ENVIRONMENT Feed

We build a mudhif

Mudhif building sarah and mohannad
Your correspondent joined U.S. military veterans, Iraqi refugees and other volunteers from the community to break ground on Memorial Day and start work on a traditional Iraqi structure dating back thousands of years called a “mudhif“ on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, Philadelphia. More photos here. Watch a video about the first day ceremony and building start of an Iraqi mudhif.

“Al-Mudhif” is the brainchild of Seattle-based artist Sarah Kavage and Mount Airy based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi who, after attending a lecture Kavage delivered a year ago at Moore College of Art during which she displayed a photo of a mudhif, suggested they build one! It is, perhaps, the first in the United States. The project, sponsored by the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River, is one of fifteen site-specific installations, six already completed, extending as far north as the Delaware Water Gap and as far south as Wilmington, west to Reading and east to Trenton, all within the Lenapehoking watershed, the home of the native Lenape people.

Building a mudhif, which your correspondent can attest to firsthand, is overlaying and binding together reeds into long columns. These columns are then placed in 32-inch deep, 2-foot wide holes to provide the vertical supports. They are then bent toward one another to form an arched roof. In upcoming days, mats will be woven and set in place to form a thatched roof. Air and sunlight will come through lattice panels to be constructed and attached. Adjacent to the structure, Kavage’s husband, Rob has been busy installing the structure for a large bench for seating and a view from just outside the mudhif.

On day one, we divided into two large teams- the first tasked with digging 10 large holes, 5 opposite 5 to form the length of the rectangular structure. I opted to work with volunteers assembling the columns. We used phragmites, reed grasses, harvested previously. (A non-native form of phragmites is considered invasive and it is likely a plus-side of the project was some invasive control)

From the sidelines, an older man from Iraq who went by “Kam” vividly recalled his father’s large mudhif in Nasriyah near the Euphrates River. His family would welcome guests and travelers to rest, stay, eat and drink coffee or tea in the mudhif, set apart from the main home. At that time, Kam said, people traveled distances by horse and would go from mudhif to mudhif to rest along the way.

A younger man, Hadi al-Karfawi, who left Iraq at the age of nine spoke of his strong emotional connection with the mudhif his grandfather, a tribal leader, had built . As a boy, he was tasked with preparing and serving the strong coffee to guests. He absorbed that the mudhif was community place where people would come to resolve disputes. Everyone was given a chance to speak without interruption. The disputes might be inter-tribal or among families  of one's own tribe.

As your correspondent spoke with al-Karfawi, Mohaned Al-Obaidi, the lead builder and Yaroub’s brother, was having some trouble bending the first two columns of reeds to form the arch at the entrance. Traditionally, al-Karfawi said, the reeds, of a different variety in use here, might be more moisture-filled, perhaps more freshly cut, which would make the bending easier. (The arch is not going to be the traditional rounded one; Yaroub has designed it to be more angular  so winter snow will more easily slide off and not weigh down the roof.) al-Karfawi spoke of helpers being divided into groups, just like us, with specific tasks and he demonstrated how he and others would stomp on mud mixed with hay to form the “cement” to applied inside the roof. He had brought along two of his young children and, as the project was about to get underway, they stood by with child-sized shovels at the ready.

In his opening remarks, Al-Obaidi spoke of how emotional this undertaking has been- recreating a traditional community structure from his homeland. He suspected many of us have only associated Iraq until now with war and suffering. He hopes this welcoming mudhif will bring about a better understanding of Iraq’s ancient and rich culture.

The grand opening of the mudhif is planned for June 24th and according to a Schuylkill Center blog many activities are planned. “We will activate the installation Al-Mudhif with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural encounters from June to October 2021.”

Your correspondent asks, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dispute resolution aspect of a mudhif could be "activated”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if representative native Lenape could settle ongoing claims in this mudhif with representatives of the long dominant immigrant community? Descendants of former slaves with descendants of former slaveholders? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Israeli and Palestinian representatives could forge a just and lasting peace in this mudhif? And isn’t it fitting that this peace and justice-making take place on land taken from the Lenape, now in the safekeeping of environmental non-profit, in a traditional structure of a people who themselves experienced recent devastation to their own culture- the swamp Arabs of Iraq? A structure built for community, hospitality and peace-making. Inshallah.

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More videos here

Building Al Mudhif - short version

Mudhif groundbreaking ceremony

Docent tells about Iraqi mudhifs and ancient Sumer

Schuylkill Center Director acknowledges land belonging to Lenape people at mudhif groundbreaking


Tabling at Brown's Shoprite for Earth Day

NN earth day tabling
On Earth Day 2021, a team from Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, a grass roots political organization, hosted an informational table inside the Brown’s ShopRite on Fox Street in Philadelphia. Spokesperson Merle Savedow explained, “What we’re doing is try to raise the awareness of how to stop climate change and promote responsible sustainable living” Signs like “There is no planet B” adorned a tri-fold display and on the table were earth friendly products such as reusable sandwich wrappers. Grocery patrons appeared pleased to receive free reusable Shoprite shopping bags. Along with the bags, the activists offered shoppers a flyer with a checklist of earth friendly actions on one side and notice of a rally happening nearby later in the afternoon. The rally goal was to get SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia to shut down the polluting fracked natural gas plant in the Nicetown neighborhood and switch to renewable energy sources. Watch video and interview of environmental activists tabling at a neighborhood grocery here.


Rainfall increases, basement waterproofing jobs too!

Cu waterproof basement

Pete Golascewski and a workmate from David Brothers Landscape Services brothers were about to clean off a lower wall of a house and patch and seal it after excavating a 3 foot deep trench alongside it. Water had been coming into the house. An engineer suggested the project to stop the infiltration. The trench will be filled with a clay soil which is less penetrable than the naturally existing soil. The soil will be put down in layers, sloping away from the house. The work crew will also install new window wells. Golascewski says these jobs have become ever more frequent in recent years because of very heavy rain falls. He doesn’t profess to be a scientist but nevertheless believes the heavy rainfalls contributing to the burgeoning demand for this type of landscape construction work can be attributed to climate change. Watch video interview of landscaper describing basement waterproofing construction job here.


Our water line gets switched to new water main

Pipe to attach exisitng connector water line to new water main
Thanks to the workers of Seravalli Contractors for putting in our new water main and for their patience in explaining the construction process

Nearly 9 AM this morning your correspondent went to the corner of Ardleigh Street and East Highland Avenue, the time the water was due to  cut off to all the houses on our block. They were making the switch from the new water main they had laid on Ardleigh Street to our existing water connector line beneath Highland Avenue. A foreman and the workers amiably indulged my questions and so I share what I learned.

The large crew was assembled working into tow teams on different sides of the intersection. First they took diameter measurements of the existing connector pipe now exposed lying 4 feet down. Excavation had preceded by a day or so. According to the foreman, connector pipes can range from 6 to 8 inches in diameter. I believe ours measured 8 inches. “Feeder” or distribution mains can measure 12 to 16 inches in diameter. ( Before excavation began, I saw large black pipes staged excavation along Ardleigh Street;  the ones farther south between Southampton Ave and Gravers Lane, appeared considerably larger than the ones, the next block up, between Gravers Lane and Highland Ave)

A worker then began abrading the existing connector pipe at the point it would be cut. Meanwhile another worker was sawing sections of new pipe to adjoin the existing connector pipe on or street with the main. Pipes are now made of ductile iron said the foreman because they are stronger and more durable than the existing cast iron pipes. He relayed that the stretch of Ardleigh Street north of Highland Avenue was more challenging to excavate because there were a lot of stones in the ground. This Wissahickon schist is commonly  seen in our 100 or so year- old homes. Your correspondent saw connector pipes being hoisted, removed then rehoisted into the trenches.  A pump was put into place to pump out any water that might accumulate during the process. I could not approach close enough to see the worker affix the collars to complete the pipe connections.

Farther down Ardleigh street, after the main had been laid, workers were replacing connections from individual houses along the street to the new main with three-quarter inch copper piping by snaking it through to the main. The workmen looked like prairie dogs popping up and down from the small pits outside each house by the curb. A worker said people may complain that their street gets dug up three separate times because they might not understand the the multi step process. Temporary, large stone asphalt is used at the preliminary stages before the final fill. When all pipe laying and connection work is done, a layer of sand will be poured on top of the pipe followed by a couple feet of soil. Then comes a layer of stones, then a layer of concrete and finally, the street is repaved with the a finer asphalt material and smoothed down with a roller.

I editorialize: for the customer, the only inconvenience is a few weeks of stepping around construction equipment and navigating some muddy streets. A City of Philadelphia Water Department postcard stuck in our door advised us that water would be shut off on December 22, 2020 from 9 am to 4 pm but in actuality, the water was shut off  well after 9  and restored much before 4. Considering the size of the project, interruption to our service was a mere few hours. The  true value of a consistent supply of clean water for our health, for our lives, is  far beyond the very modest water rates we pay. Rates are so low that some of us think nothing of watering our lawns water or filling our swimming pools with water that is good enough to drink!

Watch video here.

See photo slide show here.


Mount Airy Neighbors recycle Christmas trees

Xmax tree recycle chiipper
East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors jointly hosted a jolly Christmas tree recycling event this first Sunday after New Year’s at Upsala mansion. Dampness and near freezing temperatures didn’t keep people away. Car after car arrived with trees lashed to their roofs. A large, m ostly youthful contingent helped unload the trees and stage them for the chipper. Alex Aberle, president of WMAN and who lives at the mansion will use the chips in his his garden at the historic site. Recyclers were asked to donate five dollars towards the cost of renting the chipping machine. Any remaining proceeds will be split between the neighborhood groups. For those who didn’t make the January event, the Philly Goat Project at the Awbury Arboretum will welcome the trees for their goats to snack on. And the Streets Department has 13 tree drop-off locations, also. Your Jewish correspondent has a very large potted solstice evergreen he drags inside and then back out again at this time of year and hopes someone might resuscitate the rent-a- Christmas-tree drop off and pick up program initiated by a neighborhood high school science teacher some years ago. Watch video here


Alleging racism, Free Library staff protests to oust Board Chair

Protest free library board chair balija
White staffers of the Free Library of Philadelphia, in support of their Black colleagues, staged a protest outside the Chestnut Hill home of the Library Board Chair, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Pam Dembe, as part of a campaign to oust her for insensitivity and alleged racist comments and actions. In this video, a handful of Black employees watch from a corner across the street as the protesters hold signs and shouted chants such as, "When libraries are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!" Librarian Sunita Balija was one of the first to address the gathering of about 25 of her colleagues, who presumably had authorized time off from library work to attend the morning action. She excoriated the board chair, making a case for "The People vs. Pam Dembe" and running down a bullet list of factors to support the demand for her resignation. "Fact: Black staff are largely relegated to non-professional jobs including custodians, guards, and library assistants and therefore they earn seven-thousand, five-hundred, thirty-three dollars less than the median salary while White staff earn twelve-thousand more than the median salary." Watch video here.

Genovese library protest oust board chair

AFSCME Labor Union (District Council 47) shop steward and Free Libary of Philadelhia staffer Perry Genovese explains the protest outside the Chestnut Hill home of the Chairperson of the Library Board.

"I'm here today for the Campaign for a Just Philly Budget calling on Judge Pam Dembe to step down..this is a call being made in solidarity with the Concerned Black Workers of the Free Library who successfully ousted" now former Executive Director Siobhan Reardon. Genovese refers to disparaging remarks made by Dembe and widely reported in the mainstream media. "She doesn't get anti-racism." Genovese says the Concerned Black Workers wanted the protest action taken to Dembe's residence because they hadn't been listened to. Genovese says the black workers were given a slap in the face when the Chair only responded to a letter from white staffers to the Board on behalf of their black colleagues, whose original letter to the Board she had ignored.

Watch video here


Electrofishing the Wissahickon

Electrofishing

In a short time, aquatic biologists from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission netted hundreds of fish from the Wissahickon Creek just above the covered bridge - and then returned them to the water. Biologist Aaron Henning (center in photo) relayed that SRBC had won the contract to assess the health of the waterways in this region as part of a national study commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The day before, Henning, his teammate Matt Shank and Michelle Peck from Region III IEPA were working down on the Schuylkill River in the less scenic refinery area. Electrofishing entails putting a weak electrical current in the water through a rod, which actually attracts the fish Henning says, to momentarily stun them. This gives the biologists enough time to identify them by species, take measurements and, for some of the larger specimens, take plugs of tissue to test for PCBs and other contaminants. Henning showed off two large, American eels, a species that lives in fresh water but migrates to spawn in the ocean. The squirming pair were eager for release. More photos here

Watch video here


Deer advocate demands to know cost of deer cull

Deer advocate bridet irons
Your correspondent came across well-known deer advocate Bridget Irons sitting on a bench along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon getting ready to take off on her constitutional. Irons has been fighting against the deer cull in the Wissahickon woods for many years now. She related that she had written to Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart back in April asking that the financial costs of the deer cull be disclosed. She was encouraged when she soon heard back from First Deputy Kellan White who was to look into the matter but now, four months later, she still hasn't heard back. (According to the Controller's Office on August 15, 2019, White was still gathering the information) Aside from the contentious issue of whether the damage to the forest caused by the deer browsing on the under-story vegetation justifies bringing in sharpshooters each winter, Irons believes that the public has a right to know how much money city government is spending on the deer cull program. Your correspondent suggested that she may be able to retain a sympathetic pro bono lawyer to help deliver the information the public likely has a right to know. For this photo, Irons obliged your correspondent by striking the signature arms-up-in-the-air pose of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. ADDENDUM: From the Chestnut Hill online edition of May 18, 2018, "After 20 years, once-controversial deer cull is now routine": " These yearly efforts usually cost the USDA and the Parks and Recreation about $40,000 a year, an increased rate since the program’s start in
1999, [Parks spokesperson Barry] Bessler said."

Watch video interview of deer advocate who is asking Philadelphia City Controller for information about the financial costs of culling deer in the Park."


Burning weeds with propane torch

Joann Hyle uses a propane-powered weed torch to burn the weeds sprouting up between the bricks in the sidewalk outside her house. It doesn’t keep the weeds from growing back but she thinks it’s a better alternative to killing weeds with chemicals. Your correspondent didn’t press her about getting down on her knees and weeding by hand. (Germantown Avenue)

Weed burning Weed burn fire

Watch video of neighbor burning weeds with a propane torch and interview here


City workers grind down tree stump

Stump grinder
A severe storm earlier in the summer uprooted a large maple tree on our street and it fell on the roofs of our neighbors’ houses. Some weeks after the tree was cut down and removed, a city work crew and contractor Scott’s Tree Service arrived to grind down the stump. City worker Ed Jardell described how the stump is ground down in sweeping back and forth passes of the grinder’s large rotary blade. The machine takes off more or less two inches at a time depending on the species and hardness of the tree and whether there is any sponginess or rot. Watch video of workers grinding down tree stump and interview of worker describing process.