This will be my last African trash post for a while, or at least the last anecdote from Malawi that I post lest you start thinking the focus of this trash blog has become way too narrow, wonky and/or new agey. Never fear. I actually didn’t return with as many trash stories as I had anticipated for two possible reasons. One, I was working the whole time in my non-trash-related capacity as a nonprofiteer and two, (to state the screamingly obvious) people don’t throw much away in Africa.
I didn’t even see a trash fire, though I looked for them. A couple of times I saw smoke in the distance, but when I asked, the people around me explained that the dry season was ending and they were burning back the fields to prepare them for the pre-rainy season planting.
Most of what I saw were stories of zero waste and recycling. While sitting in front of Ivy’s convenience shack near the road block just south of Kande Beach, I watched a tailor appear out of nowhere and set up his sewing machine on the porch. He pulled out a bag of rags and started piecing them together, remaking old shirts into patchwork swaths of fabric to become new clothing or mending smaller tears in blouses and pants to make them good as new.
The whir of the tailor’s machine lay a pleasant track of ambiant sound beneath the layered murmors of children playing in the dirt road, women chatting while shopping for maize, men gossiping with the tailor and chatting up the women and the forestry worker from the road block coming by to charge his cell phone. I was reading Garbage Land, starting it really, and had just come to the part where the author is describing her quest to produce less waste than the average American. In this chapter, she guiltily throws away old clothes because she already has too many rags and has no other use for the battered cloth.
And then I had one of those useless Western moments that feel like epiphanies, but are really just recognizing the obvious for the first time.
Yes, I thought, we do throw too much away and that would never happen here. What I should do about this sad fact, remains a mystery. Or rather a challenge. One I hope to explore tangibly here–back amidst the excess of America–with this blog.