Sunday, November 28, 2010

Re-Use, Recycle, Renew

I see the most amazing array of American tee-shirt messages on the streets and around campus every day: names of universities, large and small; mottoes of campaigns, recent or ancient; souvenirs of long-forgotten festivals or conferences; logos and mascots of sports teams; commercial ads for products not sold here. The used clothing market is huge in Zambia. I suspect that items that are not sold in thrift shops or church rummage sales in America somehow are shipped to various Third World countries, and so I encounter the tee-shirt messages from home.

BBC just ran a program about a controversy connected to second-hand clothing in Kenya. Officials there were proposing to enforce a law already on the books prohibiting the sale of used underwear. However, the customers who were interviewed by the reporter said the price was right and they wanted to be able to continue buying used lingerie. And the sellers, too, thought the market demand justified continuing to allow such items.

My friend Margaret, one of the Pan African students completing her course in Peace Building and Conflict Transformation, will graduate on Friday. She invited me to worship today at the church she has been attending. They were giving the students a farewell party and urged them to bring a friend to the celebration. I noticed that their well-worn hymnals were from the U.S., and the copyright date was 1975. Discards from a church some years back when they purchased new ones, sent for recycling here. Many congregations in Zambia have no hymnals or songbooks at all, which limits their singing to a few classic hymns, so such recycled hymnals are a blessing.

Zambians engage in internal recycling, as well. When I first arrived, I would flatten plastic bottles before putting them in the trash (which is then thrown into a pit in my yard, burned and buried). One of the MEF workers saw me doing this and told me that people would take all my big plastic bottles if I would leave them intact. I now save them for Moses, Violet, or some of the children who live outside the MEF gate. They use the bottles to carry water from a central source in their compound to their homes for washing and cooking. Bottle caps are recycled into wheels for toy trucks made from cartons. Metal ones, with a hole punched in the middle and strung together, become an anklet that rattles when doing certain traditional dances. All of the organic material such as cut grass, fallen leaves, and household food scraps are composted and used to renew the garden soil.

We see an interesting contradiction to the commendable tendency to recycle any re-usable container. That is the nearly total insensitivity to litter here. People drop candy wrappers, snack packages, small plastic bottles and soda cans along paths, in the market, or out bus windows. True, there are few trash receptacles in most locations, but even where there are such bins, trash abounds on the ground nearby.

Some students have recently initiated a "Keep MEF Clean" campaign on campus. I hope it helps!

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