The Rampant

Proliferation of Plastic

The Creation

of a Service Organization

The Ecopsychology

of Handwork

Indigo's Daily Travel Log,

Egypt December 2013

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The Rampant Proliferation of Plastic:

A Tragedy of the Commons

© 2013 by K. Indigo Rønlov

Naropa University

Abstract

The rampant proliferation of plastic has far reaching ramifications of which we are just now beginning to understand. In our consumer throw-away world, plastic has become a convenient way to package products, to bring home purchases, or to mold just about anything one could imagine. Its unique formable qualities make it an ideal substance to which we have grown accustom across the globe. Humanity seems to have forgotten that we once lived in an unplasticized world. Current research is beginning to show the dark side of this wonder material. This paper offers an overview of the challenges created due to our dependence on plastic based upon a diverse selection of reading.

 

The Rampant Proliferation of Plastic: A Tragedy of the Commons

The earth has and continues to recycle and reuse the matter of its body to create more life. In this way, death creates life in a seemingly endless cycle enlivening the entire planetary system. Life eats life to have life. More life has died and been transformed by the forces of the biosphere than is alive right now.

 

This is staggering and phenomenal to realize each of us who has life right now, regardless of the species, is gifted something very unique and special because we would not exist were it not for every life form who came before, those who shared the air, drank the water, and walked the ground. These complex systems maintaining the health of the whole, such as water, carbon, and life cycles, depend upon a fixed range of criteria to remain stable and life sustaining. Until recently, the planetary systems have functioned automatically keeping themselves within certain parameters optimal for life, as well as absorbing the byproducts of our consumption.

 

Now that humanity has discovered how to break up the micro building blocks of this existence, we remove copious quantities of the body of the planet and rearrange those very building blocks into “new and improved” ways of molding our perceived needs and wants. One of these new and improved creations is something we now all take for granted as a practical and necessary aspect of our lives. It has helped to spur a revolution of consumer products we endlessly chase while running on our plastic treadmills.

 

Plastic is perhaps one of humanities most ingenious solutions. One of the many products from the extraction and distillation of crude oil, plastic has become the go-to, form-it-all substance of choice to create a myriad of products we then accumulate in our plastic storage bins. Clear plastic bottles deceive the eyes, filled with seemingly endless clean fresh water while the container holds a tendency to leech compounds used in the manufacturing process into the contents (Wagner, 2009, Mosko, 2004). Less we forget a very important plastic manifestation, thin plastic bags for our shopping convenience. Thank you for purchasing, have a bag! If it can be imagined, chances are somewhere; someone has made it in plastic and worked to convince someone else to buy it.

 

Upon first glance, this does not seem too noxious. Humanity has been creating storage containers and items made from the earth for eons. It is quite easy to see how we have come to be so dependent on plastic in this age. It seems to have solved so many of our perceived problems. In the 1960s movie the Graduate, Mr. McGuire says to Benjamin, “I just want to say one word to you - just one word. 'Plastics.' There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?” (Nichols, 1967).

 

There is a theory called the Tragedy of the Commons stipulating that individuals will act in detriment to the whole for their own benefit. Garrett Hardin wrote in 1968, “The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is part, suffers” (p. 4).

 

Our discovery, manufacture, and rampant use of plastic is just such a tragedy. Having been sold its usefulness by mega corporations will little regard for the actual individual, plastic is purchased every second across the world in one form or another. With this rampant use, there has not been any conclusive evidence that it causes no harm. In fact, more and more studies point to long-term dangers associated with it.

 

It is difficult to know how these plasticized consumer choices will shift the balance for our relatives in the future as those creating the choices now will not be around then. “Education can counteract the natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed” (Hardin, 1968, p. 4). To instill knowledge to the succession of generations requires that there is agreement regarding that which is to be passed along. Currently, there is not a consensus as to the detriment of plastics, and even studies showing its harm seem to not to be enough to turn the plastic tide.

 

The Mac factory installed dictionary defines the noun plastic as a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. It also defines it as an adjective, a quality something can embody. The very last bullet point in the definition offers, “Biology exhibiting adaptability to change or variety in the environment” (Dictionary). Although this refers to plastic as an adjective demonstrating the qualities of life to bend with the times, given the focus of this paper, life may become far more plastic then we would like to believe as it infiltrates our cells and seas.

 

The first discovery of plastic was in 1839 and since that time, scientists have been experimenting with oils, breaking them down to find new ways of improving the human condition with cheep energy and mass-produced foods, processed and often packaged with plastic for on-the-go conveniences (Freudenrich, 2007). Plastic is an umbrella term, under which a large variety of densities and pliability exist from ridged and strong such as parts used for automobiles to thin and flexible such as one-use shopping bags. All types are comprised of polymers and phthalates, some are naturally occurring like rubber, but most are man-made.  Polymers are created when various size chains of carbon compounds called monomers are linked together forming an infinite variety of shapes and uses (Freudenrich, 2007). One of polymer’s greatest gifts and longest detriments lie in its ability to withstand time, remaining stable for hundreds if not thousands of years (Haldan, 2010). Eventually the plastic will break down, yet only into smaller and smaller bits of plastic.

 

In and of themselves, these polymers are relatively inert. Yet, in order for the normally ridged material to take on its more malleable qualities, chemicals called phthalates are added to the polymers. Over the last twenty-five years as more findings show that some phthalate are carcinogenic, these compounds be being studied in greater detail. Reports are finding a variety of other health concerns such as endocrine disruption, reproductive virility, and obesity connected to some of the chemicals. (Kamrin, 2009; Thompson, Moore, vom Saal, & Swan, 2009). There is increasing evidence regarding what these phthalates do to the environment and the billions of life forms, who now, whether by choice or not, cannot live apart from it.

 

Even with research suggesting its potential harm, our addiction to cheep stuff coupled with the corporations drive for profit will continue to churn out endless plastic products which will sooner or later end up discarded. It is here we see the tragedy of the commons play out. All plastic will end up in the earth eventually. A question becomes what is the dust comprised of, and can life grow and prosper harmoniously from that ground where the plastic collects.

 

 There are two main problems with the rampant use of plastic; the chemicals transferring into the environment and the inability of the planet to decompose the plastics back into the earth from which they originated. Both affect the health of the current populations as well as those who will be given life in the future.

 

 It has been shown that many of these phthalate compounds leech into bottled water, packaged food including canned products, and ultimately the land, water, and air. This infiltration of toxicity begins in the manufacturing processes to the distribution systems then consumption and eventual discard (Halden, 2010; Kamrin, 2009; Koch, & Calafat, 2009; Lu et al., 2009; Mosko, 2004; Univer, Gebrekidan, & Desta, 2012; Wagner, & Oehlmann, 2009; Yang, Yaniger, Jordan, Klein, & Bittner, 2011; Zaman, 2010). Yet, in general, the scientific and regulatory communities have not fully come out against these chemicals due to the fact that many of the tests are done to animals who are administered chemicals in doses far higher than the average person would come into contact (Kamrin, 2009). Despite the harm shown, they argue that there is not enough evidence to conclude overall detriment to the human population. It appears that the benefit of plastic to meet so many needs takes precedence over potential health risks.

 

 In this regard, when it comes to plastic, following the Precautionary Principal would be prudent. This principle ensures that a substance or activity posing a threat to the environment is prevented from adversely affecting the environment, even when there is not conclusive scientific evidence for that particular substance or activity to cause environmental damage (Cameron & Abouchar, 1991).

 

Even with research, the earth systems are complex, malleable, and constantly shifting, making it difficult to know how these chemicals are currently changing and influencing nature, as well as how they will continue to through the coming ages. The planet is a living laboratory, which has been experimenting with itself over immense time. In as much time in the future, the plastics throughout the biosphere will undoubtedly have been transformed and altered countless times. Yet, here in the immediacy of this currant age and the generations soon to come, we must recognize our collective impact and step outside of our personal desires to focus on and embrace the needs of the collective commons. This recognition must include a deep knowing that all life forms are each essential to the whole.

 

Humanity has been on an epic quest to discover the meaning of existence. This quest has been grand with amazing discoveries and beauty brought forth. Yet, now is time to recognize that we have stepped outside our bounds as stewards of this land. The breaking apart of the very bonds of the material world has caused the planet to be covered with particles of polymers minute to large, all gathering together in mass in the oceans and lands.

 

Changing the cultural attitude around the use of plastic is a difficult charge, especially given the magnitude of the corporate force behind all the products and the readily swayed consumers waiting for the latest and greatest product. Cleaning supply companies want to sell their product in plastic. Car companies sell us vehicles with many plastic parts. Processed food manufacturers bring their fare to market all wrapped up nice and tidy in plastic wrapping. Beverage companies use plastic to sell back our water to drink, yet now, though biologically contaminate free, these water now may carry the phthalates from plastic bottle, which is then consumed.

 

We have all been injected into this plastic world, a world who presents the opportunity to fly across the globe, purchase plastic molded assault riffles, and replacement milk nipples. The truth is that our plastic obsession is clogging the worlds landfills and irrigation channels, creating bacteria-filled stagnate cesspools, which in turn spread ill health to the populations dependent upon the life giving water. A population of ill heath creates cultural atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, and survival.

 

The question is how do we as a species, interacting within this whole chaotic system, choose to redirect our focus to one of life sustaining and nurturing vs. the current life threatening and violent paradigm? How do we as a collective pass this knowledge along to our children in such a way they embrace these teaching, and in turn want to pass it along to the successive generations? These are not easy questions to answer with the simplest of subjects, and to apply them to plastic, a substance of choice worldwide, becomes even more complicated.

 

When we each act in accordance to our perceived needs without regard for the greater effect upon the whole, we eventually create an endgame situation where the rampant extraction and manufacture of resources for profit of a few dissect the very body upon whom we depend for life. Yet, we all are implicated in letting it happen because, “That’s just he way it is” or “I deserve my product because I worked hard for it!” or “I need my job.”

 

We have created, and continue to create, a problem of immense proportions simply for the conveniences of this current drive-thru civilization. Humanity is implicit in leaving much waste for those who are to come and now has the opportunity to be a part of a fledgling awakening of awareness towards our collective impact upon the whole of our biosphere.

 

Ultimately, humanity will need to recognize that its attempt to mold imagination into a plethora of plastic is undermining the very ability to have an imagination. Plastic has been adopted by this culture so completely that it is ingrained in every aspect of daily life as if it has always been here. The mere thought of living without it now almost seems absurd, yet once upon a time humanity existed for tens of thousands of years or longer without plastic. As Hardin (1968) reminds, “the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed” (pg. 4).

 

The ancient ancestors left pyramids of stone for our study and contemplation. This current age is leaving plastic for the future ones. Those who have the opportunity for conscious life at that distant point in the future will study our discarded plastic and surely wonder what type of creature would create such waste that the earth is unable to metabolize. The seventh generation is approximately two hundred years from now. As their ancestors, we owe special consideration those who still live in the realm of potentiality and have yet to receive a voice. It is this generation’s responsibility to hold space for them by changing our plastic course and setting into motion a paradigm less dependent upon stuff, and more dependent upon the care we take of those around us.

 

Is there still time to turn this plasticized tragedy of the commons into a comedy? Time will, as in all things, be the gage.

 

References

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Barr, S., Gilg, A. W., & Ford, N. J. (2001). Differences between household waste reduction,reuse and recycling behaviour: a study of reported behaviours, intentions and explanatory variables. Environmental & Waste Management, 4(2), 69-82.

 

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Burn, S. M. (1991). Social psychology and the stimulation of recycling behaviors: The block leader approach. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21(8), 611-629.

 

Cairns Jr, J. (2004). The Unmanaged Commons A Major Challenge for Sustainability Ethics. ESEP BOOKS ESEP BOOKS, 210.

 

Cameron, J., & Abouchar, J. (1991). Precautionary Principle: A Fundamental Principle of Law and Policy for the Protection of the Global Environment, The Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, 14(1).

 

Convery, F., McDonnell, S., & Ferreira, S. (2007). The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy. Environmental and Resource Economics, 38(1), 1-11.

 

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Du Preez, H. H., Heath, R. G. M., Sandham, L. A., & Genthe, B. (2003). Methodology for the assessment of human health risks associated with the consumption of chemical contaminated freshwater fish in South Africa. Water SA-Pretoria, 29(1), 69-90.

 

Feeny, D., Berkes, F., McCay, B. J., & Acheson, J. M. (1990). The tragedy of the commons: twenty-two years later. Human ecology, 18(1), 1-19.

 

Freudenrich, C., (2007).   "How Plastics Work."  HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from

<http://science.howstuffworks.com/plastic.htm>  26 April 2013.

 

Halden,U. (2010). Plastics and Health risks. Public Health, 31(1), 179.

 

Hardin, G. (1968). The Tragedy of the Commons. Retrieved from

http://www.myteacherpages.com/webpages/ndow/files/Tragedy_of_Commons1.pdf

 

Kamrin, M. A. (2009). Phthalate risks, phthalate regulation, and public health: a review. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 12(2), 157-174.

 

Koch, H. M., & Calafat, A. M. (2009). Human body burdens of chemicals used in plastic manufacture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2063-2078.

 

Lewis, H., Verghese, K., & Fitzpatrick, L. (2010). Evaluating the sustainability impacts of packaging: the plastic carry bag dilemma. Packaging Technology and Science, 23(3), 145-160.

 

Lu, J., Xiao, J., Yang, D. J., Wang, Z. T., Jiang, D. G., Fang, C. R., & Yang, J. (2009). Study on migration of melamine from food packaging materials on markets. Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 22, 104-108.

 

Mosko, S. (2004). Toxic plastic additives. Retrieved from http://www.earthresource.org/campaigns/capp/phthalates.html

 

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Oskamp, S. (2000). Psychology of promoting environmentalism: Psychological contributions to achieving an ecologically sustainable future for humanity. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 373-390.

 

Thompson, R. C., Moore, C. J., vom Saal, F. S., & Swan, S. H. (2009). Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2153-2166.

 

Swami, V., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Snelgar, R., & Furnham, A. (2011). Personality, individual differences, and demographic antecedents of self-reported household waste management behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31(1), 21-26.

 

Univer, M., Gebrekidan, A., & Desta, M. B. (2012). The environmental impacts of the disposable water bottle in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Sacha Journal of Environmental Studies, 2(1). 81-94.

 

Wagner, M., & Oehlmann, J. (2009). Endocrine disruptors in bottled mineral water: total

estrogenic burden and migration from plastic bottles.  Environmental Science Pollution Resource, 16, 278-286. DOI 10.1007/s11356-009-0107-7

 

Yang, C. Z., Yaniger, S. I., Jordan, V. C., Klein, D. J., & Bittner, G. D. (2011). Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved. Environmental health perspectives, 119(7), 989.

 

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The Zahra Foundation: The Creation of a Service Organization

© K. Indigo Rønlov

Naropa University, March 2014

 

Abstract

This paper describes the creation of a service organization named the Zahra Foundation (Zahra) undertaken as a part of a service-learning course requirement at Naropa University. Zahra addresses potential reclaimed and recycled materials have to reinvigorate and inspire people to create with their hands. Workshops were offered in Egypt that provided first-hand experience and knowledge of what handwork could do for a woman, a family, and a community—even the world.

 

Paper’s Purpose

This paper offers information about the creation of a service organization called the Zahra Foundation (Zahra) implemented as an aspect of a Master’s degree in ecopsychology at Naropa University. The purpose of Zahra was to facilitate and teach workshops and to offer educational opportunities to women and youth about the value and importance of hand-worked arts and crafts, especially when created from repurposed and reclaimed materials. Zahra was initiated to create a conduit between the value of handcrafted wares and the epidemic of plastic waste scattered across the planet—waste that is pilling up in landfill mountains, clogging essential waterways, and forming new islands in the oceans. The goal of Zahra was to empower and encourage the women and youth to engage in something that had the ability to transform not only themselves, but also their immediate environment.

 

 There are many facets of this project that have helped me learn how to shift and change course, much like a river in the sand. The initial intention was simply to bring a service component to a two-week Egyptian Mysteries Tour in Egypt. The service I sought to give was a way to interact with the Egyptian people, teaching them how to make things with their hands using abundantly available and free plastic bag waste. Over the span of the project’s progress as the service-learning process developed, it became clear there was something emerging beyond a group tour and a Master’s degree, yet was still intimately connected to both. Because of the nature of the pre-established tour schedule, finding a way to weave in the service element to the extent that I was envisioning simply was not possible. Rather than giving it up, I sank in deeper to my yearlong development phase, knowing that somehow it would all work.

 

 That year included much work and study for completion. This included some of the following. Research about Egypt’s current situation and how the educational system operated brought understanding about the country. The most important thing learned was that anything available in print was never a true reflection of what was really happening on the ground, which was always far more complicated than the black and white of the writer’s view. To understand the plastic yarn, plarn, there was much experimentation before presenting to and encouraging others. Enough finances were raised to cover these basic expenses of an interpreter and the gift of a hook, scissors, and a small snack. A website was created to be an plateform to place photos, information, and up to date status of Zahra. Because on-the-ground networking and understanding of the country was essential before offering any workshops, I traveled to Egypt in December 2013 with my son for an eleven-day trip.

 

 Arriving at the creation of this organization was an unexpected, yet appropriate, outcome from the service-learning process. The intention of growth, compassion, service, and the willingness to let go of attachments provided the courage and momentum needed. Walsh (1999) pointed to this when he said, “We work and contribute wholeheartedly, yet at the same time we try to relinquish attachment to our fixed ideas of how things should turn out and to our attachment to recognition” (p. 265). By releasing attachment to the preconceived notion of what the service-learning project was suppose to be, it allowed what was meant to be to come forward. Additionally, it was important to recognize, acknowledge, and value those preconceived notions that helped to guide and provide a foundation to build upon, as preconceptions are a source of much information in creating a plan of action to work towards. The challenge and the goal was then to arrive into the reality of the moment rather then remain stuck in the idea of the plan. My intention all along was to find a way to be in of service. In that I felt I succeeded.

 

To Be In Service

 “To dissolve agitations and attachments of the mind is to remove the veils from our heart. It allows us to meet one another in the purity of love” (Dass, 1985, p. 117). To be in service is essential as a citizen of this planet because it connected our gifts and skills to something greater than the self. In truth, service is an essential aspect of a caring culture, where we give and receive seamlessly as a part of our daily lives. Helping and being helped is the heartbeat of the people. To live life in service ought to be a standard, not a special exception to the status quo or a special type of learning. I believe service is about “meeting each other in the purity of love.” The other includes the whole of the community of life and the natural systems upon which we depend.

 

In the midst of offering service, an opportunity to be more human can be provided, a gift of great import to the world. To be more human requires honesty and truth to the many aspects of oneself in relation to the planetary systems, the psyche, and to whichever spiritual inclination one relates. To be more human requires acknowledgment of the full range of experiences and emotions. To be more human requires one to be willing to be the transformation, so that the many aspects that comprise a person will become skills, tools, and assets that spur growth and create change. It is from this place of being more human that I sought to create a service-learning project.

 

The Zahra Foundation

 During the trip in December 2013, after a remarkable day visiting the temples of Karnak and Luxor a realization came—that something new was being created for Egypt. Understanding how a service impulse could work in unison with the group tour became clear. Just like reclaiming the plastic bags for creating items of worth, the initial idea that centered exclusively on the tour as the conduit for my service was reworked into something of greater potential. The workshops would be done separately from the group experience, and a service event would be organized with the youth from the workshops, creating a bridge between Zahra and the tour.  Every one of the Egyptians to whom the idea was introduced was enthusiastic and interested. Most immediately got the merit of reusing the plastic bags, which are currently proliferated across the land.

 

 On an earlier trip to Egypt, a guide said the translation of my name Indigo in Arabic is zahra, which describes the blue powder that makes whites extra bright. This Arabic word means bright, shining, brilliant, flower, blossom, and/or beauty. On this evening of realizations, while looking out across the star-speckled Nile, this name represented the impulse of a foundation of something that was just beginning; a base for bringing beauty, brilliance, and the possibility of blossoming to those it touches. Thus, the Zahra Foundation was born.

 

The activities offered by Zahra were intended to encourage an ecopsychological identification with the natural world as the participants were offered information about the complications with plastics in the environment and given the opportunity to create from the reclaimed materials. My Master’s thesis, titled The Ecopsychology of Handwork goes into greater depth about this aspect of this service-learning project (Rønlov, 2014).

 

An Unfolding Experience

 Willson (2009) reminded to “Do what you know, let locals initiate, and design with a local partner” (p. 61). With those allies and connections with the Egyptians in place, a year of planning reached fruition in March 2014 during five weeks in Egypt. It was an amazing opportunity to get to know Egypt, one that provided a deepened understanding of this land and its people.

 

 During the course of the project I had the opportunity to offer four workshops to youth and women in Cairo, plus a couple of impromptu demonstrations at an oasis and in a village. Each experience was unique and taught much. The determination and ability of a people to engage with this project filled me with awe and hope. The eagerness and presence the children gave was priceless. As a rarity in their world, their attention for me was undivided. The women were shyer, but as the time moved forward they opened up with interest and gratitude for what was shared. With some, a tentative bond of friendship could be seen forming between us and with one woman a potential business deal was fostered.

 

 At each workshop and demonstrations, I showed the participants how to prepare and cut a single-use thin-film plastic bag into one long strip, called plarn, which we would then use as the base material for crochet. For some, it was quite easy and they picked up the idea and crochet technique rather quickly. For others it was really challenging. All were happily engaged in the process. We also introduced bottle bricks as a way to collect the scrap created from the plarn. Although not our main focus, we had the participants engaged in filling and compacting the waste into the bottles. The children especially enjoyed this. Most comprehended the implications that a free raw material would also be good for the environment. The spark in their eyes when they understood this was irreplaceable.

 

 The experiences with the various groups taught a lot. Enough time to spend with each and repeat visits to the same people would help them gain more progress and success. The three to four hours with each was just adequate enough to introduce the idea and technique. For some it was enough time to now take home their new hook and scissors to continue to practice. It was my hope that those inspired individuals would, through their experimentation, create interesting and beautiful items of potential worth.

 

 Every day felt like a lifetime in significance and fulfillment. There were so many layers of meaning that it will take many years to unpack it all. The following offers only a brief overview of those experiences that cultivated the intention of the Zahra Foundation.

 

Bahariya Oasis. Upon my arrival to Cairo, I immediately connected with two friends and prepared to travel West through the desert to Bahariya Oasis and then beyond to the White Desert in search of silence and a personal rite of passage from student to teacher. Although I did not have any planned activity for the Zahra Foundation on this four-day journey, I was crocheting all the time, as was one of my companions, Amanda, who had joined the mission of Zahra.  What transpired was a beautiful organic introduction to the project. Our desert guides adopted bottle bricks, which quickly became our trash receptacles for the camp. In the oasis, we were introduced to a woman who eagerly learned how to cut the bags. Already knowing how to crochet, she and I made a business deal. In June she will send me items she has made with plarn for me to see the quality. She said if I deem it good quality, she will begin to teach other women in the village. I felt fortune smiling on us.

 

6th of October Language School. This school was a hybrid of a public governmental school and a private school. I had the good fortune to work with the same class of boys and girls twice, once in December 2013 and again in March 2014. They were extremely considerate and well-behaved children, and both experiences with them were filled with an exquisite chaos that only a room full of youth can bring. These children came from moderate socio-economic backgrounds, and this activity was a lovely addition to their experience and a good introduction to a sustainable practice, but there was little chance that they would look to this for potential for income.  These children were invited to join the tour group for a Service Event at Saqqara.

 

Banati. Banati is an organization that offers opportunities to girls in street situations. Currently housing 150 children, including a small number of boys, they provide well-kept room and board, activities, and reasonable agreements with and for the children. Some of the activities include pottery, photography, and fiber arts. By learning skills, they are provided with more opportunity then the street could ever proposition. Zahra fit right in with what they already offered and we were welcomed into the center for an afternoon with approximately twenty girls between the ages of ten to seventeen. The girls we met have had life experiences and traumas I can only begin to imagine, yet with handwork and the warmness of our hearts between us, attention was enthusiastically given and received. Some of them have already begun to create items out of plarn. I look forward to seeing what they come up with! These children were also invited to join the tour group for a Service Event at Saqqara.

 

Friends of the Environment and Development Association (FEDA)

 Among the many things FEDA has done, they currently operate a low-cost daycare and medical clinic for the women in an area of historic Islamic Cairo called El Gamaleya. Meeting in one of the rooms at their center, I worked with fifteen women from this humble and poor district of old Cairo. Working with adults was in many ways easier then with the children. They were able to understand how to do the stitching much more quickly then the youth and carried a calm that a room full of children will never have. From my time with these lovely women, I have determined that an future work for Zahra should focus its attention and efforts on the women who can then teach the children.

 

Egyptian Mysteries Service Tour. Halfway through the five weeks in Egypt, the Egyptian Mysteries Service Tour began with fourteen participants. Many of those who joined the tour took up a hook and learned how to crochet with the plarn. One planned to bring it home to Canada to teach to the native populations in her hometown. The work transforming the plastic waste into beauty became a metaphor for the inner work the tour participants were encouraged to embrace. Each participant was asked to examine those aspects within themselves that had been discarded or tossed aside to see if they could be recreated, reclaimed, or reused in someway to further their individual and collective growth. It was a powerful alchemy to have this inner and outer work reflect each other.

 

Saqqara Service Event. This event was a beautiful bridge between Zahra and the tour. On this day, I organized for the 45 children from the school and Banati to visit the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, one of the very oldest structural creations of its size ever built. Because wind-blown bags tumble through this area, we talked about the effects of plastic in the landscape and its use as a raw material. We also introduced a brief history of the area. We shared that a man named Imhotep had a vision which the people rallied behind and offered their service to this national project. To this day we can see the power of that vision to stand the test of time. A boy asked if Imhotep was a regular person like him. I said yes, he was a regular person. Anyone can have a vision, and with work it can come to fruition. As this young Egyptian boy and I were marveling that one man could inspire so many, I remembered myself a year before with this notion to teach Egyptians to crochet with plastic and to take them to a national monument. Here the vision was unfolding before my very eyes with a team of people showing up to serve the cause, supporting and encouraging it all to manifest. What a profound moment.

 

Along the Nile. For nine nights the tour group lived on a dahabeya, a sailing vessel that carried us up the Nile. As we sailed on the river through many warm afternoons, we spent much time on deck with plarn and hook in hand. I developed a pattern for a water bottle holder, which became the design de jour, and soon many were sporting colorful bottle holders slung across their shoulders. One of the sailing days, we stopped at a small village and docked the dahabeya to the bank of a farm and tied it off to a tree that reached out over the water. Soon we were flocked by colorful children all full of smiles and laughter. We were led to a home and offered tea. Prepared for the possibility of an unscheduled demonstration, I pulled out the water bottle holder I was working on, which encouraged the others to bring out their crochet work. The children and women were quite interested, and a demonstration on how to cut a bag was provided. By the end of our interactions at the village, I was asked to come back, offered a room to teach, and a place in a home to stay. Their enthusiasm was magical and contagious.

 

Conclusion

 The creation and undertaking of the Zahra Foundation was an amazing testament to hard work, dedication, and a lot of trust. As the song says, “Que Sera, Sera, what ever will be will be” (Livingston & Evans, 1956). What came about was a beautiful unfolding creation of interconnections with a people who are eager to become better than yesterday right now.  The motto from the time there became, “I am the transformation. You are the transformation.” This is a powerful understanding.

 

 Very much a rite of passage like no other, I entered into, through, and out of this trip with complete presence of the moment and intention to be of service. When service is given, the giver receives much in return. Ram Dass eluded to this when he stated, “The reward, the real grace, of conscious service, then, is the opportunity not only to help relieve suffering but to grow in wisdom, experience greater unity, and have a good time doing it” (Dass, 1985, p. 16). What I received was really beyond words. A man on the Giza plateau on one of my last days there said my eyes shone like light. I could feel it. This Egyptian experience and all that was done in the name of Zahra filled me with light, a greater unity, and I had a great time doing it.

 

 I witnessed myself opening with a softness and ease and each situation was met with the mind of the beginner and the wisdom of what life has taught. When we shared working with our hands, we shared our hearts, we shared our hopes, and we shared our dreams for a better world—a better world not just for out grandchildren’s children, but for all the living beings on the planet right here and right now. Most of the people to whom I offered the project got it. They understood the problems of plastic. For some, this new knowledge about how to use waste as a raw material will encourage them to seek new ways to earn an income in a country within the turmoil of its recreation after a revolution. It is within that very turmoil that the seeds for a new way can germinate and sprout. It is for this new way, a slower way where we know where and how the items we purchase come from and are made; a time when the greed to tear up the planet is replaced with the love to take care of it.

 

 What about the future of the Zahra Foundation? Having arrived at this side of the service learning process, those seeds planted for the Zahra Foundation will continue to be watered. Those seeds are also within myself and contain a greater understanding of my place in the world. There is so much potential. It has been registered with the State of Oregon as a non-profit, and strides will be made to register it in recognition of 501c3 status with the IRS. Additionally, fundraising will continue to allow this work to return to Egypt and other areas in the world that may benefit from what Zahra has to offer. Ultimately, this project can turn into a fruitful foundation that empowers women around the world to make their existence a little more beautiful, have fun doing it, and perhaps make some much appreciated income in the process.

 

 The future is wide open. When we offer service to the whole, amazing doors are opened. The willingness to trust the process and remain detached from the outcome is key. The rest simply involves showing up. I am ever grateful for all that this process has offered each step of the way. May the work Zahra manifested continue! As the Egyptians often say about future oriented events, “inshallah,” God willing.

 

References

Dass, R., & Gorman, P. (1985). How can I help? Stories and reflections on service. NY: Alfred  A. Knopf, Inc.

Livingston, J. & Evens, R. (1956). Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. [Recorded by Dorris Day]. From Hitchcock, A.

      (1956). The Man who knew too much [motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Rønlov, K. I. (2014). Turning trash into gold: The alchemy of transformation. (Unpublished master’s thesis). Naropa

       University, Boulder, CO.

Walsh, R. (1999). Essential spirituality: The 7 central practices to awaken the heart and mind. New York: John Wiley &

      Sons, Inc.

Willson, M. (2009).  Developing and anthropological consciousness as a model for development practice. In M. Bronson &

      T. Fields (Eds.), So what? Now what? The anthropology of consciousness responds to a world in crisis (pp.54-74).

      Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

 

Addendum

 The website http://www.thezahrafoundation.org has been created for this project and organization.

 Portions of this paper will be included in the addendum of the Naropa master’s thesis paper, The Ecopsychology of Handwork (Rønlov, 2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please contact Indigo to request a full version of her master's thesis paper.

 

The Ecopsychology of Handwork

© K. Indigo Rønlov

Naropa University, Spring 2014

 

Abstract

This paper examines the ecopsychological significance of handwork, especially when created from reclaimed, repurposed, and recycled materials. The literature review focuses on consumerism, plastic, Egypt, and handwork. With the excess of consumer and manufacturing waste in the environment and the diminishing occupation of handcrafts, a service organization called the Zahra Foundation was created to mitigate and find solutions for this challenge. On the ground experience in Egypt provided an opportunity to teach women and youth to work with their hands using reclaimed and recycled materials found freely in the environment. The ecopsychological implications of this endeavor are explored throughout the paper.

 

Keywords: artisan, consumption, craft, crafter, craftsman, craftsperson, creativity, Ecopsychology, Egypt, environment, handcraft, handwork, handicraft, plarn, plastic, recycled crafts, reclaimed, reused

 

 

Indigo's Travel Log Egypt ~ December 13-21, 2013

My apologies for any grammar mistakes you may find along the way.

This is entered as I wrote it each night at the end of very long days.

 

Friday December 13, 2013

        This morning we woke to a rainy Friday here in Giza, Egypt. After a cup of fresh brewed Café Mam at our apartment, we headed out for a trip up to the pyramids just up the street. It was quite something to see standing puddles and wet stone as we entered. The vivid color in the stones was really amazing with the wash the rain brought.

        Logan and I climbed the many steps up into the King’s chamber. He was surprised with how small the room was considering the size of the pyramid on the outside. Given the unusual cold outside, the room was downright sauna-like inside.

        Seeing Khufu's boat was a new experience for me. It was quite beautiful and I was amazed at the quality of the wood, considering it was constructed many thousands of years ago. The entire large boat was constructed by tying the wood sections together with rope. No nails back then… Impressive.

        I was also quite impressed with the polite and respectful manner in which the camel guys and sellers of novelty tourist items approach us. In my past experiences, they were extremely rude and pushy. I was much more inclined to interact with them this time with their changed attitude. I was especially surprised because there were not many tourists there, and we were easy targets. I am eager to see if this respect is a new trend in all the places we visit.

        Until tomorrow…

 

Saturday December 14, 2013
        After little sleep last night due to jet lag and the late afternoon Turkish coffee the day before, our friend and guide, Doaa, picked us up to head south to Sakkara, the location to one of the oldest and largest human made structures. On the way, we stopped at a carpet school to see how the carpets are made. I was quite astonished at the quality and workmanship of these pieces of art. Although the school was not fully operational as Saturday is a day off, there were a few fellows working. Watching one man work on a silk rug strung on a loom twice as tall as I was simply amazing. The skill and precision with which he worked astounded me. There is a very large intricate silk rug upstairs in their showroom that took four years to create and sells for approx. $25,000 US. Brad will be glad to know I passed this one up for one much smaller and quite a lot less expensive.
        After the carpet school, we continued on to Sakarra. Again, we were met with polite and respectful peddlers, guards, and temple keepers. As always, I was in awe of what remains at this site given the ages that have passed. While there, I came to see that Sakkara could be one of the locations our tour group comes to give service in March. In places around the temple, plastic trash was gathering. Most of it appeared to have blown in from elsewhere, as people are not actively dumping trash here. The plastic bags easily get caught up in the wind and can travel across the desert like a tumbleweed – instead, a plasticweed blowing through the sandscape to collect in low places.
        After a brief respite at our apartment, we spent a lovely evening at friend's home, talking politics, music, religion, and sustainability. It was a rich and rewarding evening. Many, many thanks to our generous and kind hosts . . .
        Given the current realities in Egypt over the last many years, tourism (one third of the country’s income) is basically non-existent right now. This puts many, many people in a challenging situation as they depend on the income from those visiting Egypt. Here is what I say to this… Come to Egypt. If you have ever dreamed of standing near the pyramids or visiting the temple at Philae, of riding a camel in the desert or of witnessing the ancient creation of beauty and engineering displayed throughout the land, come soon. Come often. It is am amazing place, and a really potent time to be here. There is a lot of opportunity for this country to become more than it has ever been. I am honored to be here right now and to come to know those living in the midst of political transformation. Everyone I have been in contact with has been very kind and respectful, even those peddlers who for years have been rude and pushy. Because there are very few tourists, each place we visit is not crowded in the least, and it is almost like we have some of the areas to ourselves. I am grateful.
        Until tomorrow…

 

Sunday December 15, 2013

        Today, my service learning project gained wings.

Thank you winged ones - Ma’at, Thoth, Nekhbet, Isis, Khephera, and others…

        I met with three separate individuals involved with NGO’s who all are interested in helping with this service project. From those connections I have set up today, I have arranged three workshops to teach others how to make “plarn” and to crochet . These workshops will be before the group arrives to begin the Egyptian Mysteries Tour in March.

        One is with an organization, FEDA, who, among other things, works with poor mothers by offering nearly free childcare and medical assistance, as well as various workshops and trainings to provide them with a whole variety of skills. They are arranging for me to come teach a plarn and crochet workshop to these women in March. The chairman, Dr. Adly Bishay was a gracious and charming. I am very grateful to have made his acquaintance.

        The second connection is to the American University in Cairo, where we have the opportunity to offer college students a service learning opportunity. It is very exciting. There are many classes at the school already focus on civic engagement and service learning. This will fit right in. Hana, the director Civic Engagement, felt very confident that many of the teachers will be delighted to offer their students the change to participate.

        The last connection works with many NGOs in Cairo. His wife is the director for a one who pulls adolescent girls off the streets and teaches them to read, paint, make pottery, photography, among others artistic activities. She will be helping to arrange for me to come do workshops with these girls in March. He also is a friend with the owner of a shop in a affluent part of Cairo, who sells handcrafted Egyptian items gathered from around the country. I will be introduced to her, as he believes she will be extremely interested in the possibilities of what the people can do with this. With this connection, we now have a direct avenue to sell what is create with plarn somewhere other than the streets.

        It became evident after talking to everyone today that this is in fact a good idea. I have received lots of enthusiasm and interest from those who have the ability to partner with us and engage in the process. Additionally, through these connections, I have now confirmed that plarn is not something that is not really happening here, and there is huge potential. All it takes is for me to continue along this path . . .

        There are two aspects to this project that are clearly developing. There is the part where I will be working with groups doing workshops, the two mentioned above as well as my first one tomorrow in a school with children between the ages of nine and thirteen. Then there is the aspect of the group tour in March I am co-leading with Nicki Scully and Shamanic Journeys. This group will come together with the intention of offering service as a part of our experience. During our time in Cairo, I am organizing a day where we will meet with those groups I am now working with to learn about the history of the monument we visit  (I am still thinking Sakarra) with these groups, as well as picking up the wind blown bags from in and around the area. Those who join us on this day who took the workshop with me can then benefit from the raw material (those pesky thin plastic bags) we gather together.

        Additionally, we spent much of the afternoon in and around the Khan Khalili Bazaar—again, much, much more polite and respectful merchants. This is very appreciated. My favorite saying from one of them was,  “How can I take your money” and another who said, “I am not sure what you want, but I have what you need.” And another who we though was going as try and sell us something, instead told me how to raise Logan to be a good husband, and even gave us a small phamplet in Arabic with the instructions.

    Logan did great with the whole day of meetings and talking, but got pretty board when I was trying on clothing… Oh my… the amazing clothing I found from a tailor in the bazaar… on my, oh my… Funny how one person could really care less about something and another finds that same thing beautiful and full of skill. To each their own!

        Until tomorrow . . .

 

Monday, December 16, 2013

        Today, I was given my first opportunity to do a three-hour workshop with a group of children ages 9-12 at the school of Doaa’s, child. I was expecting maybe 10-15 children. They brought me 40! Wow… Plus there were probably 5 teachers in with us as well. So, I showed them how to cut the plastic bags and then to begin to crochet. I learned that 40 is too many for me to be able to effectively teach at once with out help who knows what I am doing, as most of the kids needed a lot of individual attention. When I am back in March, I plan to go back to work with the teachers there first, showing them how to do this. Then together we will work again with the children, and I will have a team of assistants to help me. Other learning I gained from todays experience is that I need to supply sharp scissor rather than rely on the ones they brought from home. Dull scissors made for much difficulty getting through the plastic. Next time I plan to ask specifically for 12-15 year old children, because it very quickly became evident that it was very difficult for some of the children and easy for others. Thought not across the board, the older ones definitely got it more easily. Some got it right away and others struggled the whole time. Regardless of the struggle, I feel that all benefited by this experience. One girl, whose mom knows how to crochet, was very excited to teach her mom how to cut the bags and then have her mom help her get better with the crochet! It was a very successful experience, and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity!

        After a short respite at the apartment, Logan and I then went to see the Whirling Dervishes preform in Cairo. Even after already seeing them once before, I was still amazed at how long they whirl around and around and around and around . . . without a miss step or falling over from dizziness. Half way through the performance, the electricity went out, but alas they were prepared with battery-powered lights they placed up on stage. The spinning dude did not miss a step or a whirl while they were getting lights up. What a treat to end the evening.

        Until tomorrow. . .

 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

        Today, we arrived at the airport at 8am to learn our flight was canceled and we were put on the noon flight. So, with a complimentary latte and hot chocolates, we settled in to wait. Shortly, a western gentleman came and sat in the café area at the table next to us. We greeted each other and I learned that he came from London and absolutely loves Luxor. He visits twice a year and has done so for many years. A love of this fine city inspired him to create a seven-minute promo video to encourage people to visit Luxor. It can be found on YouTube – The Magical Luxor 2013.

        After an uneventful flight, we arrived in Luxor. What a different feeling from a city of 20+ million people. The sky was blue, the air was warmer, and the landscape cleaner than in Lower Egypt. Securing a taxi at the airport, Doaa exchanged contact with the driver as we arranged for him to be available for us as needed throughout the few days here.

        After settling into our hotel then leaving Logan for a short rest, Doaa and I made a visit to a wonderful jewelry shop called Radwan where I connected with the gentleman who runs the store, and who I have met the previous times here. We talked politics, both Egyptian and of the world and shared our disappointment that the art of using ones hands to make items of beauty is diminishing in Egypt as well s other areas as we rely more and more on the mass produced crap from China. I shared with him the project, and we both gave hope and blessings to bring back the importance of creating with one’s own hands.

        We gathered Logan from St. George and had a lovely meal in an off the track restaurant with very authentic “homemade” Egyptian food. I had stuffed quail, which I have never eaten before. It was really, really good.

        Our last stop for our day was at Luxor Temple, where lights illuminated the stones for night visitors like us. Walking next to the columns and statues of such immense proportions really is mind boggling no matter how many time. We shared the temple with what appeared to be a women’s football (soccer) team. As we were leaving, we are asked if we would have our photo taken with a lady who was with the team. It turns out she is Dr Sahar El Hawary, the first female member of the Egyptian Football Federation, the first women's referee in Africa, and a member of FIFA. The football team was in fact the Egyptian National Women’s Team who has a game tomorrow here in Luxor, and was out visiting the sites. She wanted to have a photo with us “tourists” and invited us to the game. Although we have other plans for tomorrow, we were grateful. Very fun!

        Until tomorrow . . .

 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

        Today, we a lovely breakfast at our hotel, the St. George. After, Candy, the taxi boat driver, met us to take us across the Nile to the West Bank. There, we met with a driver who took us to Dendera, an hour away. This temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor. Here, the amazing colors made with ground stone mixed with egg white still show through the many thousands of years since their creation. In areas where smoke damage from coking fires and candle light obscured the paint. New technology has allowed the removal of the baked on soot without damaging the vividness of the color. It was such a pleasure to be here as we took our time exploring in and around this beautiful place.

        After a meal in a local restaurant, we walked through the local bazaar, to visit a shop that makes and sells very fine, hand-stitched textiles. A family business started by the great-grandfather, and had been in the family ever since. With hot hibiscus tea hospitality in true Egyptian style, we bargained until I was willing to make a sale.

        We ended our day with a soft-serve from McDonalds. This McDonalds has the very best view with Luxor temple just across the street!

        Until tomorrow . . .

 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

    Today, we enjoyed a wonderful carriage ride from our hotel through Luxor to Karnak Temple.  The horse pace was perfect to be able to really absorb the details of this fine city. Because there are not so many tourists here now, we became the local tourist attraction. So many people we passed, waved and welcomed us. It really felt so warm and inviting. After a stop to try sugar came juice – wow, it is good – we headed to Karnak. This is considered the largest temple complex of its type in the world. Emil, friend and Egyptologist joined us for the afternoon. I visited the goddess Sekmet and asked for her blessing on this project. It was a gift to spend time with her, for which I am grateful. Later, we enjoyed a traditional Egyptian meal before he took us to the public market to wander and enjoy tea near his childhood digs.

It was a really great day! I would like to write more, but I have limited internet tonight…

        Until tomorrow . . .

 

Friday, December 20, 2013

    Today, we visited the Luxor museum, where I had never been. It is a beautiful exhibit with many statues and a couple well preserved mummies. Because most of the statues have removed from their original locations, I wanted Logan to get a sense of the type of artistry that once filled these sacred places. Unlike the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which contains so, so many antiquities yet does not explain what you are looking at without a guide; the Luxor Museum has plaques with explanations of what we were looking at. I am really glad we went! After the museum and tea with a dear friend, Emil, we headed to the airport for our return to Cairo.

        Until tomorrow . . .

 

Saturday December 21, 2013

    Today is the Winter Equinox. We woke at 4am to visit a Sun Altar on this Winter Solstice day. I have dreamed of visiting this place for a couple of years and was very excited to be there on this day in particular. The morning was quite foggy, adding to the mysterious feeling of the morning. I was grateful to be offering a prayer to the return of the light, on this longest night of the year.

    Atop a small rise, we came to the tumbled down pyramid, with a very large alabaster offering table. It was simply beautiful after these many thousands of years. In addition to the chance to simple be in this place, I was also asking for a vision to bring to a world-side conference call in the form of a journey. Standing on the altar, facing the rising sun, I asked to be shown that which would be of benefit to those on the call. Indeed, a vision came shortly before it was time to return to the car.

    From this experience, we drove north up the delta region to visit Doaa’s family at her father’s cactus farm. Wow. Seriously, wow. His love a cactus led him to collect and propagate over 12,000 varieties, with millions on individual cacti at the farm. It is called the International Cactus Farm, and it truly was a gem of a visit. Doaa’s mom prepared for us delicious Egyptian food; first breakfast and then lunch a few hours later. Logan and I both ate so much, and even then she offered more. Egyptian hospitality is truly among the best in the world.

    After our lovely visit, we headed back to the apartment so I could prepare for the Winter Solstice Planetary Call to Action conference call, where I would present the journey from the morning. Because of unfortunate challenges with my internet connection, Nicki Scully presented my journey in my stead. All in all the call went well, I believe the journey was well received. I most definitely am grateful that I had the opportunity to go to this sacred place and receive it.

        Until tomorrow . . .

 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

    Today is bitter sweet as we say good-bye to Egypt. As much as I look forward to being home and having my family together and close, I have come to love Egypt as a second home. The many fine people I have had the opportunity to spend time with have entered my heart, and I look forward to returning in March and seeing them once again. When I asked Logan if this trip has inspired his interest to travel to other places in the world, he replied, “ I don’t know, but I definitely want to return to Egypt.” He has been inspired. Perhaps you too are inspired by our time here and may want to join us in March for the Service and Egyptian Mysteries Tour. You will not regret it!

        Until March . . .

 

Coming soon...

 

© 2016 Zahra Handworks Foundation

A 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization

 

Zahra is an Arabic word meaning bright, shining, pure, brilliant, flower, blossom, and/or beauty.