Posted on May 06 2019
In The 21 Balloons, the classic children's story by William Pène du Bois, Professor William Sherman, a retired math teacher, builds himself a basket house that he hopes to live in for a year while flying around the world in a hot air balloon.
His plans are foiled by a hungry seagull, and he is forced to crash land on the island of Krakatoa where he discovers riches beyond his imagination and a group of eccentric expat Americans living in secret luxury. When the volcano erupts and the Krakatoans must flee their paradise, Professor Sherman finds himself an international celebrity. He tells his story to the assembled crowds in his hometown of San Francisco, and then announces that despite his newfound wealth and fame he plans to rebuild his basket house and ascend once more to the skies.
This story could be read as fun, speculative adventure fiction about the lure of the unknown, but we prefer to see it as an ode to the lure of basket living.
We love living with baskets in our home, but we didn't know people could actually live in a basket house until we saw these beautiful images of the basket houses, or mudhif, of Iraq.
Located at the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, just where the Bible locates the Garden of Eden, this land was until relatively recently lush and teeming with fish and wildlife and plenty of good, clean water. Half a million people lived within these 3000 square miles of wetlands in the 1950s.
Known as the Venice of Mesopotamia, the entire ancient floating community of the Ma’dan people was essentially destroyed by Saddam Hussein's targeted campaign in the 1990s. After being forced to flee their traditional home, some people have started to return, but despite being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, the area is once again in danger of being destroyed - this time by dams in Turkey and Iraq.
As a symbol of the traditional generous hospitality of the Ma'dan, one of these newly rebuilt mudhif is functioning as a guest house, which means it should be possible to visit the Venice of Mesopotamia in person one day soon.
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