“If I had 10 coconut palms I wouldn’t need anything else”, said my Filipino friend. “I could eat, drink, build a house, dress myself, make utensils, instruments and tools. All from the coconut palms!” I could totally see his point of view. Bedouins in the Sahara desert relate the same way to date palms. Coconuts and dates are eaten in all their stages of growth. Each stage offers a completely different taste, texture and uses. The simple artifacts made from natural materials that we display in museums and show off to our guests, are mundane everyday utensils in the rest of the world.
When I used to take dance tours to Egypt, we visited traditional places and participated in local customs. One time we were drinking tea in the famous Fishawy Cafe in Khan El Khalili in Cairo. The waiter brought small glasses and tea in an old teapot. One of my guests fell in love with the teapot and wanted to buy it. The guy was very confused and wanted to bring her a new one. It took some convincing to explain that she didn’t want a new one, she wanted that old rusty banged up teapot. He was almost ashamed to sell it to her.
Growing up in Egypt in 1970s and 80s, I remember how fascinated we were when my aunt brought “Tang”*, aluminum foil and digital watches from the USA. We used to drink this boring freshly squeezed orange juice, cover food with lids and wind our machanical watches every so often when the hands stopped moving. When my friends from Germany came to visit me in Alexandria, they were very surprised by the egg shop. “You mean you go there to buy eggs only?” they said (with a German accent). The vegetables came from the green grocer, meat from the butcher, bread from the baker and so on. What we may call today “specialty shops”. The seamstress made our clothes, the cobbler mended our shoes and we used to sew torn socks and underwear. When supermarkets started appearing in Alexandria, only the rich could afford to use them. We started using plastic, styrofoam and disposable packaging instead of cloth bags, newspaper and cartons. With the “Economic Opening” الانفتاح الاقتصادي that started in the 80s, Egypt joined the consumerist culture. Instead of home visits and beach strolling, we started going to “Wimpy” to eat hamburgers and fries because we were the cool kids.
Fast forward a few years. I’m in the USA. To my utter surprise, everything was reversed. People pay a pretty penny for what we took for granted in Egypt: natural foods and fabrics, bakery bread, farmers markets, street cafes, handmade crafts, tailormade clothes…etc. Even my curly hair, dark skin and skinny body, which didn’t turn any heads in Egypt, turned out to be exotic and attractive in the USA. Just like Egyptians value what we take for granted in the USA.
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. As people from highly mechanized countries and big cities are escaping concrete jungles and seeking more Nature, people from natural environments and small villages are eager to escape Nature and build concrete jungles. What if we swapped places for a while? No need to build more concrete jungles or destroy Nature. Just swap with someone and see what you like. We can all coexist, together with Nature, concrete jungles and all other living beings. We don’t need to “own and dispose” everything. Because realistically, no matter what you have, it’ll eventually become boring. “One person’s trash is another’s treasure”. Can we all just share instead?
* Tang is an artificial orange powder. When dissolved in water, it produces an orange drink with an artificial orange flavor
#loveculture #sharing #sharingeconomy #nature #coconut #palmtrees #datepalms #consumerculture #waste #egypt #usa #costarica #naturephotography #culturaldifferences #travel #travellife #perspective #concretejungle #culturalreflections