On shopping overseas & not regretting it when you get home.

Have you ever shopped at a fair-trade, ethical kind of shop or company and ended up buying stuff more because of the goodness of the cause than because you actually really liked the stuff?  I sometimes do the same overseas. Buy something because I love the story behind it, then get it home and think, ‘what was I thinking’ and never wear or use the item again. Now clearly there are worse motives for buying something, but I have just had a very different experience in Bangkok.

Chris and Jodie McCartney are an Aussie couple who live in the biggest slum in Bangkok with their three gorgeous blond daughters.  They’re part of UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope) – and you can find out more about them from my recent video diaries.  Jodie is a self-confessed op-shop fanatic (op-shop = opportunity shop = what Aussies call charity shops) and after she and the family had been living in the slums of Bangkok for a while she hit upon a way to bring the joy of the op-shop to the locals.

There are heaps of ex-pats in Bangkok, Westerners on assignment to the city who accumulate lots of stuff while they’re there and don’t want to ship it all on to the next place.  So an amazing amount of high quality gear (clothes, furniture, appliances) gets left behind.  And here Jodie saw her opportunity, and Second Chance Bangkok was born.

Not only does it help reduce the piles of refuse in the landfill, it also gives a boost to many people who make the local slum in Klong Toey their home.  There is work to be had.  Enterprisings locals often queue up in the mornings to bag a bargain and sell the best stuff on again elsewhere. The profits support community projects and help start other small businesses.

I have to be honest that I didn’t buy anything from the main shop when I was there.  It was in the midst of a huge sort out and looked like a bomb had hit it.  But, I snagged a brilliant bargain from another wing of the business. They up-cycle!

I met a beautiful girl who is the single mother of five daughters (whose names all begins with B – the very cute baby is BunBun!) and who was working in a garment factory, barely surviving.  Second Chance Bangkok have started her out in her own sewing business – she’s really gifted – and she’s now designing and making her own clothing which they also sell.

And my purchase, which I am as excited about in the cold light of London as I was in the muggy smog of Bangkok, is this fab bag, up-cycled from a bare of jeans and lined with a man’s dress-shirt. I’m holding out for the day they start selling on-line.  Until then, you’ll just have to envy my fab bag. (Or make one?)

The Crazy Brazilian

While we’re on the subject of Brazilians, I should tell you about Claudio because he is by far the loudest and craziest of them all.   This is a picture of him sitting on our balcony making a wormery out of disused olive tubs we found in the bins at Borough Market.  He likes to improvise.

 Claudio came to stay earlier this year and taught us how to make wicking beds from recycled styrofoam boxes to grow veggies in, and our own small wormery.  He is a radical urban agriculturalist and spends heaps of his time teaching people to make simple equipment to help them live in a way that is more sustainable and connected to the earth.  In the city.

He lives in Curitiba in Brazil and leads a small Christian community there called Casa da Vidiera.  An unusual one. They have chickens.  15 breeds.  And goats. Everyday they collect food waste from their neighbourhood, three to four tons of organic waste a month—the refuse of roughly 150 households—and compost it all in their 0.08 acre backyard, turning it into beautiful soil.

The chickens eat food scraps and worms, rather than soybeans, which is one of Brazil’s most destructive monocrops. 68% of Brazil’s crops, including soybeans, are now genetically-modified, so choosing not to use soy is a small act of resistance against that way of agriculture.

On top of that, they have a community bakery and grow edible mushrooms from used coffee grounds, and they’re starting a new program carbon sequestering using biochar (he insists it’s a simple technology we can all reproduce!).

I love it because instead of just shrugging his shoulders and saying, ‘well, we live in the inner-city, we don’t have much outside space, what can you do?’, he has found ways to live better: to grow stuff (even if you only have a balcony), and deal with waste rather than just throwing everything “out” as if “out” is some place that we have no responsibility for.  (I am haunted by this challenge).

However, when he got back to Brazil from the UK earlier this year, he found out that a new neighbour had reported their community to the police, because keeping livestock in the inner-city isn’t exactly legal….It looked like they might have to stop everything.

So the authorities came to visit.  When they arrived and saw the plants and animals they were amazed.  Claudio explained the science of what they did and how the Food Security department had invited them to give workshops for other urban farmers about rubbish management and urban agriculture. The visitors didn’t know what to say, so they told Claudio to write a letter to the Hygiene department, and they’d put in a good word…

So the community are keeping at it.  They eat together every week (usually their own produce), and collect rubbish, and tend to their animals and plants, which is very different to my daily reality.  My wormery is still going strong though, and there’s some lovely soil developing.  My wicking bed is great, and I even have some tomatoes growing.

*If you’d like to hear Claudio reflect on life, food, gardening and theology a good place to start is with the films here (if he’s not on the front page any more, just search for Claudio). He also has a great recipe for banana peel bread if you’re interested?!*