As a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1992-1995 in the south of Thailand I learned a lot about the cultural implications of shampoo consumption. I mostly taught English Monday through Thursday. But from Friday to Saturday, I was charged with the early “micro-lending” idea of creating small businesses with USAID money, including a shampoo company.
In the nearby Muslim Sea Gypsy communities, a surprising number of women’s groups wanted to start shampoo companies. So, I dutifully researched the idea in Bangkok and through trial and error, created an easy template for the handful of shampoo small businesses that I helped create during my last year of service. I truly enjoyed my time with these women and my memories with them combat the media images of the stern, victimized Muslim women. The Thai-Muslim women in my region would half-heartedly drape a bright, floral scarf over their head outside her house, but inside, the scarves came off. And they laughed and joked with abandon and without posturing.
They asked me why I didn’t get fat and if blonde women were blonde everywhere. They asked me to help them make money to keep their daughters in school. And they all wanted to start a shampoo company. In the grant applications, I would write that shampoo was one of the few things that they needed to buy on the mainland. By starting their own companies, they could be more self-sufficient and could refill containers from their co-op store thus reducing plastic waste in a place without recycling services. (The absolute same model as Plaine Products!) We made the shampoo from locally picked kaffir lime leaves, aloe and these enormous and unwieldy forty-pound plastic bags of soap that I procured in Bangkok and brought down by bus.
The Real Reason Shampoo is so Important in Thailand
The members of the Crab Island Shampoo Company eventually filled me in on the real reason for the shampoo eagerness. The custom of the Sea People is that the husband shampoos the wife’s hair before sex. These ladies all wanted to know who was going through shampoo the fastest. I laughed so hard I cried. And they laughed too. We rolled on the floor and laughed. These were very successful USAID programs and women generated a lot of income.
I am now a SAHM in Boulder, Colorado, shampooing my own hair. And I still giggle when I reach for the bottle of shampoo. We use Plaine Products because it’s a remarkable product and because I remember the what the ocean looks like without recycling nearby. Plastic doesn’t go away – so whatever your motive, I hope more and more people will adopt the idea of refilling their own containers and reducing waste.
We are delighted to host this reflection from Annika Powell Paradise, a Plaine Promoter, who is currently traveling around the world with her family. You can follow her travels on the blog, Travels with Paradise.