Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A prelude to Earth Day

Behind the apartment we are staying in is one of the few parks in the city and it's a bustling place. There's a soccer field (on some nice hard asphalt), basketball court and a playground. Numerous buses pull up and bring the local school children here, men come out to play a mid-day game of soccer and neighborhood parents bring their kids to play. Sweltering heat and physical activity have consequences one of which is the need for liquid refreshment. Mix in the kids on the playground and you can add a snack as an essential in the the mix. The inevitable result of this rehydrating and snacking? Garbage. And lots of it! Since this is a third world country there is no trash can at the park. And recycling? It doesn't exist. So where do you put this rubbish? Wherever it lands when you're done.

So we head to the park and I bring a trash bag and instruct the kids not put any glass into it because we're going for quantity of garbage and the glass would weigh us down. Ready, set....go! My kids have never seen so much trash all in one place and are anxious to help in the process. Plastic bottles, cigarette packages, lighters, orange peels, socks, shoes and anything else you can imagine. You name it, we picked it up. We only brought one bag and it's abundantly clear we can't clean up the whole park in one trip.

Actually physically picking up the trash I now see there are so many levels to this. Especially because we're foreigners here and I know that automatically makes us more visible. I am aware that all eyes at the park are on us and what we are doing. They are looking with suspicion. Do they think it's condescending? Do they think that I think I'm better than them? Do they think I'm less than them doing this? Are they embarrassed? These are the thoughts running through my head.

After watching us for quite some time some others at the park start picking up the trash too. They say thank you ( in english) and smile. I say thank you in french and smile back. The school children in particular are so eager to speak english to us and come with one question and then quietly confer on proper phrasing before they ask another. Before we know it the bag is filled. We could have filled bags and bags with all the litter, but we got the bulk of it from the playground where the little kids play. We've only made but a small dent. I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but this small thing has turned into something so much bigger than picking up trash. Suddenly, we cease to be "the foreigners" and it turns out we're all just parents and children, patrons of the park. And all of us are working together for a common cause. It's a beautiful moment. (Trust me, I know how corny that sounds and I don't care!)

So now it's tradition to bring a trash bag when we go to the park. Every time we do there is far more garbage than there is bag. And when others are at the park some will help or at least throw their own garbage in our bag. My favorite helpers are the school children who are so eager to speak english to us. They bring us garbage and come with one question before scooting away quietly conferring on proper phrasing before they return with another. My ultimate dream would be to see trash cans in public places and recycling, but it's so much more basic than that. Right now being there at the park and actually physically picking up trash are both meaningful and important. Not only as an example to my kids, or being the right thing to do, or extending some community spirit, but just because it's there.

In the greater scheme of things I would hope that maybe..... just maybe......a seed is planted and someone, just one person, who didn't put a thought into litter before is thinking about it now. In time maybe those that go to the park will start to be a bit more responsible for their own refuse. For those more inspired souls who see trash, pick it up. . Perhaps in time someone else will bring a trash bag too and will contribute to keeping their community clean. Til then we will continue to pick up the park one piece of garbage at a time and we'll look forward to all those that we meet in the process. I am silently singing kumbaya in my head just thinking about it!

Reading suggestion: The Tin Forest by Helen Ward (If you haven't read it, it's one of my favorite childrens books with beautiful illustrations.)

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

WOW, that is so great, will check out the Tin Man


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