Such a naive American I am!
“Put your garbage in the barrel and we’ll haul it off for you.”
Sure. Great. No prob. Sounds just like back home.
Then on Saturday I’m whistling, ho-humming in the kitchen, and I look out the window.... ‘Hmmm. Looks like the momma has my barrel. Wonder where she’s taking it?
Out the back porch. Yep, OK. But where are you going now, momma? Whoa. Are you not paying attention where you’re going? There’s nothing but ocean out that way. You wouldn’t.....I mean, you couldn’t.....Ohhhhhhhh...... no,no,no,no,no,no!’
Every fiber in my being just shouted in opposition as she dumped my garbage into the ocean.
Wow! I couldn’t even fathom it.
Wrong on so many levels. Kids swim, right there! I swim, right there! My kids will swim, right there!
I watch my plastic bottles floating... thinking I’m going to throw up. Just up the beach I watch another man dump what looks like his latrine. This beautiful, blue ocean. To me it’s something to respect and to preserve. But here, it’s the sanitation department. And it's not that they don't respect it. There's just nothing else in place. There isn't another way.
I have an immediate flash back to when I was a kid. I was working for my uncle Marvin on his pig farm, and we were driving home from the feed store. He’d bought me a Coke. It was a hot day, and it was nice and cold. I popped off the tab as we scooted down the highway. I threw the tab out the window, and looked at my uncle. He just smiled at me. ‘Wow. Can’t believe he got me a Coke. This from the man who’d told me just a few days before that if God meant us to drink Coke, he’d have made it rain Coke.’
On we drove for about another 10th of a mile, and then the pickup began to slow. He edged over to the side of the road, and turned off the ignition. Then he took a big, deep sigh and just stared at me like he was waiting for something,
“What? Somethin’ wrong?”
“Nope. Just waitin’ on you.”
“To pick up that pop tab.”
“Ha!” I laughed. Funny. Good one.
He didn’t say a word. He just stared at me.
“Are you serious?! That was like a quarter-mile back!”
“I know how far back it was. Go on now. I’ll be here waitin’ for ya.”
I remember cussing and kicking the dirt for a quarter mile there and a quarter mile back. I was bone dry, sweating and hot by the time I’d found it and come back. I got into cab of the truck, showed him the shiny tab, and he said to me,
The ignition turned over and once again we began to scoot down the road. My Coke was warm. I was mad. And until my dying day I’ll never forget that life-lesson.
So, here we are in Haiti, 25 odd years later, and I just saw more garbage thrown out on account of me than in all of those 25 years put together.
Today, there are two young men in my yard. They are looking for work, and I’ve given it to them. They have pick axes and shovels, and muscles. They are building me a burn pit. It will be 8 x 8 and about 5 feet deep, and as Haitians always do, they’ve already thought about where the water will flow in the rainy season. They’ve already planned for that. They’ve even thought about wind direction.
I wonder if they think it’s silly. But then again, I don’t really care. I don't think it's something I'll be able to change....littering is just not going to be ok.
What would be nice for the village would be to build an incinerator. Is it a necessity? Depends on who you ask. Ask me, and the answer would be a resounding Yes. Ask a Haitian, and they’ll tell you it’s the only way they know.
Like my friend Shane said, “What do you expect them to do with that empty bottle, hang it up in their room? It’s not like they have an option. What else will they do with it? There’s no recycling agency. There isn’t any sanitation department. There’s nowhere for them to take it.”
Does an incinerator save them? Certainly not. It’s just one more need on a very long list of needs.