Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Setsetal

One of the things a naive European visitor to The Gambia (such as
myself) finds most shocking is the rubbish strewn by the roadsides -
plastic bags, tin cans and other unidentifiable detritus mingle with
animal filth and the occasional rotting cow or horse carcase,
contorted and bloating in the sun. It's enough to make a naive young
entomologist realise that fly control may be more of a challenge here
than she had thought.

The drivers simply fling their used bottles and wrappers from the car
windows. One of the workers here has instituted a rubbish bags in
cars policy, but it does seem a bit pointless as as far as I can tell
there's no rubbish collection here - the cleaners would just take the
bags out to the bush anyway.

The President is apparently also not a fan of litter, but instead of
providing rubbish collection and recycling facilities he has
designated the last Saturday of every month as a Setsetal or clean up
day. Everyone in the country is meant to stop whatever they're doing,
indeed you can be arrested for driving between the hours of nine and
twelve, and clear up litter. I'm not sure what you're then supposed
to do with it, but I saw a lot of smoke and smelled burning plastic on
Saturday.

There is actually a form of recycling in operation here; the children
will pick up anything they can possibly make toys out of. I've seen
broken glasses frames, machine parts, a tin can lid fastened to a
stick with a rusty nail - anything sharp or broken or dirty that would
give a British mother nightmares the kids'll pick up and probably put
in their mouthes. I actually snatched a rusty wire coat hangar away
from a small boy because he was trying to stick the end in his ear,
then gave it back because he'd probably only have gone and started
playing with a razor blade instead or something. This recycling
actually worked in our favour once, when the landrover broke down in a
village. My knowledge of cars doesn't go much further than the fact
that you push the pedals and magic pixies under the bonnet make it go,
but apparently a wire had snapped. OUr driver asked one of the
village elders for help and explained what he needed, the elder
whipped a wire out of the mouth of a passing child and bingo, the
magic pixies started working again.

The problem is I think that Gambians are used to using materials that
do break down when they're discarded; houses are built from bricks cut
from the earth in pits outside the villages, and roofed with reed
thatch or palm leaves. The spiny, grey-purple stems of the same palm
make a goat-proof fence, neatly tied with bark ropes. Halved gourds
are used to serve food alongside the new enamel dishes on woven grass
mats. Gambians are accustomed to using things taht will return to the
earth if left outside for long enough, and simply have not yet adapted
to the fact that plastics will not do the same, but then again it's
not like we've got used to this fact either. When something is built
or made in the west no thought is given to how it can eventually be
disposed of, the only difference is that it goes somewhere we can't
see and don't have to think about. So of course a far more sensible
solution than leaving rubbish lying around the countryside where it
won't biodegrade is to dig a big hole somewhere out of sight and drop
it in there where it won't biodegrade. Because our system is
obviously far more sustainable.

1 comment:

membracid said...

I am really enjoying your trip notes--please keep us posted!

And yes, the thought of all those tiny potential mosquito breeding pools...sigh.