Usually, in this annual article, I write about music — it is my profession and my passion and there is always something to say. However, this year there is a more pressing matter to be considered; one that affects all of us in all kinds of negative, even toxic ways, but also one that each of us can do something about.
Recently, my sister in the UK posted on social media the following announcement seen in one of the daily newspapers: Major British Supermarket Chain Encourages Shoppers To Bring Own Tupperware — (or any reusable container). This is part of a huge push to eliminate where possible all singleuse plastic. Years ago, when you could, we visited the Yemen. It was a memorable holiday with dear friends.
There were some unexpected drawbacks — the wonderful but qatchewing driver who took us around at breakneck speed especially on the mountainous routes full of hairpin bends; some difficulties associated with hotels and food and on our last day, finally, very nearly very finally, a close shave with the assassination of a government minister.
However, apart from these less than perfect situations, we fell in love with Yemen: the terraced hillsides, the towering decorative mud-brick houses of Sanaa, the friendliness and warmth of the people and of course the astonishing archaeological remains. On our way to one of the locations — Baraqish, or maybe Shibam — we saw in the distance, as we approached, the beautiful sight of an orchard in full blossom. As we got closer, however, we noticed something strange — there were blue blossoms, and green and all sorts of colours very much not associated with the pure pink and white of a true Spring blossom.
What we found on arrival was that this eagerly anticipated orchard was in fact nothing but spiny trees on which the wind had festooned and fastened thousands of brightly coloured plastic bags. Covering the ground were food wrappings and polystyrene boxes and every type of the least bio-degradable garbage; it was a sight of inestimable ugliness created by the greed of industry and the ignorance of consumers.
Even 22 years later I can still feel the utter dismay that hit us on seeing nature disguised and choked by plastic. All those years ago, much less was known about the desecrating havoc that plastic and other nondegradable materials are inexorably wreaking on our planet, but scientists, geologists, oceanographers, politicians and many other searching people have discovered exactly what is happening and have broadcast it widely.
It is clear, we are steadily littering the life out of our planet and apparently doing so blithely and without conscience. Why do we continue to do this — to pour garbage into oceans, to create landfill mountains of single use bags or bottles, to take away food in polystyrene shells, to waste and chuck and deny? Do we simply feel that the problem is so huge that whatever we do will be useless so why bother anyway.
Many know the story of the many starfish stranded on a beach after a fierce storm. A young boy seeing the need to return the starfish to the water, walked along throwing as many back as he could. Another beach walker observing the young boy said, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one.” (adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 — 1977) Someone who has made a difference here in Kuwait is Bashar Al Huneidi. In 2017, Bashar and two friends also in kayaks made a sea trip, Kayak4Kuwait, from Kuwait to Oman.
Their aim was to raise awareness of the need for greater protection for the marine environment, to help people to understand the absolute necessity of safeguarding the GCC coastlines, of keeping the fish unpolluted by ingesting plastic and by completely ceasing to use the ocean as a garbage receptacle. “Some people see the sea and think nothing of it,” said Mr Al Huneidi, “they think it’s a dump yard. But the sea is alive, it’s a creature and it’s giving us life.”
On their journey, the three kayakers noticed some parts of the Gulf which were pristine and thriving with clean sea life; however, far too many other places were swamped in the detritus of human thoughtlessness and waste. “Fishermen and sea goers of these regions compare what it was like 30-40 years ago; they know who is responsible for the damage and who needs to make it right”. Most of us are unlikely to make a long fact-gathering kayak trip to help stop the pollution of the world but each of us can and must make a difference if we want to leave any sort of planet for our children, their children and all future generations.
So, what can we do here in Kuwait? Reusable shopping bags must replace our use of plastic ones. If we should ever forget and have to use plastic ones, we can pack our own shopping into the least possible bags at the store. We can ask our supermarket managers to use far fewer bags. We can and must outlaw single-use plastic bottles or straws from our lives. Re-useable water containers are available for purchase everywhere.
Metal or paper straws can be used instead of plastic ones. For various fresh produce, or take away food, we can take our own containers to the store and request that they fill those. Save water: ask yourself — do I really need to take a half hour shower when a few minutes would do? Does the road really need to be washed along with the car? The most obvious one of all is to take home our rubbish when we picnic anywhere. Who wants to sit on a filthy beach amongst the cans, the chicken bones, the discarded cups and plates? These are mainly the Thou Shall Nots (and only the tip of the ice-berg) but what of the positive things we can do? We can plant flowers that will attract bees — we must be aware of the scary lowering of bee populations as whole apian communities have become polluted by insectisides and other poisons.
Walk when possible — leave your car at home, use a normal bike instead of an exercise machine. Get a clothes line and dry your clothes naturally — electric dryers are amongst the greediest energy users. Buy recycled products and don’t waste things. Sit outside and appreciate the fantastically varied bird life in Kuwait. Grow a real appreciation and feeling of responsibility for our planet.
So, in my mind this Ramadan, when our thoughts turn to family and love and preserving what is beautiful and precious to us, let’s have a thought for our beautiful earth and its Creator. We can no longer plead ignorance, we can no longer in good conscience not take all possible steps to help reverse the terrifying trend of desecration and pollution. Let’s bring back the pristine coastlines and beaches that were once enjoyed and cared for. We can do it if we all take care of our own corner and encourage others to do likewise. Let’s make a difference. Ramadan Kareem
By Harriet Bushman Music Director