When first reading the poem ‘Rinse and Repeat’ by Mark Ford, I was so confused. The first and second line of each stanza of the poem seemed to have to relation to each other at all. So I decided to read the first line of each stanza first, then followed by all the second lines, and it actually makes more sense. This is how it would go:
The Zabbaleen left drought-stricken rural Egypt for Cairo in the 1950s.
They brought their pigs, which they fed with the city’s discarded scraps and peelings.
Soon the zabbaleen had evolved into a vast, informal garbage team.
Young Zabbaleen scavengers attend a school called “Spirit of Youth”.
“spirit of youth” is sponsored by a manufacturer of bottles of shampoo.
Sorting and studying empty shampoo bottles, young Zabbaleen learn to read and write.
Our unique formula helps conditions and smooth damaged hair.
Drench with water, then massage deeply into scalp and roots.
There’s more to life than hair, but it’s a good place to start.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the delicious smell.
Boost and volumize lifeless hair by removing dirt and debris that weigh hair down.
Rich in essential oils. If product gets into eyes, rinse well with water immediately.
If we look at the poem like this, it tells us a story about the Zabbaleen, and also about something that is found behind an empty shampoo bottle that Zabbaleen’s learn to read and write. I don’t really know why Mark Ford didn’t just write it this way if this was what he really wanted to tell us. Perhaps he wanted to make us confused, and through our confusion, illustrate that the Zabbaleens could only write those 6 lines of shampoo advertisement, which probably would not help them much in any way.
Another way to look at the poem, would be to see the contrast between the Zabbaleen and the potential buyers of the shampoo. The Zabbaleen are from a ‘drought-stricken’ place, while the shampoo users would probably have enough money to ‘drench (their hair) with water’ and the Zabbaleen were evolving into a ‘garbage team’, while users of shampoo could enjoy life and ‘enjoy the delicious smell’ of the shampoo they were using. We can see that the Zabbaleen are very poor and are ‘scavengers’ who can only afford to go to school because it is sponsored by the owner of the shampoo company. From here, maybe the poet is also trying to tell us that if we should always look out and try to help the less fortunate people in the world. Like the shampoo manufacturer, he is able to provide a service to both the higher end of society by producing the shampoo they enjoy, and also the lower end of society by sponsoring the young Zabbaleens a basic education even though it is just providing them with some shampoo bottles to learn from, It is a start none the less. He exemplifies the message that we should do our part, no matter how small.