Claiming green credentials in the safari industry is almost as ubiquitous as khakis and gin and tonics. Generally speaking most camps and lodges are pretty minimal impact. It kind of comes with the territory as environmental standards in protected areas are usually quite strict. Also being ‘off grid’ means that a lot of lodges rely on solar power generation or hybrid generation systems. Water filtration is touted as being green (some camps will hand you a fancy water bottle with a nice story about helping the environment) but in reality it is just sensible; try carrying cases and cases of water and then having to deal with all the plastic waste. It might be green but in reality it is just easier to manage! But green credentials sell safaris and if we don’t all try to minimise our impact on our world then we are going to end up in big trouble. So every little helps. Now I am not cynical enough to try and tell you that us re-using a few wine bottles and steel barrels is because we believe it will save the world. No. It is rather a bit like my water bottle example; we do it because it works, we do it because there is satisfaction in creating something yourself and then seeing it used. We do it because we want to at least try and reduce a little bit the circle of consumption and waste. And we do it because it can save us a bit of money. We do it because we do not want our lodge to be furnished from a catalogue and we want it to be unique and to feel like it was designed by a human being. You won’t find that many geometric shapes in what we do here at Kaingu. This reflects the fact that we are surrounded by nature where there are few hard edges and angles. “Nestled into nature” is a phrase we have used repeatedly because it fits our lodge and our approach.
So in this post we want to show some examples. Not of solar panels and batteries and toilets. But of how we have taken items and incorporated them into our buildings and decor. Now let’s also be clear; when I say “we” it is basically all Julia. With a background (educationally as well as vocationally) in design she is the one who spearheads all of this.
Lets start with bottles. We use a lot! As much as possible we try and get our suppliers to send beer and soft drinks in returnable bottles. This works for a lot of drinks. But of course not all. Wine springs to mind. Now glass windows don’t work at Kaingu. But what about recycling bottles to create a ‘window’ that allows light in? And it can even be in the shower as nobody can see through it. And it looks beautiful when the morning sun hits it.
Now we come to the humble mbaula. This is the charcoal brazier used all over Zambia for cooking on. They are everywhere and used by everyone. The mbaula itself though is already a recycled item as they are made from steel drums that are used to supply oils and lubricants. The 200L (55 gallon) ones make for quite a large brazier and smaller 50kg grease drums make for a ‘one pot’ cooker. Initially an mbaula looks like there is very little to commend them in terms of arts and crafts:
But the finished items look fantastic once they are painted up and once we made mukwa (local hardwood) table tops for them. We see them as practical, cheap and (being a bit fanciful here) a uniquely local item which is recognised by many and becomes a talking point where all sorts of conversations start: from cooking through to deforestation due to dependence on charcoal!
Next on our list is the humble mortar. As in pestle and mortar. In our house we have a couple of very old ones that we use as side tables. We wanted to create the same for the lodge. Now while we envisaged buying old broken down ones from the villages it actually turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. The mortar and pestle in Africa is a seriously large implement. The spread of small scale diesel powered hammer mills means that really the use of these is now confined to very rural areas where distances to the nearest mill are substantial. To pound maize in these in order to produce a meal to make nshima is pretty hard work indeed. The mortar is symbolically as well as practically a very important piece of household equipment. It is difficult for people coming from say Europe to appreciate just how important the role of maize is here. And in turn just how important the tool to turn maize into the staple starch dish of nshima is. A bit of minimal painting and turned upside down they also make amazing side tables which really are truly Zambian.
Next up is the traditional canoe. There is a good story here too. We were approached by a nameless D.N.P.W. patrol team leader who informed us that a very trusted staff member had loaned out his canoe to people who were now using it for nefarious purposes in the villages (i.e. crossing the river to poach). To avoid implication and trouble we sat the said staff member down and offered to buy the canoe to take it out of circulation. Smiles all round and a great story:
The next one was yet another poacher’s vessel. This one however was confiscated by a patrol team who had found a poacher’s camp on one of the islands south of us. At first it was going to be burnt on the spot by the team but again we stepped in and the end result was that everyone was happy. Except the poachers who on return to their camp would find that they were short of a canoe! Anyway it now resides on the deck and still carries people but in a slightly different way and for very different purposes.
Now we come to our final one and this is one which always makes me smile. This is true recycling although not of an item that is a problem to dispose of. Indeed rather the opposite. Most safari goers are very familiar with the marula tree. The fruit is much loved by elephants and indeed the elephants are a method of seed dispersal as the pulpy fruit is eaten and sometime later the seed is deposited. In it’s very own patch of rich manure. Studies have shown that marula seeds that have passed through an elephant’s digestive system are far more likely to germinate than those that have not.
So here is the original product:
And below is some of the contents after a fair bit of work! Past visitors to Kaingu know that Julia as a hobby creates seed based jewelry. I should point out that it is a hobby that pays as a lot of items are sold in the Kaingu curio shop! The fact that people are wearing an item that has passed through an elephants digestive system is just too cool.