I was shamed into evaluating my green habits this weekend after reading an article on EcoMENA – so here’s a list of things I do around the house which are eco friendly.
1. Drinking water
Growing up in an Indian family in Mombasa, certain items are ubiquitous. Like the matungi (clay urn) with the copper lid sitting on a tripod in the corner of the kitchen.
Its water is cool and earthy. And as a kid, it was the most natural thing to fill a stainless steel glass with water; drink it in one go – standing; rinse the glass out and turn it over.
The older matungis had a wider mouth and so there was an extra glass to dunk into it, and from which to pour.
As common as the matungi was the daily ceremony of refilling it. Every day two or three pots of water would bubble on the charcoal jiko, and then there would be the ceremonial straining of water through layers of cloth. And when the cloth strainer was being washed or missplaced, a large handkerchief – folded into four – with an initial embroidered in one corner would do just as well.
2. Recycling water
I always collect the water used to wash vegetables and salads in a sufuria (pot) and pour it into one of the plants that lines my cement garden. The green onion or lemon grass often wins the lottery because they are closer to the kitchen door but in my grandmother’s house in Mombasa, it would be one of the two large asmini (jasmine) pots that guarded the yard.
3. Moldy fruits and veggies
Old flowers, vegetable peels and moldy fruits rescued from the bottom drawer of the fridge are thrown into a pot that heralds the arrival of a new plant. It’s a jua kali form of composting but it works for me. Used teabags go into the same pot, regardless of whether it is black tea, green or rooibos.
And with this mishmash of organic fertiliser, I grow mint, curry leaves, green onion, purple basil, lemon grass, and what is the beginning of a peanut shrub and an avocado tree.
4. Paper, plastic and glass
I used to throw scrap paper, glass and plastic into the recycling container outside the Westgate mall (until Al Shabaab blew it up), but for the last two years or so, I have created my very own landfill in the cupboard that houses the hot water geyser. It threatens to engulf me every time I open the door to look for something else.
But my neighbourhood supermarket has now set up a collection container that trades Trash for Cash with a convenient M-Pesa payment method. So the plan in coming weeks is to ferry my trash over and return home with some spare change.
I’d like to say it’s a Muslim thing – to not throw away food, leave food on my plate and always take a doggie bag for restaurant left overs – but reading about how Middle East countries generate double the amount of food waste during Ramadan makes me wonder.
What I do know is that I grew up being aware of every grain of rice on my plate. It was a habit partly instilled at home and partly at the mosque where every dish in the thaal (communal platter) has to be finished by the group of eight sitting around it.
And so whenever there is extra food at home, it goes into a container and is either warmed up for the askari with some bread and tea or dropped off at the mosque for the women and children who line the pavement waiting for alms.
6. Water heaters
Kenya rarely gets cold but there is that odd period during June and July, especially in Nairobi, when all you can think about is a blanket, a hot drink and of course a hot shower.
Mombasa never really gets cold but I remember too many mornings when we had forgotten to put the heater on the night before and were forced to jump in and out of a cold stream of water before going to school. And later in Lamu when an electric coil would be lowered into a bucket of water to heat it.
So I quickly embraced the instant shower heater concept when it first came out and have never looked back. Easy as flipping a switch when you start your shower, and flipping it off when you’re done.
My bucket list?
Apart from going solar – which will save me from Africa’s power cuts – I would want a rain harvester.