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Kenya: Flip-Flotsam
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Kenya: Flip-Flotsam
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Good Fortune: Silva

People from wealthy industrialized nations see flip-flops as cheap and disposable. But in Kenya, much-loved "pata-patas" are repaired, reused, and recycled—but never wasted. The film follows the long life cycle of this colorful footwear, a story full of resourcefulness, enterprise, and creativity.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Filmed along the coast of Kenya, East Africa
TITLE
In association with Kenya Wildlife Service and WWF, Kiunga Marine Reserve
VOICEOVER
This is the beach where the flip-flops come at the end of their flip-flop trip. But where does a flip-flop trip begin? The floor of a flip-flop factory? On the shelf of a flip-flop shop? Or the foot of a flip-flop fan? And what snaps the strap of each flip-flop that finds its flip-flop fate? A flip too far, a flop too fast, or a slip that flapped it back? And what does the sea say when she sees another flip-flop fall? "Oh flip-flop and flotsam, fair and foul, I'll freely float you all?" But is a flip-flop trip really finished once the waves wash them up on the shore? Or could the beachcombers bring them back to life, turning flotsam into something worth much more?
TITLE
Flip-Flotsam
VOICEOVER
Flip-flop trips are beginning the world over, in huge numbers every day. And nowhere are they more prolific than here in East Africa, where the coastal city of Mombasa alone is the origin of 20 million pairs a year. The production process is simple, but requires many hands. Originally, the ancient footwear was made of wood, but now strong, synthetic rubber meets the need. In various sizes, one by one, the soles are stamped out, each with three holes for the straps.
VOICEOVER
Bagging up, sacking up, and stacking up. Ready for action, they take to the streets where the demand is high, but the supply is always a step ahead. The market is flooded with choice and the styles change endlessly as the brands compete for a foothold in the industry.
SIGN
Umoja: Quality Rubber Products. Kiboko Yao
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A Treat to Your Feet
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Bata. Beware of Imitations: Look for the Bata label
VOICEOVER
Some even design their own home-brands; using old car tires, they create the ultimate road-worthy footwear. But, whatever the style, the business is big, and Mombasa is just the beginning. Eighty thousand pairs leave the town each day, heading all over the African continent. But there's one particular place where flip-flops really make their mark.
TITLE
Kenya, Lamu
VOICEOVER
Lamu. A small island of Swahili people whose vibrant culture grew from the African and Arabian trading legacy a thousand years ago. The traditional sailing dhows are still central to their way of life, and much time is spent at the water's edge. Nothing could suit the seafarers better than this cheap, cheerful, and amphibious footwear. Known here as pata-patas, they are a basic necessity for all and have become an integral part of Swahili dress. Without any cars on the island, the Lamu feet are hard working, and, at market time, the pata-patas are out in full swing. Worn by all ages, slipping into all sizes, they resound throughout the town.
VOICEOVER
The meandering route to Madrasa, the Islamic school, is a well-trodden one, but, in keeping with Swahili culture, the footwear seldom gets beyond the doorstep. Whilst the children learn the Koran, their flip-flops, cast aside, lie in wait. Five times a day from mosques all over town, the call to prayer rings out bringing all Muslim men together. Well-accustomed to the routine, the flip-flops know their place. Being left somewhere particular avoids getting lost in the crowd. Older ones are molded to the shape of the feet they wear, the colors and patterns a measure of the weight they bear. Back on the streets, and each on a journey of their own: familiar paths, though no two souls are the same. Worn in, worn out, and in need of some attention, they go to a place where, at last, they are welcomed beyond the doorstep.
VOICEOVER
Lamu cobblers seldom make shoes, but mend them, and flip-flop maintenance has become their specialty. Well cared for by the cobblers, these will all walk again, but others, beyond repair, lie rejected with the rest of Lamu litter. In May, a change in the monsoon winds brings stormy weather to Lamu, and all the year's rain falls in just a few weeks. The downpours flush the town clean, and the cast-offs make their break. Footloose and fancy-free, they're headed for the open sea. Much of the town's rubbish ends up in the sea, and flip-flops are no exception. Buoyant and resilient, they are swept along by the powerful ocean currents. There is no telling how long their journey will be, or where it will take them, as they join the fleet of flotsam. Flip-flotsam. And so begins their voyage in this mysterious new world.
VOICEOVER
Skimming the surface and riding the waves, they brush shoulders with other ocean wanderers of all shapes and sizes. For the pelagic drifters the journey is effortless, but for a tiring long-distance swimmer, what better find than this? Seaborne for years, the flotsam is put to good use, and many an ocean hitchhiker gets on board. Anchored firmly to the straps and reliant on their seaworthy host, this colony of goose barnacles feeds from the nutrient-rich surface waters. Adopting marine fashions, they can put on quite a display.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
For some this may be a trip to far-off lands -- for others, eventual integration into the ocean's endlessness. But along the remote northern coast of Kenya, converging oceanic currents bring trash ashore with tidal regularity. When the wind is strong, and the tide is high, the coastal release valves kick in, and all that floats, flies. Flung back onto dry land, exposed to the scorching African sun, they begin to curl and crumble, and, sitting out the seasons, they blend into the surroundings. For these noddy terns, roosting on this craggy coral coastline, finding a comfortable perch can be difficult. Though, amidst the crowd, someone has found a solution.
VOICEOVER
But it's in the bays and along the beaches that most of the litter comes ashore. The resident ghost crabs scavenge for nutritious arrivals, dodging the coastal clutter, which, at every tide, clearly leaves its mark. Day after day, high tide after high tide, the debris chokes the shoreline, and the supplies will just keep coming. On this long island beach, the tide has offered up something a little more interesting. The well-traveled goose barnacles have been left high and dry, and the beachcombers know a good thing when they see it. Whilst the barnacles' protective shells served them well at sea, they are no defense from the powerful claws of ghost crabs.
VOICEOVER
But the crabs are not the only beachcombers. And, in these hands, a whole new colorful adventure lies ahead. These are the Bajuni people of Kiwayu Island. Their lives are finely tuned to the cycles of the moon and the ocean. After every high tide they search the flotsam for good firewood and other useful pickings. And, of late, this includes flip-flops too, gathered, however ragged, their full potential still untapped.
VOICEOVER
Kiwayu Island has long been home to the descendants of seafaring Arabs and wandering Somalis, drawn here by the freshwater so scarce on this coastline. Now part of the Kiunga Marine Reserve, remote and unspoiled, this hardy community live off the land and sea. While most men fish or tend livestock, women are making-do with flip-flops. With no electricity on the island the driftwood fuels their stoves, whilst the flip-flops fuel a new cottage industry.
VOICEOVER
In the midst of this closely-knit village of 500 people, skilled hands are bringing about change. The flotsam is free, the tools are cheap, and the women, mostly housebound with little means of earning a living, are resourceful and productive. Amidst their daily jobs, more and more of them are fashioning the rubber as part of a day's work. The pata-patas, now elevated from castoffs to a valued resource, get to show their true colors once more. Inspired by their rich marine environment, the islanders transform the flotsam into new and vibrant life forms. Initially the carvings were pieced together with Acacia thorns, but the crafting techniques have evolved, and the production line keeps churning them out.
VOICEOVER
It was the children who originally inspired the recycled creations. Hungry for toys, beach trash can provide good substitutes, and flip-flop models have long been in production. The older boys carve intricate flip-flop replicas of the dhows all around them, and set sail with an old plastic bag. Such creative recycling is an old habit here, but, with the support of conservation organizations, this flip-flop art has made its way into distant markets. Loaded up in dhows, the flip-flops, transformed, begin yet another journey. They leave the quiet shores, to be taken back where their epic adventures began.
TITLE
Kiwayu, Lamu, Mombasa -- Kenya
VOICEOVER
Put on sale at craft markets across the country, the flip-flops once again display their bright colors. Brought here by one of the craftswomen, the eco-friendly creations and their unusual origins capture the imaginations of all. The business is good, so completing the cycle as trash, turned into craft, becomes cash. The market, and all it leaves in its wake, has brought to the resourceful beachcombers a valuable trade, precious assets, and their own way forward. And all this, because theirs is the beach where the flip-flops come at the end of their flip-flop trip.
TITLE
[end credits]