La Poubelle

Waste and conservation:

The way waste is dealt with here seems to be on two polar opposite sides of the spectrum.  As in many poorer nations, some things are recycled and reused and sometimes transformed into different objects altogether.  Bottles, for example, are never thrown out.  Liter bottles are reused by women who fill them with water and freeze them to sell them to drivers who want a cold but cheap drink.  Larger ten liter jugs I have seen reused by cutting off the top and putting a candle in to make a lantern that blocks the wind; kind of like a jack o’lantern but transparent.  Even individual families use the liter (or around that size) bottles to store homemade juices.  Glass bottles get recycled either by specific boutiques (which is like a corner store) or by the company.   Boutiques often ask you to drink what you have purchased and bring the bottle back- even the next day so that they can use it or receive the few cents they would get for recycling it with a larger company.  I don’t feel as bad for buying drinks from bottles here, because bottles have a long, long life.

But it’s as if bottles are the only trash that is dealt with in such a green manner.  Littering is like an epidemic and many of the streets are filled with it.  There are entire fields in some areas that seem to be designated as the trash fields.  Sometimes they burn the garbage to keep it down, and sometimes it just rots in its place.  When having a conversation with a Senegalese man my own age, he simply did not even understand why we, my friends and I, were wondering about the trash.  Our concern really did baffle him.  When he was asked why people littered so much, he asked why not.  When the issue of the health of the earth was brought up he simply could not see how the garbage could hurt the earth.  It seemed the same to him.  And when we tried even further to reach him by asking if it bothered other people he said it didn’t bother him, so why should it?  And to look around, it really doesn’t seem to bother anyone but those who aren’t used to it.  People walk by, though, around and on trash every day to wherever they are going and it is fine.  The smell of rotting, and worse, of burning of toxic chemicals is not uncommon.  I’m not even sure if there is an actual waste transport system because if there is, the government really needs to step it up because it’s not doing anything.  And in children’s’ classrooms that I have volunteered in, there are posters exclaiming ‘La terre n’est pas une poubelle!’ meaning ‘the earth/ground is not a trashcan!’  This is a good tactic to teach children of the long term repercussions- knowledge that seems to be lacking even in adults- but there are no alternatives.  There are not trashcans on the street like in Chicago or other US cities, so children are expected to carry their empty yogurt bags and such for long walks and during school?  That is a rather unreasonable request for a six year old, I think.  Garbage cans are even lacking in some households, save the kitchens perhaps.  It’s a rather sad phenomenon, this garbage issue, which is not only accepted by the culture, but in some ways is perpetuated.

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Filed under Sarai in Senegal

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