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Adventures in Africa Berkana Exchange April-June 2006

Vishal Singh Dhaybhai



Table of Contents Learning Exchange - Introduction and Proposal


GreenHouse Project -

5, 13-16

Recycling Centre




Creative Inner City Initiative


African Cultural Centre








Institute for Zero Waste in Africa


Local Art and Craft


Some Lingering Thoughts and Thank You!



Learning Exchange - Introduction and Original Proposal At Shikshantar in India, a young man named Vishal has developed a process Flash animation, flipbook and other drawing exercises, games and for building useful items out of “waste” materials. He has offered to introduce some theater activities. these skills to Dorah and the team at the GreenHouse Project in South Africa. In exchange, Dorah has offered to share with Vishal their unique practice of I can also share some healthy Indian food. urban agriculture, growing crops vertically in constrained spaces. I can share these through different workshops, maybe with neighborhood children and youth and also at the Greenhouse/Joubert Vishal’s original proposal: Part when we are hosting/doing something else there. WHAT I CAN OFFER I usually do kabaad se jugaad, which means ‘making useful things out of waste materials’. I feel full of joy through this continuous creativity. WHAT I WANT TO LEARN I want to understand the different things that are being done in the I would like to share with you in South Africa things like: · solar cookers made from mirrors, glass and containers such as Greenhouse project. How are you making buildings more natural? How are you converting other houses into eco-buildings? luggage and more · paper products like containers, coasters, curtains, photo frames, I also want to know how you are working on ‘zero waste zones’. jewelry beads (made by rolling paper into thin pipes) How are you getting the community’s support and involvement? · paper mache creations like masks and hand-made paper · cola caps to make wire candle stands, key stands, jewelry pendants Government and industry’s support? How are you converting waste? What are your ideas around zero waste? What kinds of products and earrings, different toys, etc. · wood and cycle tire tube pieces to make clothes-hangers, key are you making? stands, bags and stamps (through which one can express him/ I would also like to learn more about the different cultures in South her self) African as this will be my first time outside India. · jewelry made of local seeds, clay beads, wire · coconut shells to make cups, toys, soap dishes · and so many more things out of waste, which are useful, beautiful and strong. I have made a small powerpoint presentation


I also can share the other things I know and have been learning about, such as: filmmaking (camera work and editing on the computer),

GreenHouse Project This was the first time that I stayed away from home for so long and that too in a foreign country. The journey by plane gave me the jitters and also made me very excited. It is difficult to describe what I was actually going through. The GreenHouse Project was in a corner of a big green park, which was surrounded by tall buildings and wide streets. The project stood apart from everything else in that area: one, because it was the only green structure there and two, because it also looked like it was still incomplete.


The GreenHouse Project was not like any other green house full of plants. Instead, it housed many experiments around organic farming and ecofriendly construction. It has been built with a lot of wood and glass so that plenty of light could come in. Even the floors are made of dirt dug from around the area and small pieces of bricks and tiles. Apart from repairing and completing the old building, the GreenHouse Project team was also building a new one, the Earth Class

Conference Centre. Both buildings have dry compost toilets (eco-friendly toilets). I was impressed to see that they grow a lot of green vegetables, which are consumed by the people who work here. 6

The main function of the GreenHouse Project is to conduct different workshops and meetings around the concepts of zero waste,

water harvesting, eco-buildings and eco-villages. Both of my friends, France and Zini, go to different offices, schools and organizations to talk more about these issues. For me, this was my first experience of working in a formal organization with structure and rules. I was not used to a fixed time for coming to work and a fixed time for leaving. I was not used to formal signatures and forms to be filled up for every little thing that needed to be done. This was all new to me, and I found it very difficult and challenging. I realized that I was not the kind of person who enjoys working with the phone ringing in the background, and I was also not used to sitting through long meetings and lectures. Perhaps the reason why I disliked this was because I myself am very slow in all these kinds of things. Yet, I enjoyed sitting after office hours and talking with Zini, Dumi and France until late at night. In one of our conversations,


it came out that I had a habit of forcing my opinion onto others. For example, when I was talking to people about upcycling waste, I also shared how I felt that the problem of waste could not be solved, unless we also boycotted the use of certain things, such as plastic bags, altogether. This is something I firmly believe in and want to see happen. But some people felt that from my tone and way of speaking that I was forcing this opinion onto everyone else, that I wanted everyone to do the same. They also felt a certain aggression in me and said that was harmful for all of us. Sometimes, I feel I force my readymade ideas and solutions onto others, without giving them a chance to think for themselves. I find this problematic about myself and have been struggling to change it. I want to

make my questioning more powerful, so I can trigger questions


in peoples’ minds and they can relate to them. Only then can they find solutions for problems in their own contexts, with their own resources.

I also lack patience, and I have a habit of wanting quick results for everything – this is a schooling mindset that I still need to unlearn.

I conducted some workshops at the GreenHouse Project. We tried to up-cycle some of the waste from the surroundings, like wood, bottles, glass and paper, by making interesting tables, key chains and diaries out of them. I also worked with France to make a checklist for the recycling center so that some of the work could be more organized and less chaotic. The checklist had information about all the material in the center with questions like, What waste do we have? Who brought it? Who sold it and for how much? This was an entirely new experience for me. 9

Recycling Centre This also left me with many questions like, Why is it necessary to make a checklist like this? What is the intention of the people who fill it out and the people who had it made? Does this

checklist actually make the work easy or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such checklists? 10


I held a workshop with the kids in Lapeng, a youth center located nearby. Before I began, the kids asked me what kind of workshop I was going to conduct. When I told them it would be around waste, they replied that they had already made many things out of waste. I was anxious to see what they had made. I thought that it would give me a chance to explore more things and ideas around recycling. I saw how different their things were from mine. They showed me their creations, which consisted of screen printing, different kinds of puppets and decorative stuff. I realized that they were very creative, and there was a lot of potential to do many more things with the kids.


So, we decided to go to a nearby park to collect all of the waste for the workshop. Much to our surprise, we were stared at by everyone. Initially, they all thought that we were part of some school workshop to clean up the park; later we told them that we were going to make useful things out of all the waste that we had collected. They were flabbergasted. I felt that it was much easier to work with children, in terms of getting new ideas. I saw a big difference in working with kids vs. working youth. The kids were more receptive to trying out new materials, and they did not need much explanation, while the older ones needed to be told things many more times before they got into it. I wonder why??


GHP Open Day

Surroundings of the GreenHouse Project


One interesting thing that I learned from Doreen and Thandi was Vertical Barrel Gardening. Basically what they do is farming in small barrels with the help of plastic bags. The farming happens in the same barrel at three different levels, one over the other. They water the plants with a long thick pipe which keeps filtering the water to all levels simultaneously. They also plant stuff on the walls and exteriors of pots. I really want to do similar kinds of gardening in my house in Udaipur especially on the terrace. I know it will save water and also allow planting in small spaces. The issue of extensive sunlight and heat also gets solved by this kind of farming.


They also have a vertical garden for medicinal plants. It’s just a mound of dirt and manure all stacked up with the help of hay and jute sacks. They have simply planted many medicinal plants on it. Even though it is an artificial garden, it looks very natural. I had never seen vertical farming before this.


Patricia (my host mother) kept asking me, “Why are you so thin? I will ensure that you will leave here fat and round.� She was right, because when I got home, everyone called me fat.! But I really wonder how I put on weight... Then I remembered the last meal I ate, the skeam bread




and cook sisters, which I liked a lot and the porch (cooked corn meal) which I totally disliked. Next time, I go abroad or to a new place, I will have to tune my tongue to different tastes, so that I can better appreciate local and traditional delicacies. I didn’t do a very good job this time!

In Joburg, Nonebah was the youngest member of the family I was staying with. I spent a lot of time with her. We loved dancing, and so every day we came up with a new kind of a dance. One day, we made peanut brittle with jaggery. This was the first time I made it, and it came out really well. France, his wife, children Tulli, Vash, and some of the neighbours liked it a lot, and even asked for the recipe. So I decided to make it again with everyone else, and it was a disaster! But Nonebah and Beauty (a neighbor) licked every bit of it clean. I still laugh when I remember that incident. 17

Back home in Udaipur, I know that for every little thing that you need to buy, you have to go to a different shop. For example, you get vegetables only from street vendors and spices only at a provisions store. Every shop in Udaipur prices things the same, based on quality and freshness. But here I saw that all you need to do is go to one big store and you will find every thing there, and all the shops price things differently. I found that a little strange.

rich, and on the other hand, locals ran tiny little shops which sold only Chinese goods. I could find very little local stuff in the markets.

Some shops were owned by Indians (which is what all Asians are called). Many Indians are doctors, engineers, restaurant owners, etc. who have a lot of money. Since they hire locals as their workers, France (my best friend and savior) felt that others assumed he was my servant On one hand, there were these huge and very colorful when we were walking around together. I told him that if multi-storied shops full of multinational products for the we knew the truth about our relationship, then what does 18 it matter whatothers think?.

Jo’burg from a distance: on the other side of this road are the gold mines (




A mobile hanging from the rooftop of the Creative Inner City Initiative workshop.


CICI is a place where artists offer trainiing on different kinds of art such as graffiti, mosaic, screen printing, carnival art, paper making, etc., for free. These workshops are mostly done with youth, so that they can earn a living from these skills. I enjoyed the workshop because I felt a totally different kind of energy at CICI, and it inspired me a lot. I took part in a mosaic workshop. While making the mosaic, we started a discussion on how


this specific art form was invented. Maybe it was just about upcycling and jugaad of waste, because that’s all they used to make absolutely beautiful mosaics. Now in modern days, people buy all the materials for mosaics from the market. After this discussion, we then decided to change the flow of the workshop and went on to make a new mosaic, using only the waste that we collected from the surrounding areas. We

bought nothing from the market.

This led us to brainstorm what else we could do with waste and the mosaic technique of art. We ended up making photo frames, clothes hangers, door knobs and lamp shades, by putting different waste items and tiles into these forms. And my friends at CICI made many more mosaics using only waste too.


In a small township called Alexandria, I went to a museum where they make mosaics and hold different kinds of art exhibitions. Most of the local artists go there to sell their work to make some money. Zini explained that they use this money to further develop their art. But that got me thinking, and many questions came to me, like, What is art if it has to be


dependent on the market only? How can artists survive without the market? What are the other ways in which art can be explored? How do artists choose between art for money and art for community and dialogue? What is local art if it is being sold outside? These kinds of questions kept haunting me... I plan to explore them further with local artists in Udaipur. 25




When I first arrived at ACC, I came across a student who was dancing as if he was having a terrible stomachache. Then two or three others also joined him and started dancing in a similar fashion. I was really surprised to see this. I got the feeling that one can do whatever they want to here. I was also jealous, because I knew that I did not have the kind of courage and confidence to dance in any way I wanted. I would have died of shame. All the youth were dancing, full of spirit and the way they wanted to. No one was really aping any particular style. It was very

spontaneous and beautiful. Everyone was having a good time.


I was at ACC to conduct a workshop on upcycling waste. Most of the kids and youth there were involved in theatre and used it as a medium to share what was

going on in their families and communities. I thought we could use the waste from their center and surroundings to make interesting props and costumes for their theater. Beyond this, I wanted my friends at ACC to think about using waste to make useful things for the daily needs of the theater itself, as well for their own lives. I didn’t want the waste to only be used for props, but to actually be functional and necessary to their work, performance and lives. I was very inspired to meet Benji, an older person who looks after the center. He was active in theater, carnivals and making art out of waste. At the moment we met, he was quite preoccupied with the court and judiciary, because the Government wanted to break down the ACC building and construct a restaurant in its place, so that they could get some revenue. For that reason, the center’s activities were going slow, and they were not making any money. But Benji has full faith in the theater and his youth. He is sure that the theater will continue, no matter what challenges come up. 29


Constructing a sofa out of waste materials at the African Cultural Centre.

Benji, ACC director, checking out the upcycled creations made in the workshop.



I learned about some interesting uses of plastic bags, which according to me, are the biggest culprit in polltion and a major enemy today. A few

Grannies and Nannies showed me different things that I could make out of plastic bags very easily. These amazing ladies were ready to learn and share all they could even at this age.

They taught me how to make hats and baskets out of plastic bags by knitting. They also know how to make cushion covers and dolls of the same waste. They like to make these things, so that they don’t get bored, and so their skill doesn’t die.




Before I talk about Somoho, I want to tell you about an interesting place I visited, the Bus Factory. Instead of machines, there are a number of small workshops/stores which produce and sell things made out of waste: for example, beautiful jewelry, art work, key chains, lamp shades, statues and decorative items, are made out of waste like bottle caps, tin cans and plastic. The people who work here are very creative. What caught my attention was that whole place is still setup as a bus factory, yet it is full of work/shops. Unfortunately, the items there are quite expensive. I got the feeling that they may be happy to share their skills, if one spends more time there to talk with them. I was very uncomfortable talking with the shop-owners and shopkeepers, because they didn’t seem to be very friendly for some reason.


At Somoho, they do a lot of work with waste. They make different kinds of musical instruments, objects of paper mache and picture frames. They have also created an organic garden with the help of local people. Somoho is a big place and many people are associated with it. They are raising questions around globalization through their art. They also show people how to make daily use items, which are sold as well. While there, I thought a lot about the whole process of globalization, and how factory schooling and globalization are two sides of the same coin. Neither allow anyone to become creative; both schools and

globalization wants everyone to just replicate and copy behaviors, materials, lifestyles, ideas... They teach us to be lazy consumers. After talking with Sydney, a team member at Somoho, we both felt that India and Africa (like other places) have many people who are worried about what is happening, and feel committed to doing something about waste and its alternatives.


In Somoho, they have converted a large landfill into an organic garden. Wow! 37

Richard Richard is an elderly person who lives in Durban. He only rides a bicycle and makes bio-diesel and composts. His entire bio-diesel plant was made out of recovered waste materials. Richard also makes interesting kinds of solar cookers and sells them. He is living a totally waste-free life, in close contact with nature. He has a great sense of humor too! I enjoyed meeting with him and hearing his story. 38


Most of my conversations on Zero Waste were with Muna Lakhani, who runs the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA). These conversations kept opening new layers around this whole issue. Muna’s focus is on how big governments and multinationals can become more aware of the whole concept of zero waste. Muna stresses that all

production should be oriented towards things that can be reused, recycled and composted. All waste should be

collected, segregated and given to a recycler. Incinerators and landfills have to be stopped completely. The challenge is getting companies to make products that can be recycled and not put into the


trash. But why would companies do that? For them, making disposable products is more profitable. They do not want to think about the long-term, or the kinds of changes they would need to make. For the first time, I heard some jazz music, which I loved. I spent some time with Muna and Vanessa on the harbor at a concert. We listened to a lot of Jazz and danced under the pale blue sky for hours with lots of other people. I really appreciated the way Muna explains the whole concept of zero waste to people. What attracts peoples’ attention is how he can say a very serious thing, very jokingly, and you will immediately get it. It’s the confidence with which he says it. During an interaction with some children, I realized that the way he answers their questions with clarity and honesty, actually affects 40

the person deeply. And they start feeling bound to think and act on their new beliefs. Some of his thoughts that really struck me were: 1. Zero waste is not about just cleaning up or clearing up. 2. One needs to support and consume only local goods and farm produce. 3. Traditional skills and work needs to be encouraged. 4. Packaging has to be made more eco-friendly. 5. We need to think about why the media portrays certain countries or companies as clean (like America or CocaCola) and doesn’t consider how much waste they create and spread. On the flip side, the media portays others as dirty or wasteful, when relatively speaking, their waste is small. 6. Refusing things is a big power we have. It is also a resource. 7. We should not be dependent on only one form of energy.

In South Africa, for the first time, I actually finished reading two whole books (though they were quite small and full of illustrations and pictures). I especially enjoyed The Little Earth Book, which was about nature and globalization. I am still quite surprised that I read the whole thing.


At Muna’s house in Durban, I scanned through a lot of other books. I didn’t really read them, but I was very inspired by the art work and pictures in them. There were many collections of my favorite cartoons and characters such as dragons and fairies and lots of children. I was also very excited to see his collection on books on furniture, sculpting, stitching and so on. I actually spent the whole day with books! 42

Dumi sells green fuel and solar cookers, so that people see them as alternatives. In the GreenHouse Project, they focus more on the use of natural light and that was great.


local art and craft



I played billiards for the first time. That too on a board that had been made out of waste. Vashi, France’s son, made it out of an old carpet, and the game was played with a broomstick and old marbles. Before this, I had seen people play it on TV; actually playing was a totally different ball game.


One night, France took me to a real pub (!), the Voice Pub. Believe me, it sure was a noisy place. It was very crowded for a Saturday night, and everyone was busy gulping beer from the barrels. I got a chance to play real billiards here, and it was great. I really showed off too, but I had to, because I was going to tell everyone at home, and no one in my family had ever touched billiards before. I lost three times, but it was fun! â˜ş

Some Lingering Thoughts... After this experience in South Africa, I realized some things about myself. I had never traveled anywhere alone before, nor had I ever stayed with a family before. I didn’t know quite what to do initially. I felt a sense of freedom and openness, without the usual responsibilities that exist for me here in Udaipur. Yet, I don’t know if I took full advantage of the opportunity. In retrospect, I think it would have been great to travel with a partner, to reflect with me on work and myself and also to help fill in some of my blanks. France helped me to a large extent, but I know I need to work more on my selfdiscipline and self-organization. Not that I want to become mechanical or formal, but I would like to have the wisdom of what kind of discipline and planning are necessary for what contexts.

with my full heart. How to recognize who is genuinely interested in something, and who is not, is another quality I realized I need to cultivate further. With solar cookers, I thought Dumi would be most interested in helping (since he sells solar cookers), but what I felt was that Doreen and Thandi were more interested. I saw I needed to avoid pigeon-holing others and that I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed by others.

I felt it would have been great if I met Muna Lakhani and IZWA sooner. His work was more aligned with my own interests, and what I hoped for with the GreenHouse Project. If I could do it again, I would have tried to talk with GHP more clearly about my interests and about their expectations. I would have spent time more preparing talking with them directly before I left India. And when other organizations To do this, I also see that I need to be more clear and opportunities more suited to me appeared, I about where my passions, questions and energy are would have tried to re-negotiate my commitments when I enter into new situations -- to make sure I and responsibilities sooner. I felt torn a bit: wanting put my time to good use and to be able to create


to contribute to GHP, since I came to South Africa because of them, but also wanting to explore other possibilities where I felt more connected and interested. It would have been better if I spoke about this internal conflict upfront, with friends at GHP, Berkana and Shikshantar. When I think about what I have brought back from South Africa to Shikshantar, I feel disappointed. All the practical things I learned, like making vertical barrel gardens, I haven’t yet made the time to experiment with and create here. I got great ideas, for a kabaad exhibition and a small library, but I feel like the time, money and energy spent on me hasn’t yet been put to good use -- in terms of tangible results. I am hoping to change this soon. Unfortunately, I also feel I imbibed a negative attitude, regarding power structures and our ability to challenge them. I have this sense that we are being controlled by forces on top of us, which stifles our creative energy. I feel like this was more apparent to me in South Africa than in India (where 48

maybe it is more hidden). But there, I saw many organizations (CICI, ACC, GHP) all seemingly controlled by funds, rigid structures, board members, formalities, etc. For example, when I arrived, I was told that no one was expecting me to come so soon. I can understand how it can be difficult to organize things immediately, especially if I was a surprise to many. But then, even after a month there, it was still hard for workshops to happen with groups, simply because of the formal requirements or pre-planning they needed. I found this really hard, because here we are not so bound by these kinds of limits or structures. I feel there is more space to experiment, create and be spontaneous. Such limitations I also noticed in terms of creativity. The sheer joy of creating something, for one’s own use and pleasure, seemed absent. Many times, every creation was linked back to the Market: How will we sell this? Who to? What should it look like to be attractive to consumers? How many should we make it cheaply? etc. On the one hand, I understand

this approach, because if you are living in a big city, you are always concerned with earning and survival. Here in Udaipur, I have my family support, so this isn’t a pressing issue for me. But I did find this kind of market-orientation very new, and I felt it restricted my own creativity and imagination. I also felt restricted in terms of movement. My second week in Johannesburg, I was mugged. That experience not only made me feel more afraid to move around freely, but it also made my companions more nervous to let me be alone. France had to be my chaperone, which made me feel bad on different levels. One, because I was trapped and couldn’t explore on my own. Two, because I felt like a kind of hindrance to France, since he had to adjust himself for me so many times. Of course, he never said anything to me about this, nor did I to him.

my work and my friends, directly or indirectly. Perhaps this is one of the biggest learnings I am bringing back to Shikshantar: how to face conflict and manage competing agendas with more honesty and integrity, and how to speak more clearly about my feelings. I don’t want to pretend about anything. I also want to give more of my time, skills, energy, to try new experiments in my work with zero waste. In the spirit of co-creation, I would like to build upon others’ experiences and knowledge, but I am also prepared to make my own mistakes and find other ways as well.

I ended up staying for almost three months. I am really glad I that was able to spend this amount (almost double from what I had originally planned). More than skills and ideas on zero waste, I got a chance to better understand the diverse culture, If I had to do it again, I think I would try to have lifestyle and people in South Africa. This is more clear conversations with people at GHP. I something I will never forget. Thank you. always worry about hurting others, but I think that - Vishal Singh Dhaybhai by not being open or honest, I end up hurting myself, 49


Thank You! I am grateful‌ To the Berkana Exchange for giving me this gift of a journey. To my mother, my father and the rest of my family, and Shikshantar, for waiting for an extra month for my arrival. To France who took such great care of me, as a friend, and for putting up with all of my nonsense. To the GHP for connecting me to so many new people. To Muna Lakhani and Vanessa Black for everything. To God, for all the efforts made for me and for bringing me to all the people I met on the way here and there.



Joburgbook englishfinalfinal  

my experience to South Africa in johenasburg