Friday, January 18, 2013

Trashy Town

I suppose we have been surprised by a few little things in Africa.   And by little things, I mostly mean flies. They are everywhere. Worse than ever. I am sure to do a blog post on them at some point, but the other shock is quite related...

I will concede that it's absolutely unfair to judge my African experience according solely to the standards I've been raised with.  But it has been hard, and just plain shocking, to come from the US to a more natural environment like Africa and find twenty times the garbage.  I romanticized the natural beauty of Africa before arriving, I will admit.  And although the continent has delivered above and beyond when it comes to beautiful scenery, I was surprised to find that that landscape was littered with piles of trash and heavy doses of strewn-about litter. The experience has reminded me greatly of my transition of moving from Iowa to the Bronx.  This (previous) country bumpkin needed acclimation and desensitization to get used to the litter found in everyday life.  Who knew that moving to Africa would be an even more challenging transition in the exact same way. Garbage has been a huge disappointment.

But the trash problem makes sense.  There are few resources for garbage collection outside of city limits; many villages are still working on water and power, let alone luxuries like garbage removal. I can't help but think that when you have more pressing things to worry about, it would be so very easy to pile up refuse.  And having so little, I can imagine it being hard to permanently burn or bury anything at all.  Education and proper resources seem to be crucial to this problem, which makes it impossible to judge too harshly.

Here's how we deal with our personal garbage: Our "rubbish bin," as it's called, is set just outside of our gate by the gardener every morning.  Ninety-five percent of the time, it's brought back in at the end of the day, being relocated to avoid the inevitable stray dog or wild critter that would tear it apart.  The garbage truck comes once every week or two, on an unnamed day only it knows, to pick up the one waiting bag we often have. Like all of the neighborhood households here, in addition to the rubbish bin, we have a compost pile, a burn pile, and a random place that large junk like broken toilets and barbed wire is tossed into to live for all eternity. (These piles are usually found next to staff's cottage, where their children play.) There are a few city dumps you can pay to dump large items.  They are notorious for their stench and vermin.  Unlike American landfills that follow a strict covering regimen daily to deter these problems, the landfills here see few guidelines.

A few months ago our neighborhood had a large litter clean-up at the end of one of our streets.  Volunteers picked up over 30 bags of trash in one tiny half block, improving the littered field exponentially. And the volunteers, "almost entirely foreign" my local volunteering friend told me, should have been proud. It was beautiful.

For a week.

Driving past it now is heartbreaking; it looks the same as it ever did.  No wonder knowing locals did not show up in flocks to what most describe as "a toilet."

Here are some examples of how trash is disposed here:

Just next to a village north of the city.  Garbage, a burnt out car, and stray dogs make the struggle of life a little more visible.

Apologies for the bad photography.  Being discreet instead of gawking is tough if you slow the car down too much! Ahead on the right: another garbage pile on a side of the road.  But random litter finds its home on practically every meter, as well.

Two stripped cars spend the rest of their days sitting in the sun.  Children eventually play in these tetanus shots, adopting them as playground equipment.

This litter pile sits next to the entrance of a village. 

On the road next to our home. 

Jonas has a book called Trashy Town that I think of every time we're outside of our own walls. "Dump it in. Smash it down. Drive around the Trashy Town!"  Oh, Beautiful Africa.  This is not what I want for you!