Reflecting on the experiences of co-creating Nubialin, and instigating a second Felucca Festival to further empower the community and deepen connections it’s difficult to know where to start the documentation process. The outputs were numerous as was the learning. I shall attempt to put some structure to the overwhelming quantity of insights and results of the organic processes used in the hope it may inspire others to duplicate and explore further.
This second action, built upon the actions from the first felucca festival and the relationships formed as a result. So let’s start with the importance of these.
Build deep, meaningful and longstanding relationships based upon mutual interests and co-dependance.
Mutual development is a long game, it is based on trust and aligned goals, all parties have something to learn and something to gain. Everyone must benefit, and there should be a long standing commitment to create something together.
With nubialin, my first act of commitment was my investing in a houseboat.
The project serves multiple functions: It signals my intention to live on the island for some time each year with my wife, demonstrating that our relationship with the local community is to be a long standing one.
Even though I may be gone for the summer, this financial and labour commitment indicates my return. The project itself helped to build trust, as well as contributing to the local economy.
The Houseboat uses local production techniques to do something new and represents a connection point with the local community (certainly with the felucca captains). Everything subsequently built on the boat (for example – solar water heating), can be copied in context, and also applied to land.
Life as provocation. When people witness the possibilities of living well with what they could easily replicate, this makes new ways of living available to them. Playing with cultural stereotypes and perceptions can also be used to positive effect (ie. if it’s good enough for the “rich foreigner” (itself a misconception), then maybe it’s good enough for me).
Together we have expanded the concept of living on the Boats to co-create the felucca hostel, which creates temporary accommodation spaces from the motorboats already shared/owned by the island community. I have made a modest investment, which I will derive a return on in future both financially and through use of the space for myself and friends. Because the investments made are personal, one must constantly be aware of the benefits one hopes to gain. This is not a charitable enterprise, this is a mutual life improvement enterprise. The better off the island is, the better our lives on it.
Making it personal for everyone you work with is critical, if they can’t see themselves and their passions in the project then its difficult to maintain energy and commitment. We actually combined our marriage celebration with the second festival, weaving our lives dreams and celebrations with those of our friends on the island and off.
Always be prototyping
Is it possible that Egyptians will pay to come and live and work to prototype a new way to live well for a month at a time? Will foreigners also be interested? Can we do this in less than 3 weeks preparation? Can we build a solar water heater for less than 200 EGP using local materials? Can we set up a shop without a shop keeper? Can we build a wireless network infrastructure? Can we use our wedding celebration as a means for social development?
The answer to all of the above is yes.
But actions are required to challenge assumptions. The answers to the above questions, will be discussed in more detail below.
It’s essential to convert thought into action quickly in order that the question can be truly understood. Prototyping helps transcend language and cultural barriers. It helps create a shared social object around which people can discuss what it possible. Actions give you something tangible you can then discuss as you do.
Create the opportunities and inspiration and let go
The festival was not planned or managed, instead we told stories about what we would like to happen, we created space for people to come a do what excited or motivated them.
Not everyone did something, but those who did, did so with incredible commitment to their chosen cause, working long into the night to complete their chosen actions. Such passion cannot be bought, it can only be inspired and nurtured.
We told stories, some of them came true.
Despite all of the numerous activities that took place at the festival and at nubialin in general, it never felt like work. When the sun was too hot people chilled, or jumped and swam in the Nile. Some days they took time off for tourism and exploration, it’s critical to work when you feel it and enjoy your time.
Traditionally schedules can disrupt this, abandoning a schedule ran a big risk of nothing happening, hopefully the below will demonstrate why you should question everything you think you know about getting things done.
Enough of the theory, as I told you previously it’s the actions that speak louder than words. So let’s get down to outputs. What came about from this unmanaged process, what actually happens when you let it flow?
Tiny Green Houseboat
Ashraf helped me get my houseboat built in less than 25 days. This taught me a lot about Ashraf’s skills as a project manager (a term he probably isn’t familiar with), and helped build trust between us. Normally boats will take months and be created on an adhoc basis, with buyers paying for work as the money becomes available – the same applies for furniture for apartments and other preparations for marriage.
Traditionally boats aren’t used in this way, so it already acts as an inspiration point. Each part of the boat uses locally available and where possible sustainable materials.
Mina has been making multifunctional furniture from old pallets. Local pallets from Aswan are Mahogany – so it’s possible to get good quality timber for 13 EGP (about 1.30 EU), planing the wood is approx 2 EGP (20 cents) – normal Mahogany price is 100 USD a kilo.
Additional furniture, benches and tables have been made for the nubialin space, and a local farmer has already donated a sheep for our wedding in exchange for some pallet doors, and some labor on his farm.
Solar Water Heater
The boat will serve as a demonstrator for different green technologies, we prototyped a solar water heater on the roof (myself and Mostafa Hussien from icecairo).
Within 10 minutes the water was piping hot. This allowed us to discuss with Ashraf the merits of such technology for his house. Given that his water heater costs him 500 EGP a month, the whole system would pay for itself in a month and save him money each month thereafter.
There is much work to be done on the Boat, which ultimately should function as a small closed loop system for living, providing food, water, energy, security and comfort for our small family unit.
The boat will be rented when we’re not there to generate income for ourselves and the space, as well as providing a basis for further workshop modules at nubialin.
Using the boats available to us and our collaborators we created a vision, and an invitation to join us. The first promotion received 36 applicants during a 3 week period. Whilst these numbers are small, the contacts were keen and socially motivated.
Young social entrepreneurs are prepared to pay for the opportunity.
Our first 4 participants moved to Aswan for a month and paid to live in our prototype space for a month at very short notice – interestingly we discovered short notice is actually the best time frame for the kind of people who will take such risks as spontaneous opportunities arise quickly, we will need to repeat the exercise as our interested members for April now find themselves elsewhere.
On the flip side new arrivals on the festival last days are still living in the space and may stay longer.
The space itself is able to expand and contract according to need, as each of the motorboats can function as a motor boat when no guests are present. This ensures that valuable resources can be applied in different ways to generate income streams for our collaborators.
The residents interact with the locals, creating an exchange of knowledge and opportunities for each to learn more of each others culture.
We leave the island with a functioning business and it’s first customers/residents/collaborators in place.
For the outputs below I will try to be brief as I hope each of the participants will also add their own reflections on their experiences.
Activities are continuing, the first of which is a project to build a Geodome.
Partnerships with local craftswomen
There are many local craftswomen on the island, traditionally they have worked in their spare time to produce products for tourists, however now tourism is suffering post revolution and the products have no market available in Egypt. In addition to this the prices charged by the local women (in contrast to some of the market traders selling cheap Chinese crap in the souk), are unsustainable as an independent business – they charge too little for their labour as it is a secondary income stream, this undervalues their work and makes it inviable as a means of income for those whose husband is not earning.
Yara and Lamia took 2 different approaches with the women, to begin to explore new business opportunities with the women. Lamia, brought a hammock from Cairo, having identified a market for them. She invested in some materials and showed them the pattern. The women took her shopping in the marker for materials and taught her about the local rates, and negotiating a good price.
Yara, brought some upcycled plastic products she sells in Cairo and ran a workshop with some local women. She prototyped a reusable shopping bag (to reduce waste on island), and set up collection points with her collaborators on the island.
What started as an orphaned idea on the Felucca Festival post, inspired Bill Zimmerman to take ownership of creating a Mesh network for the island. Together with a combination of international and local participants (James Lewis, Mostafa Rashid Ali, Mostafa Mahmoud, Kristian and ….), they hooked up nubialin with internet using a cantena to connect to Darsh’s wifi network which had formerly had difficulty reaching parts of the island due to trees in the way.
Bill’s planning to write a full post on this, so I won’t write more In the end we didn’t get the mesh, but we did get functioning internet and an accessible system that can be copied and applied to other parts of the island. This was a great legacy to leave the island with both in terms of knowledge and infrastructure.
Mapping the island Chris, Paris and Kristian, collaborated with Darsh and Fayzal, to secure a prime position on the island for a Map to help understand the islands resources. Pic with locations and key to follow.
Honesty Kiosk With so many people attending the festival, we wanted to ensure that the most available snacks were healthy and litter free. We set up a small “Honesty Kiosk” were people could pay for what they took. The kiosk made a 200 EGP profit from an initial investment of 300 EGP, and I am pleased to note from facebook is still running in our absence. In addition to this the locals took responsibility for setting up shop for other supplies to keep everybody happy and developed their own systems to ensure continuous supply at a fair price.
Zeinab and Yousra are creating a play to show the village, with puppets, voices and improvisation contributions from the children. Play is designed to educate kids about trash and show them the possibilities of what they can do with the discarded materials on the island.
Bridget Cousins and Chris Azis, did an instruments from trash workshop with about 60 kids, sadly no documentation exists, but I hope they can write something here later.
WOOFing with Waleed
The desire to get back to the land and to do good honest manual labour was strong at the festival, not only were many people working on Waleed’s farm everyday, milking cows, digging up the weeds and flooding the fields, but they are now working to set up a WOOFing page on the nubialin site to further enable and encourage others to come and visit. A farmers life here is hard work, but sharing the burden with those who are thankful for the opportunity to get back to the soil helps both with the physical labour and increases the social opportunities for the farmer to exchange ideas.
Drip irrigation demo This simple system, takes the drips from the zeer and directs them to the garden. By the time of the festival, we had onions, tomatoes and garlic sprouting, all grown from vegetable waste.
Wind/cycle energy demo
Together with Mo, Darsh and Darsh I made an experimental wind turbine from an old washing machine motor. It rotates too slowly even in strong winds, so I recommended a gearing system.
Or connecting it to a bicycle like below
Celebrating our commitment
The evening of our celebration we stepped off the boat not knowing what would happen. As the evening progressed food appeared, from different contributors and music filled the air. My mother had composed a song and together with the other musically minded participants sang so beautifully I cried with joy.
Leaving the island we leave a space richer in knowledge, infrastructure and most importantly relationships (friendships and bonds bridging cultures), a space which we will be happy to return to to work further with our new friends to improve each others lives together. The island likewise leaves us richer for the experience and all we learned.
Many others wish to return and are seriously considering moving back with us for the winter.
A little slice of paradise awaits our return, a paradise which our neighbours are encouraged to copy, and can do so easily. Amazing what you can do with good people, a good story and a few days 😉
Massive thanks and respect to everyone who was a part of this especially Rasta, Darsh, Tiger and the nubialin team, everyone mentioned above, and most of all of course Zeinab for your continuous support and willingness to live this crazy prototype life with me.
Finally, a lifetime of gratitude to Marton Kocsev for giving me the freedom to push the boundaries of Development and experiment with how to spread innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship. My contract may have expired long ago, but I remain committed to this cause.
It is truly humbling to see what we can all achieve together.