One of my colleagues working in Congo posted on Facebook that she “never thought I would miss garbage and recycling trucks.” That brought back so many memories that I had to post back “Oh, this is so so true.”
I lived in a city of 400,000 inhabitants that did not have any garbage service. In Congo, I have yet to visit a city that had a functioning garbage service. It is a service that is most noticeable by it absence. It took a while to figure out how to make living work without garbage pickup.
That is the bad news. The good news is that Africans are recycling geniuses. Seriously!
My colleague tried something new. She held a Gar -bage Sale. That’s right, a garbage sale, not a garage sale..She paid someone to spend the day sorting, washing and hauling empty containers and broken toys to market or families who will use them. In the process she learned that ripped plastic mattress covers can be sewn into diaper covers and that dead cardboard boxes make the best fire starters!
When we lived in Ouagadougou, people prized our empty plastic and glass containers. After the recycling geniuses picked over our garbage the real garbage was a whole lot less. Necessity being the mother of invention, and poverty being a prime creator of necessity, wherever we have lived in Africa, people have created informal and unofficial recycling that put back into use a much higher percentage of “garbage” than the official programs in the US.
Their continent has lots of problems, but by and large Africans are ingenious and resilient. It is one of the things we enjoy. Of course, we have come a ways from the day we first realized that we were in a large city without garbage pickup. Now when there is not this or that, instead of panicking, we look around to find out what local solution has been devised.
I like living an adventurous life, even when the adventure is figuring out what to do with garbage.Check out our website, or talk with us on Facebook. We would love to hear from you.