Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When Shit Happens Turn It Into Gold

Shit Happens!
I’ve never thought much about the expression, ‘Shit Happens’ until last week when I visited an Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka.

The saying, ‘Shit Happens’ has seemed unrefined and coarse when I’ve seen it on a bumper sticker or T-shirt. We want to dress up the unattractive and sweeten the unpalatable—to call a stench an ‘obnoxious effluvium’ or label the brown stuff ‘sewerage’ or ‘excrement’.

‘Shit Happens’ could be the motto at the Sri Lankan elephant sanctuary at Pinnewala. There were about 65 elephants at this farm and we had to watch very carefully where we walked.

At feeding time the pachyderms consumed truck loads of leaves and as the activity started at their rear ends one person quoted a statistic from his travel guide saying that elephants eject raw material from their ‘back door’ on the average sixteen times a day!

Yes, ‘Shit Happens!’ Rotten things are thrown at us in life with remarkable regularity. Foul things confront us in surprising ways. Unwelcome happenings are inevitable and there’s nothing to be gained by calling them anything but ‘shit’.

After feeding time the keepers marshaled their animals for the march of the elephants, across the main Colombo-Kandy highway and down a street where the shops on either side keep a shovel handy to clean up the crap after the elephants plop their way to the river.

Poop or Paper
As we watched the elephants drink and bathe we noticed a shop window with the sign, ‘Poo Paper’. This business sold writing paper, photograph albums and diaries created out of elephant refuse. Some enterprising people had seen value in what others had shoveled away.

A nearby paper workshop had a diagram on the wall that charted the progress from the consumption of fiber, to the pulping in the stomach, right to the delivery of fresh dollops of dung which are ready made for the manufacture of paper.

The treasured turds are dried in the sun and boiled to make reams of high-quality stationery with an artistically-textured finish.

If you want to select a different texture or colour you simply change the elephant’s diet, adding ingredients such as tea, paddy husks or onion peel.

Supplying Paper and Truth
Poo Paper isn’t a novelty stationery item and it isn’t unique to Sri Lanka. It is providing an important source of income as the dung transformers supply paper to customers such as the Colombo Hilton, Sri Lankan Airlines and the Bank of Ceylon. Even more than providing money, the paper is communicating important messages about animal conservation and how life’s unwanted circumstances might be transformed.

Mind Shift
It takes an innovative mind to look at dung and see gold. It requires a creative attitude to move from exasperation when you’re sweeping elephant shit to the excitement of viewing this animal as a mobile paper factory.

When bad things are dropped on us, the genius is to reflect long and hard on these very incidents we want to shovel away in order that we might see how they can be transformed into material that we treasure.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: “The treasured turds are dried in the sun and boiled to make reams of high-quality stationery with an artistically-textured finish.”