Ekodo: The Gift – Part 1
Giza, Egypt. Sitting on the shiny plastic covered bench seats of a dusty Cairo bus she watched the jumble and chaos of this sprawling city go past amid the endless bleating of car horns like herds of strange sheep. Here a man on a bicycle wobbles along, dodging motorbikes and taxis with a crooked swaying stack of boxes balanced on his head. There, street hawkers negotiate prices with women wrapped in cloth and jewellery.
Then without warning, out of place and expectation, above cluttered flat suburban rooftops bristling with television aerials and clotheslines rose the giant triangular form of the great pyramids of Giza. Not way out in the desert as expected but here among streets and shops and hotels, the archetype of the wonders of the ancient world shattering her romantic vision as the bus screeches to a halt in a car park overlooked by the Sphinx.
Suva, Fiji. They sat on the second story balcony of a concrete house in the palm tree suburbs with mangy dogs scratching at rubbish piles beside the busy road. Her host was the human resources manager in a government department who was big in his local Methodist church, whose choir resounded on the still evening air like a flock of songbirds in unison marking out a territory. “But I don’t have a watch” said the scruffy young man in his northern Viti Levu dialect. “Here” said the civil servant, as he unstrapped the shiny timepiece from his wrist, handing it over. The conversation continued for a while as the sun sank like a stone, until a voice from inside the house gently called “Sa vakarau tu na vaka yakavi”: time for dinner.
Wellington, New Zealand. A footfall squeaked on the polished floor. The sharp smell of ethyl alcohol and clean surfaces in this white laboratory triggered hazy memories of last night’s party. As she held her temples with thumb and middle finger momentarily shading her bloodshot baggy eyes from the bright lights, her lab partner leans over so as not to be heard by the tutor: “Want to know what’s good for a hang-over?” “What?” she whispers. “Drink a whole lot of alcohol the night before.” “Shhhhhhh’… but she could not hold back the giggles.
The lab experiment involved round flat glass dishes each with a different bacterial colony growing on a clear firm jelly. Each day she measured the diameter of the colonies until eventually the whole dish was covered, and thereafter the colony died having outstripped its available resources and suffered a population crash, only to create a new habitat for other types of bacteria that liked to live off dead ones. Then other bacteria established, and in time the dish supported a mosaic of microbial communities.
She could not help but think of the fate of that first colony that crashed, and pictured a glass dish called ‘Earth’ and a bacterial colony called ‘us’. She started reading about limits to growth in biological systems and beat a well-worn path to the library. Some of the literature ventured across disciplines into the humanities and economics. A vast realm began to open up where scholars and practitioners from different disciplines and at different times had put thought to this question of living systems and their patterns of growth and decay. But her curiosity was still not satisfied and she read on, and the days became weeks, and the weeks became months, because by now the faint coherence of a larger story was taking shape in the darker recesses of her mind.
Her private obsession followed her everywhere. This time it was a Friday night in a grungy student flat. Like countless other student parties, with music thumping, alcohol flowing, and conversations rising to a roar. As the music changed, on came the first few panging notes of Galileo by the Indigo Girls. She looked around to catch the eye of her soul sister who was also an Indigo fan. They were taken over by a bonding rhythm held so deep that all they could do was dance. As she swayed to the music with the dusty odour of cigarette smoke wafting in from outside in the summer night, her thoughts returned to her inner quest.
Biology, anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, philosophy, linguistics – they each contained part of this great puzzle, and deep down she knew that this puzzle had a common thread that was not only about human survival, but also of the order of things in the natural world. Suddenly she was roused from her muse. Without warning, Matt ripped off his favourite jean jacket, threw it on the floor and started jumping on it with flaying fists and elbows. Deep in a night blurred by alcohol, the combination of aromas, rhythmic music and the surging crowd lent the scene the form of a solemn rite of passage from an indigenous culture in its heart of darkness. “Matt! What are you doing?!!” she shouted incredulously above the noise. “The candle set it on fire!” he shouted and laughed and coughed, and coughed and laughed.
Without warning, just at that moment, something in her mind cracked and light flooded in. Exactly then the many seeds of a greater understanding began their rapid and uncontrollable crystallization that pulled together the different parts of the puzzle into a dazzling, yet inarticulate picture. She tingled all over. Right now, fully contained in the chaos of this revelry, and a ritual dance of a favourite jacket on fire. Spellbound her eyes glazed over. She no longer heard the thump of the music as the threads all came together like recombining chromosomes in the making of a new being – tigers, pyramids, palaces and stone armies, bacterial colonies, forest regeneration, dance, agricultural surpluses, artwork, romance, celebrations, the economy, and the exchange of gifts.
She immediately launched a desperate search for pen and paper, as if dragged by a wild mare – any paper, envelopes on the cluttered beer-stained kitchen table clumsily bumped by drunken strangers, margins of yesterday’s crumpled newspaper, the cardboard backing of a spent cereal packet, and she began to scribble down notes lest she lose this epiphany in the haze of this Friday night festival of wild abandon.
For other Happyzine posts by Sean Weaver, just type: ‘Ekodo’ in the search field at top right of this page to locate his collection of Happyzine articles. ‘Ekodo’ turns environmentalism into a martial art and is the name of a training programme for sharply compassionate environmental practice that Sean leads with his wife Jo. Sean is a forest conservation consultant through his company ‘Carbon Partnership’. He and Jo live in Golden Bay with their two young boys.