About a needle and a box

What does a needle have to do with an umbrella? Well it’s the box that comes between us and the answer to this question. I mean a mental box. And the thing is, it turns out it's a Western-kind-of-thinking box. All will make sense I promise, just click and let’s begin the needle story...

Digna and our basket

But first, the box.
Getting out of the box- I’ve been working on that for decades. And here I am in a continent where there is no box!!! There is no box to get out of.
The box is a Western invention.
There is no such thing here.
It means that books workshops and talks on how to “get out of the box”, deal with a western problem! Not a human problem. A problem created by Western education, Western mindsets, Western industries and economic powers.

So what about that needle?

סיפור המחט
shimbwe kilimanjaro 
that's the needle

Here’s the story:
When we finished weaving my first basket – and I’m saying we- because Digna was not bothered by the fact that I am her student who wants to practice weaving and finish the basket by my own self – she continued with the weaving when I was not there (because there is no box).

In short, when we finished weaving it was time to sew on the basket handles.

But then the needle broke. Digna called home to ask her son to bring something. And he came with an UMBRELLA!
A broken one, might I add.

I had a hard time understanding what was going on and tried to get an explanation about what does my basket have to do with a broken umbrella (I repeat- there is no box!!!).

The explanation was finally given… A broken umbrella is a valuable source of needles.
Who would have thought of that. Certainly not me (box)- when I’m in need of a needle I look for the needle store.

This is the superpower, one of many, of the African mind.
Amazing creativity and endless solutions that the boxed-in-mind is not able to conceive.

The needle head is exactly where the plastic cover of the umbrella is sewn to its skeleton. The other end is cut off and then sharpened – and here we have a needle!
And no box.

Actually, the no-box was there from the first moment of our weaving lessons:

I asked Digna to teach me the traditional weaving of her tribe- the Chagga of the great mountain Kilimanjaro. In fact, our weaving lessons, and Digna herself, were already out-of-the-box. Or more to the point, no-box. Because traditional Africa has no box to come out of.

What do I mean?
Digna is a famous traditional healer – I later learned that people come to her from far away, not only from around the village as I first thought.

She also brews the Mbege, the tribal banana wine, and runs her own little bar in the red-green village that I love so much (Red is the mountain soil, and green is his lush vegetation).

She also weaves and does other crafts.

no-box. She has more than just one definition. More than one profession.

Western education wants us to choose a profession.
Since we are young we are asked- what do you want to be when you grow up?
And the answer is always one. Teacher? Doctor? Fireman?
With all our presumed freedom, to what extent do we allow ourselves in Western culture to be more than one thing? (More to come about this point, I have a feeling).

And about the way our weaving lessons went:

Between our sessions, Digna continued weaving what I saw from inside-the-box as my basket. While I thought that as the student, I had to complete it on my own.

Everybody around were involved in the learning process. The children tried to weave by themselves, the old women and men were reminiscing on childhood memories from the times before plastic baskets and mats replaced the weaved ones.

Because there is no box. And when there is no box, nobody would even think that these are MY weaving lessons, or that it’s MY basket.

I have so many more no-box stories

You know that little needle-like thing that comes with a new phone, and unlocks the sim compartment?
After it gets lost, because it’s too small, or here in Tanzania because objects flow naturally between people- there’s always someone who needs it- in the end you will be left without it.

At a moment just like that, when I needed the thing, which of course was lost, a friend looked at the ground and picked up a thin twig. Yes, you guessed it! Excellent for unlocking the sim…

Again, no box.

A needle for beading is made here from thin iron wire,

Strings are pulled out of car tires and sold in the market.

A wallet is also the end of the traditional kanga cloth where the money is tied up. I’ll write about all the other uses of Kanga some other time. There are so many!

Got cans and no can opener? Who knew that a knife also works? not me. I have a box. And so I want to go look for an opener in the stores (and it’s hard to find!).

I can go on and on…

But what I really want to say about the box – we’re used to buying everything in Western society. Every action has a dedicated device – just think for a moment about your kitchen and all the specific devices for every purpose in it, including the revolving thing for drying lettuce!

Everything is simpler here.

There is no box here. An umbrella is full of needles, a thin twig is both a toothpick and a sim’s extracting device. Everything is available around you – when there is no box.

The box is a Western-made problem

Western education teaches us from kindergarten age to put everything in boxes.

Is a cucumber a vegetable or a fruit?

Is a dog animal-vegetable-mineral?

Everything must be in its place, categorized and boxed.

And of course the western industry teaches us to buy everything, every need has its own dedicated tool. If I don’t have the very specific tool, I go to a very specific store to buy it. And that’s how we have a lot of very specific stores. And a lot of money is made thanks to box thinking.

If I sail on with it, it’s that easy to make very boxy people, and it’s easy to control boxy people. It is easy to teach us which box is good and which one is not. Which box is developed and which less so. And so on!

Without a box there is mental flexibility, creativity, and a lot less of “either this or that” and “that’s the only way it works”.
And that’s one of the many things I learn from my sisters and brothers here, and I hope we can all learn.


Think about it, outside the box 🙂

That's how it all started

Read the whole wonderful story of my weaving lessons with Digna, and really with the whole community, in her little bar on the Kilimanjaro.



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About Me

Hi, I’m the Wandering Goddess.

My life in a nutshell – B.A. in anthropology, a life changing one year journey in East Africa at 26, followed by Shamanic initiation, tribal wisdom & femininity studies, then, giving in-depth workshops for women and girls, tribal storytelling to children… And at 50, coming back to my Mama Africa to bring you more inspiration on our original way of life.

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