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Celebrating Street-level Ingenuity

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture blog which explores the post-consumption economy of repair, re-use, repurpose and recycling – predominantly by those in low-income communities.

Makeshift is a quarterly magazine and multimedia website about creativity in unlikely places – from the favelas of Rio to the alleys of Delhi. These are environments where resources may be scarce but where ingenuity is used incessantly for survival, enterprise and self-expression. In different cultures it goes by different names: DIY in the US, jugaad in India, jua kali in East Africa and gambiarra in Brazil. Makeshift seeks to unify these cultures of production into a global identity. Makeshift is about people – the things they make and the context they make them in.

Makeshift has been pulled together both artfully & articulately by Steve Daniels in New York. (I’ve featured Steve before on Random Specific for his insightful work Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy as part of a post on Amplifying African Creativity) Paying dues to the blog from which Makeshift evolved, this first issue has been themed REculture. Steve is quick to point out that informal economies operating in environments of scarcity tend to form sustainable trade ecosystems as they regularly reintroduce waste back into their supply chains. He perceives a new era “in which corporations, policy makers and designers must adapt to informal systems – devising platforms that empower people and communities to create.”
 

Russian photographer, Sergey Maximishin’s stunning images from Kenya’s jua kali sector.

The REculture issue contains imagery, infographics and articles on Mexican horseback recyclers, Kenyan hackonomics, Indian textile refabricators and more. My former collaborator, Niti Bhan, weighs in on contrasting approaches to waste from Delhi to the Phillipines and beyond: “Maximising returns on their investment and minimising their use of scarce resources, local makers develop affordable and locally relevant solutions to everyday challenges posed by the scarcities of the environment… extending the life of the product though a variety of characteristic behaviours…” She highlights the lessons to be learned from pursuing the limits of use from every resource.
 

Global-roaming anthropologist, Jan Chipchase, shines a light on the Afghani ‘dirty fuel’ street economy which keeps people on the road and generators running in a context of scarce reliable fill-up stations.
 

 
A savvy aspect of Makeshift is that it was crowd-funded on Kickstarter – the world’s largest peer-to-peer funding platform for creative projects. It raised over $40 000 USD in a matter of weeks from 600+ backers via it’s Kickstarter campaign – over double it’s initial goal. A fitting approach to funding for a magazine which celebrates bottom-up approaches and collaborative networks. Keep an eye out for Makeshift’s next issue on mobility – ingenuity on the move.

Related posts
Post-consumption Creativity
Indian Grassroots Innnovation
Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture [...]

Quick-pic Tuesdays: Waste Not, Want Not

Chinese natural resource efficiency – combining vegetable scraps and incense at a grave in Wellington during Ching Ming festival. I’ve also noted the use of broccoli stalk bases as sign holders by Chinese at the local farmers market. Making the most of what nature provides to support human endeavor – from faith to commerce.

Taken on assignment for the Death & Diversity project
Related post: Newspaper to New Paper

Chinese natural resource efficiency – combining vegetable scraps and incense at a grave in Wellington during Ching Ming festival. I've also noted the use of broccoli stalk bases as sign holders by Chinese at the local farmers market. Making the most of what nature provides to support human endeavor – from faith to commerce. Taken [...]

Quick-pic Tuesdays: Transcendental Trade

Transcendental Trade

Weights are anointed with holy powder at Grant Rd Market daily. Just one of the many intersections of creed and commerce to be observed across India.

Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr

Weights are anointed with holy powder at Grant Rd Market daily. Just one of the many intersections of creed and commerce to be observed across India. Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr

Quick-pic Tuesdays: Sharp Player

Sharp Player

Given that today marks the breaking of a month of fasting for Ramadan, I expect that knife sharpeners like this one in Mumbai will be doing a bustling trade as Muslims prepare to feast.
 
Check out more Random Specific images on Flickr

Given that today marks the breaking of a month of fasting for

Divergent Symbol Norms

Foreign visitors to India are often startled by the prevalence of this symbol – featuring on temples to trucks, doorways to stairways, fabrics to food decoration and even electoral ballot papers. Many locals could enlighten them that the symbol is called svastika (स्वास्तिक). Some might add that it comes from the the Sanskrit word svasti – sv = well; asti = is – encompassing good fortune, luck and well-being. Others, noting a tourist’s repulsion, may offer that the symbol differs in rotation from the offending swastika by 45 degrees and mention that it’s local history predates Nazi Germany by over 5000 years.

It has been said that the svastika’s angled arms indicate that the path of our aspirations is seldom straight and takes unexpected turns. They also convey the indirect road to faith – in which intuition superceds intellect. Four dots are often included which symbolise North, South, East and West – or in Hindi: Uttar, Dakshin, Purab and Pachim. Reverence of the symbol is given by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists across the nation.

Travellers who pay attention to the widespread veneration for the svastika are likely to reassess their symbolic norms – and appreciate they’ve encountered a case of cross-cultural same-same-but-oh-so-very-different.
 


 
Related posts:
Same, Same but Different
Disrupting Typographic Transit Norms
 

  Related posts: Same, Same but Different Disrupting Typographic Transit Norms  

Sweet Redemption

I’ve been kidnapped for Easter and held hostage somewhere with no broadband and (yipes!) no electricity. But I’m pre-scheduling this post to come out on Easter Sunday so some of you can enjoy it’s timely fresh-baked goodness.

Last week I had dropped by the Assyrian Christian Church Hall in Strathmore to check in on my adoptive aunties that I’d met during the Death & Diversity project. There was no way I was going to escape without eating – and once I discovered what they were up to, I stayed on for a few hours to delve further into the tradition of Easter Collachi.
 

Baked collachi and collachi mould

Collachi encompass a selection of sweet, baked treats – stuffed dough featuring bursts of walnut, coconut, date and other heavenly fillings. They are eaten after the lengthy chanted Easter holy mass which concludes at 3am. Collachi continue to be enjoyed throughout Easter Sunday to celebrate the sweetness of Christ rising.
 

Preparing collachi – flanked by the Assyrian Christian flag
Collachi mould, handled by Laya
Assorted collachi, ready to be baked

The Assyrian Christian community in Wellington are largely from Iraq and originally arrived to New Zealand in waves as refugees in the 80s and 90s. My adoptive aunties have an active community life which centers around the church hall. It’s from there that they have been preparing collachi for the past few weeks.
 

Across three generations – Laya, Gevan and Lana – join others to make collachi. Laya remembers making them in Iraq in the company of her nomadic sheep herding community. Lana, who came to New Zealand as a baby, is keen to return to Iraq one day and make collachi there – “and I’m sure they’ll taste sweeter when peace comes to our land.”
 

Heart-felt thanks to all my Assyrian aunties: Laya, Jinna, Asia, Yoneeh, both Maryams, Sara and Yooneeh. And Lana + Gevan who did a stellar job on translation

Related posts:
Life’s Inevitable Transition, II
Women Togther: Incentivising Savings

I've been kidnapped for Easter and held hostage somewhere with no broadband and (yipes!) no electricity. But I'm pre-scheduling this post to come out on Easter Sunday so some of you can enjoy it's timely fresh-baked goodness. Last week I had dropped by the Assyrian Christian Church Hall in Strathmore to check in on my [...]

Life’s Inevitable Transition II

I’ve been continuing my work on the riveting Death and Diversity project between the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Wellington Museums Trust. Following up on earlier investigation with various ethnic and religious groups on attitudes and approaches to death, dying and the afterlife – I’ve more recently met with members of Jewish, Hindu, Mexican and Iraqi Christian communities. We have continued to focus on themes including the lead up to death, body preparation, funeral rituals, customs of remembrance, attitudes to afterlife and surrounding superstitions – to culminate in an exhibition and series of public programmes in Wellington later next year.

Assyrians constitute a distinct ethnic group indigenous to the Middle East who traditionally speak Aramaic and practice Christianity. Assyrian families started coming to Wellington initially as refugees from Iraq in the eighties and nineties. Yooneh Henoo, above, has the task of composing and performing chants of lament (jnanyatha) for local funerals. She shared with us a particularly moving story about a five year old boy in Iraq, with New Zealand-based relatives, who was kidnapped during the Iran-Iraq conflict then cut into pieces and incorrectly buried. Yooneh sung for him here in Wellington, affirming the belief that children rise directly to heaven:

“Tell all of the gentle men and beautiful women that I am going to the heavenly kingdom. Tell my mother not to cry. I have not sinned. I am like a bird and will fly from this world.”

 

Image by Zsoldos Szabolcs from Flickr

The liberal Jewish group I spoke to provided rich and comprehensive insights of both local, Israeli and diasporic customs. They mentioned the common practice of leaving visitation stones at the graves of loved ones. These assert the permanence of memory for the deceased. They also described the ceremonial washing of the dead body which is done under a continual flow of water. A rabbi visiting from Israel mentioned that this is a meditative experience in which the water forms a cyclic link to amniotic fluid – closing the chapter of the body and opening the chapter of the soul.
 

Chicano artist Willie Franco ran a sugar skull decorating workshop at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea in the lead up to the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos). Skull (calavera) imagery is a ubiquitous part of the annual celebration which honours the deceased. Children, adults and even skilled cake decorators joined the workshop and I noted there was much licking of fingers! Participants had the option of contributing their decorated skulls to the altar being prepared at the museum.
 

I was also invited to a Hindu Vedic ceremony, performed to ensure the well-being of departed souls, for the father of one of our research participants. I was particularly taken by the pavithram ring worn by the priests, made of holy kusha grass, to keep their hands ritually pure. The ring takes a particular form for ceremonies associated with death.

jaathasya hi dhruvo mr.thyur dhr.uvam janma mr.thasya cha
thasmaad aparihaarye’rthe’ na thvam sochithum-arhasi

For death is certain to one who is born – to one who is dead, birth is certain;
therefore, thou shalt not grieve for what is unavoidable. – Bhagavad Gita

Related posts:
Life’s Inevitable Transition I
Sweet Redemption

I've been continuing my work on the riveting Death and Diversity project between the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Wellington Museums Trust. Following up on earlier investigation with various ethnic and religious groups on attitudes and approaches to death, dying and the afterlife – I've more recently met with members of Jewish, Hindu, Mexican [...]

Life’s Inevitable Transition I


For much of the year so far I’ve been chipping away on a fascinating project with the government’s Office of Ethnic Affairs. In the pursuit of community-focused insights I’ve guided group discussions with various religious and ethnic groups – including Filipino, Muslim, Hindu, Chinese, Mexican and Colombian. The topic of exploration has been diversity in attitudes and approaches to death, dying and the afterlife – both in the New Zealand context and in countries of origin. Themes have included the lead up to death, body preparation, funeral rituals, customs of remembrance, attitudes to afterlife and surrounding superstitions. Much of the investigation was centered on the uncovering of personal stories which reflect community practice that will contribute to an exhibition and public programmes at the Museum of Wellington later next year.
 

To compliment the group sessions I also sought out the input of a couple of established local funeral directors. They provided insights on the developments in cultural sensitivity within their profession as New Zealand has culturally diversified. I also met with Yakub Khan Tasleem – a Muslim community funeral director who additionally owns a popular Newtown halal butchery. Tasleem spoke of being guided and provided with a brave heart by his Creator to serve other Muslims via his halal services and role as a funeral facilitator. He praised the Wellington City Council in their willingness to support local communities to honour their dead in their own ways. He reiterated the description I’d received in our group sessions of perfume being applied to the parts of the body of the deceased which would usually touch the ground in prayer. The forehead, nose, palms, knees, shins and feet are all anointed in preparation for the ultimate act of submission to the Creator.
 

In search of a more ethnographic-oriented angle I was keen to talk to people in a relevant context of their actual lives while retaining respect for the sensitivity surrounding our topic. I found my chance when I discovered the free monthly bus to Makara Cemetery which is run by the good folk at Wilson Funeral Home and Harbour City Funerals. The bus takes an ambling route around southern and eastern suburbs before passing through the city then heading out to Makara. Many of the passengers join the journey every month to visit the graves of their dearly departed – with some having been every month since the service launched 18 years ago.

On board I encountered Samoan Catholics, Greek Orthodox widows, a fifth generation Chinese descendant and Polish refugee widows. Many rich stories emerged from this vehicle which brings together a vibrant mix of characters and cultures. Once at their destination passengers are dropped off at relevant areas of the sprawling cemetery where they have around an hour to pay their respects. As I moved between zones I noted the difference in graves from the simple Muslim markers to the more ostentatious Greek tombstones complete with special alcoves for oil-burning candles and Chinese graves which sometimes featured incense holders. Visitors performed various rituals respective to their faiths before we all re-boarded the bus and returned to the city. More stories unfolded – closer to the subjects of departed loved ones and cultural cues of remembrance.
 

“As you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields – watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” – Kahlil Gibran

Related posts:
Life’s Inevitable Transition II
Sweeping Change

For much of the year so far I've been chipping away on a fascinating project with the government's Office of Ethnic Affairs. In the pursuit of community-focused insights I've guided group discussions with various religious and ethnic groups – including Filipino, Muslim, Hindu, Chinese, Mexican and Colombian. The topic of exploration has been diversity in [...]