Tag Archives: trash

Signs of Cultural Adaptaion…

…or lack there of.

When I get home at the end of the day, I typically empty my pockets onto my desk so that I might pick the contents up and pocket them again for the next morning. Since coming to Kenya I have noticed that my pockets are oftentimes filled with trash. That’s right, honest to goodness trash. Ok, maybe not honest to goodness, seeings how I am not carrying around used baby diapers (they are called pampers here, fyi), but instead the trash takes the form of plastic bottle cap wrappers, Safaricom cell phone credit top up cards, and candy wrappers (ok, maybe there were candy wrappers back in the States as well…).

I take this as a sign of a lack of cultural adaption on my part. Walking around the city, it is not uncommon to just see people throw things in the street… or out the bus window… or on the ground walking through the park…. or at your face (ok, it was a soccer ball, once, in the back of the head, but still!). I just can’t do it. For the longest time I had a huge collection of plastic water bottles. I searched and searched the Internet, asked my friends in development, and the best re-use of plastic water bottles included: using them again as a bottle of sorts (holy crap, genius!), using them to aerate plants (NYS does this when it plants trees), and possibly hang them from a string and use them as bird feeders (I am not feeding birds, as that might convince them that i want them around; stupid hornbills).

The reason why I can’t dispose of my trash? In the cities, very few places have rubbish bins to just toss things out. Luckily in Mombasa Safaricom sponsored rubbish bins along Digo Rd, which is nice, although they are also a one stop source of food for the street people at night :/, and they are few compared to the size of the city. At NYS, there is only one trash bin that I know of, and it’s the little wicker paper-trash basket in my computer lab. Otherwise, everything just gets burned.

I put things in my pocket thinking that if I bring it home I can do something about. But I can’t. We just burn things here too. Trying to educate people that burning plastic can be bad for their health, to which they agree and understand, is a futile effort because convincing people of the need for centralized trash disposal simply raises the inevitable, "so you will pay for it?"

It’s a tough call. I would love to do some research into the history of landfills in the USA and see what prompted our obsession with trash collection. Maybe there are some hints there at what could possibly catalyze a cultural attitude change towards the whole situations.

Of course, to single this out as a Kenyan thing would be to err greatly on my part. We find inappropriate ways to dispose of our trash in the States (and the West) as well, it just happens at a different level of abstraction. In our case, toxic chemicals and e-waste.


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