what will probably strike you about the pots is how extraordinarily light they are for their size. For this reason, they make surprisingly practical souvenirs - however, although they are probably attractive serving vessels (especially if you follow the example of more upmarket restaurants and use the dinky little pots to present individual servings), I would personally not recommend using them for cooking purposes. There is some evidence to suggest that aluminium uptake from food that has been prepared in aluminium cooking vessels may be a contributing factor to the development of Alzheimers. I'm no expert on this, so can't comment on whether it's true or not, but I wouldn't want to risk it, if only because I would hate to lose my happy memories of my time in Madagascar!
Updated Jul 25, 2010