Monday, May 7, 2007

Support Sisters, Saudi Heritage, and the Envirionment With One Transaction

I’m being teased mercilessly and getting called “Nakhlawiyya” (farm-girl) by my in-laws because of my choice in laundry baskets. Instead of buying one of gazillions of plastic laundry baskets, I went and ordered a traditional, woven basket to be made for me by one of the dying breed of basket weavers here in the city. It’s actually used for hauling dates around but I saw its value for hauling clothes around. Nowadays most of these baskets are woven from plastic so I had to order one made for me of old-fashioned, undyed palm leaves.

Um Ahmed is the lady who managed to solicit our patronage…and these are some aggressive saleswomen! They’re located at the Thursday Market in back of the Central fruit market every Thursday morning till noon prayer. Yes, I mean the now notorious fruit market which is in back of the Flirty-Go-Round (the Baladiyya-City Hall). Since this area is away from the main body of the Thursday Market I could get down out of the car and browse through some of the ladies’ goods on sale and have a chat with them without shaming my family for several generations to come.

Um Ahmed allowed us to take a few pictures of her wares, all stuff she’s woven herself, as long as she was out of the picture. A tiny man, whom I can only assume is Abu Ahmed, was happy to pose holding up some of the items on display in a bid for free advertising. All the while he was telling me about the value of these baskets and how strong they are…that’s OK, we’re buying them already.

Um Ahmed saw my dork husband coming from a mile away and talked him into buying some traditional fans, pictured perched on top of the basket in the handles along with the mat she convinced him we need.

These poor women could use an A/C. The temp was rising fast and it wasn’t even noon yet!
The only things they have to protect them are these little shelters.

If I’d chosen a plastic laundry basket, it would be around for hundreds of years after its job of carrying laundry was done. It would have probably broken and cracked, forcing me to buy another one after only a few short years. This adds another plastic laundry basket behind as my ecological legacy for future archeologists to find and speculate as to their uses along with millions of pampers, plastic shopping bags, Pepsi cans and legless Fulla ‘idols’ in a Saudi landfill.
You can find 'Um Ahmed's' in any country on this planet, struggling to preserve traditional crafts and bring them to market. By buying from Um Ahmed I’m helping to preserve a piece of heritage and history, I’m putting food on her table and clothing her children and I’m not polluting the earth. Also, I get to listen to my in-laws reminisce about their sweet memories growing up ‘before oil’, a history lesson triggered by the sight of my new laundry basket.


Asiya said...

wow! I would love to learn how to make these. Could you start up a mail order business selling them?!!

saudi stepford wife said...

Asiya- Hey, thanks for the idea but I'd bet money there's probably already a website specializing in traditional gulf heritage items. Let me know if you don't find one, even if I didn't want to do it I know of some friends that would.

Anonymous said...

I love those baskets! Too bad they don't have them where I live. sis from the usa

Cairogal said...

Love em! Bought a fan and a small basket like these in Oman this past January. The friend I was visiting said the same thing: very few people knew how to weave them anymore. It's a shame that those little bits of culture are fading away.

Anonymous said...

We got the same items back home( are woven there by the local women which is their heritage and it's being passed down from generations to generations. I got similar fans and they got *sequins* or shiny thread as designs. They are actually from hadhramout, a gift from my amm who lives there. When we went back to visit( I took a bunch of them and my kids love playing with them. :)sf

Kati said...

Hi!!! I found your blog after a friend mentioned that you were talking about hand-made clothes baskets yesterday, while I was talking about hand-made (crocheted cotton net) grocery shopping bags on my blog. It's nice to see other people taking an active interest in finding alternatives to the cheap plastic junk all over the common market! I loved seeing the pictures of the marketplace. It's so different from anything I've experienced in my home town here in Alaska. And congrats on getting the inlaws thinking about how some things were better before oil & plastic.

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikum SSW, what a great post - I wish I knew where in Kuwait to buy these, there must be places but do you think I've been able to find them?

I know that we have a place here called "Sadu house" that is a preservation of Kuwaiti weaving/design, even offering courses (soon to become my next hobby, methinks) but I have yet to see anything like what you've posted here.

I feel deprived :(

I really love the history and culture of this land, and would dearly love to have more of it displayed/used within my home - I too am concerned about the landfill issue..people here seem to be content with cheap plastics - not even tupperware has a distribution here, sadly - at least those plastics are heavy-duty and you can replace them as they break, typically.

me, I'd happily spend a fair bit on beautiful handmade baskets - not only for their aesthetic and practicality value, but like you, to support a woman's work, that she would continue what is a dying heritage it seems.

If anyone knows where in Kuwait I can find these, I'd be really glad to find out - otherwise I have to wait till later on when my husband is willing to take a "trip" (read :4 hours driving is a major trip apparently and requires much planning) to Saudia, where I can happily aquire these beautiful (and practical) items!

Anonymous said...

dying heritage? please 'scuse my engleezi. Dying skills, dying trade, dying aspects of arabian culture - better choices of words.

Anonymous said...

Great push for our world being polluted. Great choice and beautiful too!!!

Anonymous said...

I think I meant against being polluted. :)

Anonymous said...

Of course, one should not throw away the past, but it belongs in a museum. Keeping people from progress is an idea of spoiled westerners. I was in the Hadramaut, some years ago. Most people there live in those mudbrick houses, but prefer concrete ones. Mudbrick is expensive to maintain and every year another part of the house collapses, while repairs are expensive. Westerners, who themselves live in modern, concrete houses with low costs, want the Hadramaut people to continue living in their medieval houses. That is colonialism!
The Netherlands

Ann said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

I keep telling my husband that the co-op societies need to give out or sell big canvas bags and try to encourage people to use them at the supermarket. The way it is now, you buy 5 small items and you get 3 or 4 bags - and I think everyone is irritated by that. (That's because the guys who do the bagging want to carry them to the car so they get a tip.)

Huda, there's at least one guy that has a little shop near the big fruit and vegetable souq near Souq Mubarakiya. I saw an article about him in the newspaper a few years ago, so I had to go and get some things... I don't remember where he said they were made, but I don't think it was in Kuwait - maybe Bahrain? If you ever go to Bahrain, there's a handicraft village there that has stuff like this, I think.

And I used to see Afghans selling them at the Friday market, although I haven't been there in a while.

(I'm assuming that you're not a citizen, so going to Saudi involves getting you a visa.)

saudi stepford wife said...

Hi Kati and welcome to my blog. I'm always trying to teach my kids about natural beauty and what better place than Alaska to showcase it.

Huda- I betcha if you were to ask your Bedouin neighbors about weekly markets that move from village to village, I bet there'd be something similar there. By the way, it took me quite a while to find exactly what I wanted. As I've said the Thursday market isn't a place where I'm welcome and these women are located REeeeeeally far away from the main body of the market. It took some searching so it's best to find someone who's pretty familiar with the lay of the land before you go. My hubby's lived out of the country for so long he's not up on the latest local info.

Hans- it's ironic that you mentioned mud brick homes specifically. This was my father-in-laws trade, building these houses. He was forced into early retirement, made redundant by new styles of modern homes and building methods. He's been left to ramble around the house, aging prematurely and supported by his sons because of modernization. Even so, you won't catch ANY of us claiming that a mud-brick home is better. However, there are some thing's that shouldn't be forgotten, and these baskets have a place in our modern world.

Ann- augh, the plastic bags here! You should see the faces of the clerks when I've purchased something small and refuse a bag, choosing instead to put it into my purse. You'd think I just asked them to solve logarithms, completely puzzled.

Another traditional craft I like is the dark wooden boxes inlaid with brass studs found all over the gulf, but especially in Bahrain. I also like the exquisitely carved wooden tables in Persian designs found there too. Both of them are found in the souk there, called the "Baab of Bahrain". There's one shop there, can't remember the name though, that sells things like this. Ask around the souk and you'll be guided there.

Dana said...

"Of course, one should not throw away the past, but it belongs in a museum. Keeping people from progress is an idea of spoiled westerners."

The idea that progress means always replacing old things with new ones is pervasive throughout the West but is incorrect. What is really amusing to me is that pro-progress Westerners equate progress with scientific rationalism and with education, and yet they don't seem to understand that you don't achieve rationalism and knowledge by blindly changing from one thing to another. You must first test your decision to see if the thing you're abandoning is actually better than the thing you're replacing it with.

The fact we have not done this as a culture is a large part of the reason why we are destroying the environment and indigenous cultures all over the world. We do not test innovations to see if they are sound. We take them on sight unseen, wait for them to cause damage and then decide, "Oops, we made a mistake! Let's go back to the old way!" And sometimes we don't even go back to the old way. We just pay compensation to the people who got hurt and keep the innovation. It makes no sense.

Meanwhile, I feel the same way about plastic baskets and I'm a spoiled American. *smile* For that matter, I don't even have a plastic dish drainer in my home. When I got my own place I spent the extra money and got a stainless steel one instead. It will last for years and even if by some miracle I broke it, steel is more recyclable than plastic!