Monday, July 25, 2011

"That's just the way it is, baby."

     After living here for almost a month, I had gathered a small amount of trash that I had no idea what to do with.  I asked Isa what I should do with the trash, and that led to a parade of my host siblings and I out to the trash heap across the dirt road that leads to our compound.  As I started to dump the contents of the black plastic bag, I watched my brothers' and sisters' eyes light up.  They quickly dove for the plastic containers that had previously held my mosquito-be-gone bands, as well as the poppy packaging that surrounded the water filter I received from the Peace Corps.  What was I THINKING?!?! Even I loved popping those things!
     This scenario quickly made me readjust my ideas of trash.  If I have something that I don't want children to get their hands on like the floss picks I use every morning, then they are tossed in my pit latrine.  However, this again, makes you rethink the products you use.
     Unlike America, you actually see where the trash goes, because you put it there, and that's where it stays.  I had been holding onto a Coca-Cola can that Ida's husband brought as a selefando (traveling gift), because I couldn't make myself throw it on the ground.  Again, I asked Isa what to do with it, and in minutes it was transformed into a musical toy that made echo and crinkly noises. 
     When you walk the streets of The Gambia, you will see them littered with trash.  I watch, brokenheartedly, as our trainers will eat a piece of candy and without thinking throw the wrapper over their shoulder.  This is what they were brought up doing and is simply how things are done.
     I asked Ida, my LCF, to explain the trash system to me, and she told me that in the cities the municipal council is responsible for collecting trash.  They should collect trash at least once a week, but I've yet to see this or a trash can for that matter.  She also informed me that there is a National Environment Agency that has set fines for littering, but those are obviously not enforced. 
     In the villages, there is a designated pit for trash.  You can burn items that are flammable, but the rest just sits there.  I still have a couple of items sitting on my shelf that I haven't been able to place in the pit; an aluminum insect repellent spray can, and  a recyclable plastic pill case.  I'm hoping that while I'm adjusting to the Gambian lifestyle, I can help a Gambian or two make some adjustments in this area as well.  It only takes one...


  1. I distinctly remember my brother coming home from the PC. He was so aggravated by the amount of waste. I remember him getting upset with me for the amount of paper towels I used. It is a paradigm shift for sure (when you go there and when you come back)!

  2. I have been out of town and just spent some time catching up on all of your blogs. You are bringing us into your world through your wonderful descriptions of your new life! I am imagining the night sky in Gambia and a brand new twinkly dancing star shining brightly! Sending a long distance hug!