Literacy first, please

Literacy first, please

I’m a big supporter of literacy projects, whatever the language, and whilst oral storytelling imparts a number of literacy skills, the ability to actually read is fundamental, and often something that readers take for granted.

With literacy in mind, I thought I’d share something that I read on the BBC today, a story about a woman named Florence Cheptoo who lives in an isolated rural village near Chesongoch, in Kenya. As a child – especially a girl-child living in a rural location – education wasn’t considered particularly important, which meant that at the age of 60, Mrs Cheptoo had managed to raise a family, run a subsistence farm and be a contributing part of the “global village”, all without being able to read.

This all changed when, at the age of 60, her granddaughter brought home books from her school’s lending library, and Mrs Cheptoo realised that she couldn’t help her read. Teachers began adult literacy programmes, and for the first time in her life, Mrs Cheptoo can do things that many of us take for granted, like:

  • Learn more about the medicine she takes
  • Read newspaper headlines and find out about the world beyond her village
  • Read maps
  • Sign contracts with her own name
  • See if she was being cheated in written contracts, or with payments
  • Read the Bible and read storybooks for the first time
  • Read her grandchildren’s school reports

Reading about what this woman has done in her life without being able to read, and what she has the potential to do now that she can, is something that’s both inspiring and re-affirming.

In some parts of the world, we seem to have gone straight from no education or limited formal education, resulting in people who can live happy lives, but who can’t read, which means that they miss out on many of the benefits of self-learning that reading brings – being able to read about whether your politician is a corrupt so-and-so, for example, of whether your child is lying about the contents of a teacher’s letter.

On some level I can’t help but wonder whether the technological revolution is all a bit useless in places where people don’t have the ability to read.

Perhaps, along with all the technology exports we also need to think about how to bring reading skills to the masses. Because it’s tough to navigate Google or buy something online or take an online course if you’re not sure how to read or write – a shame for people wanting to take part in the consumer market, and possibly devastating for the people and companies investing in commercial and altruistic products and who want to reach the vast markets in areas where literacy hasn’t previously been valued.

Sometimes living deliberately can be tiring…

Sometimes living deliberately can be tiring…

Although I’ve only started this blog recently I realise that in many ways I have always tried to live deliberately, especially when it comes to creating businesses, building communities and turning ideas into events or services. Sure, I’ve been conscious about the ocean and plastic and the environment for a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve decided to really spend more time and energy on these aspects of my life.

One thing that hit me today whilst I was swimming was that living deliberately can be tiring as often as it can be enegising. It can be tiring to constantly make things happen, to spread the word about sustainability, to bring people together, to support entrepreneurs, to create and publicise events.

As I write this I am physically tired. A busy day yesterday where I achieved little other than cooking for 10 people (although there were only 6 of us) and a busy week ahead with every evening booked, two storytelling programmes to complete, and some insecurity about one of the businesses I created for the European market. So it’s possible that this is affecting my perspective today.

But on days like this, I can’t help but wonder: wouldn’t it be easier to go with the flow, to work in a 9-5 “job”, to ignore over-consumption and environmental challenges, to stop fighting the Austrian system, to give up on the idea that one person can make a positive difference.

No doubt I’ll bounce back tomorrow but this is where I’m “at” today.

Shopping plastic-free spontaneously – not as easy as one might think!

Shopping plastic-free spontaneously – not as easy as one might think!

Very frustrated. Before going swimming today, I packed a couple of Tupperware boxes and my reusable fruit and veggie bags, all ready to go shopping – plastic-free, mind you.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Mpreis near West Shopping Centre seems to be one of the few decent-sized grocery stores in Innsbruck that opens at 7am, but the butcher doesn’t start that early. Which means that if you’re making lasagna, it’s going to come not only covered in plastic, but in a polystyrene container. At this Mpreis (and most others – we have an Mpreis up the road and had another up the road in our previous apartment, so I have some experience of a variety of their stores), you cannot get loose carrots.  Ricotta, parmesan and milk all come in plastic containers.

Unfortunately I hadn’t planned to drive around Innsbruck looking for alternatives, so I was a bad person and bought what I needed, doing the best I could with what I had available.

What I’ve learned, however, is that in order to live a reduced-waste (I’m still thinking about zero waste and whether leaving your plastic behind in the shop means that you are really a “zero waste” person) life, I’ll have to become much more strategic about my shopping.

For example, I know that the Interspar in Rum and Dez as well as the Eurospar near Hutterer Park all have lots of loose veggies, including loose carrots and onions etc., as does Fruchthof (Innsbruck’s answer to “Whole Pay Check (sic)” in Boulder). Hörtnagel is a marvellous butcher and along with the Interspars and perhaps the large Mpreis in Rum, I can certainly get meat without plastic. Some of the Interspars, Fruchthof and the Markthalle also have good cheese counters, where I can almost certainly get plastic-free parmesan. Ricotta I am less sure of, although I only use ricotta once or twice a year. Milk would need to come from the Milkomat, of which we have one in Arzl I think.

Where to get nuts and grains in paper instead of plastic, I am not yet sure, but I’ll start taking a camera with me when I shop to document this sort of thing.

For the time being, I shall resort to planning meals more carefully, so that I can go shopping strategically once or twice a week. We’ll see how that goes!

Is Zero Waste Living Really Zero Waste?

Is Zero Waste Living Really Zero Waste?

I read a lot of books and articles that talk about Zero Waste living, and at some point I realised that I “thought” that I knew what “zero waste living” meant but that I’d never spent time looking into the “movement” and identifying what this is.

The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is this:

Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health

So: anything that is one-use only, that ends up in a landfill, that can’t be repurposed, reused or recycled in some way is to be considered waste.

I have a bit of a problem with the zero waste folks and it’s this: going to a shop and leaving your waste behind doesn’t mean that you aren’t generating waste. It simply means that you aren’t taking it home and you’re not seeing that what you purchase is generating waste that ends up in the landfill.

I also find it interesting to see how many of the folks in the zero waste community boast about how they get rid of their Tupperware etc., which is mutli-use plastic, on which we have already spent significant resources (oil, transport etc.) – why get rid of these in favour of glass jars? Is this part of being zero waste or more of a lifestyle choice not to use plastic at all? I’m a big refiller of things. I keep jars from gherkins and pesto and use them instead of mason jars and that works for us. But I also keep the Fairy liquid plastic squirty bottle and refill it when it empties. The bottle that I use is years old. Ditto the window cleaning plastic bottle that we refill with our own vinegar cleaner. And so on. Is there a time when these containers may need to be recycled? Yes. But does it make me more virtuous to throw them out now, when they have dozens of years of use in them? Not to me.

A short post to get my thoughts “on paper” for future ponderings!

Love the clothes you’re with (with apologies to Stephen Stills)

Love the clothes you’re with (with apologies to Stephen Stills)

I am 39. And I have travelled extensively, lived and worked in 6 different countries on 4 continents, moved home 27 times. I’ve worked in an office, in the city, as a consultant, from home, as a freelancer and as an artist. And over the years I’ve developed and discarded a few penchants – shoes, summer dresses, maxi dresses, handbags, and long, flowing tops that look like a cross between a kaftan, a summer cover-up and a very short dress…

I tell you this to introduce my wardrobe to you. For around 21 years, I have been buying clothes. Sure, I regularly clean out my closet and give things away, but I still have the dress that I bought at Oppie Koppie when my mad boyfriend hired a Reefer container filled with ice, convinced that he could sell the ice at the festival and make a killing (the Reefer blew the fuses and we ended up with a truck of cold water, but that’s another stories)..

And the first suit my dad bought me when we went shopping together in South Africa before I moved to London. And the suits I had made in Cambodia. And my mom’s 21st dress. And the super-expensive dress that I bought when I sold my house. And. And. And.

The start of a project

Recently I was reading about Courney Carver and her “Project 333“. In a nutshell, the idea is to wear only 33 items of clothing (plus a few accessories, excluding underwear and workout gear – she has an outline of how it works here), and initially I was super-excited to try it. Then I spoke to my husband and he just laughed. Apparently, I only wear about 10 items of clothing most of the time anyway – again and again. Working from home means that there isn’t much need to put on a suit or my stilettos, and living up the slope of a mountain in a city of cobbled streets where I walk and cooler weather than I’d have in South Africa, where I’d drive, means that all my beautiful dresses and shoes stay beautiful in the closet.

“Why don’t you do the reverse?” he said. “Start wearing MORE of your clothes!”

Thus my project of “loving the clothes I’m with” began.


The first step in the project involved going through my closet, giving away a few things (not many items, though, as we moved in September and I’ve been through this process quite recently as a result), packing away things that I am unlikely to wear in the next few months for various reasons (too smart, too small etc.), and making a point of using all of the clothes and bags in my wardrobe over the next 3-6 months.


The result is that my closet is much emptier, with space not only for the two boxes of dresses that are in hibernation, but also for some material that I’ve kept for sewing and for all my winter jackets that usually clutter up the hallway. Every time I look at my closet (which I do just for fun, throughout the day), I feel happier. Calmer, too. An additional side benefit is that I might actually be able to keep it neat and tidy!

I am hoping that this is part 1 of a two-part project, the second part being to wear a different item of clothing every day for a year (or for as long as I can with the clothes I have), in particular to give every dress is my wardrobe a fair viewing. This latter project depends on whether I can lose 10-16kgs to actually get into them as I mentioned above, so I expect that this will take longer than a month or two!

Why “use” rather than “get rid of”?

Admittedly, my wardrobe does not look like the title picture for this post. And as much as I’d love it to look that beautiful, the reality is that I have spent time and money on my wardrobe over the years, and the material and clothes have cost valuable resources and labour. Throwing everything away (or giving it away – where things may still end up at the back of a wardrobe or in a rubbish heap) doesn’t mean that my footprint is lighter or that I am being more earth-friendly or sustainable. I love most of my clothes and want to wear them. Which I think is a good thing. Instead of buying more stuff, I have the opportunity to really wear what I have, and give that I have a fair few outfits, I can probably appear to have a brand new wardrobe without buying anything new for a long time.


One small step to creating a more sustainable, sustaining and simpler life. Onwards!