Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Story of Trash

Ah, home -- such sweet memories. The beauty of the sunset from our fourth-story apartment in Houston... the taste of delicious Texas barbeque... the feeling of togetherness that accompanies a midnight Teahouse run... the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies... and most of all, the sight of that glorious trash chute.

Wait, what?

You heard me. I miss that trash chute almost as much as I miss carpets, almost as much as I miss driving -- almost, even, as much as I miss frappucinos. ("Darn, she's serious...")

Trash is something that gives me a headache almost daily here. First of all, I am one of very few people in my neighborhood who produce any trash at all. And my muzungu trash is apparently much more fascinating than other people's trash.

Here's how the system is supposed to work: I generate trash. Weekly, I collect this trash and throw it in the communal trash pit along with everyone else's trash. After some time, all the trash in the pit gets burned. Acabou.

I tried that system. Here's what happened: I generated trash. I collected it in a small plastic baggie in my house. About three times a day, neighborhood kids would look in my door, see the trash and say "Estou a perdir lixo." (Can I have your trash?) I tried to tell said children that playing with trash is not a good habit. They smiled and nodded, "Yes, Professora, of course." When the bag was full, I dutifully toted it to the pit and thew it in. As I walked back to my house, a horde of children ran past me to the trash pit, jumped in and immediately started taking everything out and looking at it. For the next two hours, I had kids coming up to my door and having conversations like this:

Kid: Professora, what's this?
Me: Garbage.
Kid: But what WAS it then?
Me: Mac and Cheese. Where did this come from?
Kid: What's Mac and Cheese?
Me: It's a food.Were you looking through my garbage?
Kid: How much does it cost?
Me: I don't know. My mom sent it. Didn't I tell you to leave my garbage alone?
Kid: How much did it cost to send it?
Me: I don't know. Do you remember promising me that you wouldn't rifle through the trash?
Kid: Can I have some Mac and Cheese?
Me: No.
Kid: Then can I have some money?
Me: No.
Kid: Can I at least have a cookie?
Me: Do you see any cookies in my pockets? Go home! Stop rooting through my trash!
(Child proceeds to drop the trash in question and run away, leaving the trash back in my house where I didn't want it.)

Needless to say, after several dozen of these incidents, including one very awkward conversation about an empty tampon container, I was left with a quintal full of boomerang-garbage (refused refuse?) and the distinct impression that the system didn't work. So I came up with a new one.

Currently, I have three-pronged Garbage Disposal Plan.

For ordinary garbage (i.e. Benny wrappers, empty xima bags, and other items that Mozambicans consider everyday items) there is a trash bag in the living room. Once a week or so, my neighbor's kids will come over and ask me if they can "throw away my trash". I say yes, fully realizing that they are just going to go root through it to see if there are any interesting things in there that they can play with. (There aren't.) I figure that they're going to go through it either way, so I might as well get some free domestic help out of the deal. I've told them if my garbage ever winds its way back to my front porch, I will never let them take out the trash again. So far, boomerang-trash has been kept at a minimum.

For gross garbage (i.e. rotting food, used tissues, etc) that I do not want children playing with, there is a "compost bucket". I use the term compost very lightly here. Disposal of this bucket requires waiting until everyone has gone to bed (around 9 pm), and then sneaking out the back porch and dumping the bucket's contents over the fence. The goats immediately come and start eating everything. By morning, the evidence is gone! You see, the goats are my accomplices now. (Alternative option for extreme trash: Throw it down the latrine.)

And finally, for special garbage -- that is, American garbage, or anything that would just raise too many questions, there's a separate plastic bag in my bedroom. These items are collected over a week or two, and then disposed of in the nearest garbage can, which happpens to be in Tete City. Yup, when I go shopping on weekends, I leave Mavudzi-Ponte with a backpack full of garbage, carry it 60 kilometers into the city, and dispose of it ninja-style in a secluded trash can there. (I bet the little beggar kids in the city talk about the magical trash can by the bank that always has fascinating stuff in it on Fridays.) I return to the village with a backpack full of groceries. I like to think of it as the Trash Cycle -- kind of like the Water Cycle, but less eco-friendly.

I never thought I'd have to think so much about trash.

Actually, I am a little tired of thinking this much about trash. When the new year starts, I'm going to buy a big metal bucket and just burn my own darn garbage once a week. Problem solved.

1 comment:

  1. Your "Trash Cycle" idea made me laugh - but your "burn my own darn garbage" idea is what you should do. Maybe Santa will bring you a big metal bucket! Mrs. H.