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Replacing Plastic Bags

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Kenya safari: An incredible way you can help replace polythene bags

I try to focus my lens on a sunbird that is busy building a nest, but I have very little success as it is a bit too far away for my 700mm lens and the ground in between is an impassible swamp. Furthermore, the sunbird is just too quick. She is most likely creating a soft padding inside the nest for her eggs with the cotton-like remains of a flower, and she is working very hard flying up and down with her materials.
But through the lens something else has caught my attention – an old man carrying a few palm leaves.

I put my camera down and approach the old gentleman and, since I don’t speak dholuo, I greet him in Kiswahili, the national language in Kenya. He replies in dholuo and, while I understood the greeting, it does mean that I need a translator, which is not difficult to find amongst our camp crew. When a translator is found, we ask him what he was doing and he explains that he gets the palms for his wife, who uses them to make shopping baskets and sun hats. He is also so kind as to invite us to his home to see what his wife does, and we happily accept his invitation.

As is tradition when you visit someone’s home, we bring a few things for his kitchen as gifts, which we give to the lady of the house. She is busy making baskets at the time of our arriva and shows us the process of weaving baskets. Firstly she takes the palm leaves, slits them down the middle with a needle and lays them on the ground to dry in the sun for a period of four days. This toughens the leaves while getting rid of moisture.

She explains that it is critical to plan ahead because you first have to choose the colour and design of the hat, the basket or whatever it is that you are making, depending on whether it is to complete an order or if they are to be sold at the market where locals or holidaymakers in Kenya can choose what they like best. Once it is dry, the dyes are mixed accordingly and the weaving can begin.

Interestingly, this is not a full time job for any of the ladies. They first spend the whole morning working in their gardens and then they start weaving in the afternoon after lunch, chatting with each other as their hands nimbly do the work. When it is time for the weekly market day, they take their goods to be sold and return home with the household shopping.

Each of these baskets can last a long time and are a great way to replace plastic bags. If every household had a bio-degradable basket like this, and if the government, NGOs and environmental bodies encouraged their use and provided funding to produce them at a commercial level, it would reduce plastic bag pollution.

It reminds me of Professor Wangari Mathai’s efforts to save the environment, and how the world needs environmentalists like her. If each of us could make small changes and take the step to cut out using plastic bags, it would make a huge difference.

Article courtesy of Peter Philip, and edited by Africa Geographic. Photos by Peter Philip

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