Thursday, August 30, 2012

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

It's Diana here, to share a few jumbled thoughts I've had crowding my mind....I hope you can make sense of it because I'm not sure I can. 

When we first arrived, our food, furniture and household items were shipped on a boat in 10 large wooden shipping containers. I never would have imagined that a volatile dispute would break out between the men delivering our items and the security guards on our compound over who was going to get to keep the crates.  For some strange reason, they all wanted these enormous, empty, useless crates.  They REALLY wanted them!!  The argument  got very heated and escalated to the point where Tyson had to step in claim ownership of all of the crates and then divvy them out between the workers.  It seemed equitable to divide them evenly... 5 shipping containers for the delivery men, and 5 for the guards. I was still pretty amazed that anyone even wanted our junk....  a bunch of big empty containers.  I didn't quite understand until I drove from the airport and along the right side of the freeway, saw what they would be used for....
The shipping containers would be homes.....
Double Decker houses made from shipping containers.
A Security Briefing that I attended last week was aimed at teaching Embassy families how to protect themselves in Nigeria by making smart decisions and avoiding dangerous situations.  Of all the important information I was bombarded with, only one little nugget stuck out in my mind.....  The part of the lecture that I've spent the most time thinking about was of very little consequence to everyone else, but here it is...

A study was done, tracking the garbage from the dumpsters at the American housing compounds.  The study followed our trash from the time it goes into our garbage can to the time it arrives at the city dump. Between my house and the dump, my trash will have been gone through an average of 7 times.  7 times!!!  My mind has been turning these findings over and over (possibly as often as my garbage is being turned over)....
Now that I've become aware of it; here are a few of the steps I've seen....  

Sawyer depositing his filthy diaper into the trash can like a good boy!
After we throw out our rubbish, it is taken to the trash by our domestic employee who 'rescues' the most obviously usable items.  Her room is now decorated with an old rug and torn curtain that used to hang in the play-room. Then the trash hits the dumpster outside the compound. I've seen a handful of young guys hanging around.  It's obvious they have "Dibs" when a fresh load is brought out from our compound.  The things I've seen emerge at this point are mainly bottles, cans, and cardboard boxes.  Kids with big canvas bags troll the area in the evenings getting what ever else remains near the surface while the dedicated dive even further.  At this point the sanitation department picks up the garbage and stuffs it into their truck.  Unfortunately, this dirty job is done by hand giving the employee an opportunity( if you would call it that) to examine our refuse one more time.  When our bags finally reach the land fill, I can't imagine that there is much more than chicken bones, dryer lint and poopie diapers to dump, but somehow it continues to be sorted through and items of "value" retrieved.  There is a whole population of people who make their home next to the garbage mountain.  It is an ever-changing toxic mountain that springs forth hidden treasures. 

I've wondered if I should "streamline" the garbage sorting process to make it a bit simpler for those involved.  Possibly labeling the bags of the most offensive garbage with a big red X, indicating the bag contains nothing but a two year olds poopy, toxic diapers (nappies here).  Should I save people from discovering surprises the hard way by writing.."Warning.. this bag contains the paper towels I used to wipe up my children's vomit after trying the local specialty 'Shwarma'".

 I am joking of course, but it doesn't change the gut wrenching guilt and sadness I feel when considering how incredibly blessed we are.  We not only have plenty to eat, but we can afford to be very picky about our food.  We open our cupboards and think there is nothing to eat because there isn't a cheeseburger and fries waiting.  We not only have ingredients in excess, but the means to obtain more!

I've stopped eating  my normal 6-egg white omelet for breakfast. I can't bear to toss half the egg down the garbage disposal when  my housekeeper comes from a village where people generally  live on less than $1 per day and eggs are a luxury.  Only those rich enough to own chickens have access to eggs, and definitely not six per day. I guess I can afford a bit more cholesterol in my diet as I eat my  eggs whole, seasoned with a little gratitude.

The feeling of excess, extends to every area of my home and life.  For example, in the villages here, a towel is seen as a luxury item.  Yes, a plain old bath towel used to dry off after the shower.  A whole family living here in a grass hut, would be more than ecstatic to share the same piece of terry cloth fabric after rinsing off with a cold bucket of water.  Looking around the house I realize that I have four towels in each bathroom that aren't even allowed to be touched!  Ya, that's right, the 'decorative towels'.  These towels will never dry a baby, or head out to the pool.  They will never do anything but sit there and look pretty.  The 'throw pillows' are along the same line and are surely  baffling to our house-keeper as well (Tyson's still a little confused about them too! Why aren't they meant for sleeping or pillow fighting?!) 

I'm realizing that not only do I have an abundance of material things, but we each have so much time on our hands. Our days are not consumed with finding food and shelter. After work, we generally can do whatever we wish, without the constant concern of acquiring food.  Really, we are so unbelievably lucky to have available time to build skills and hobbies, surf the Internet, and just do what ever makes us happy.....or nothing at all!  I feel really lucky that I get to take care of my kids, find time for myself, and do things I enjoy like working out and exploring the city. 

The poverty here is astounding, but so it the extravagant opulence.  There is such economic disparity...... The rich are unbelievably rich, and everyone else is poverty stricken.  Here are a few pictures of our neighbors...

As far as we can tell, only one person lives here....ONE!!

I don't know how many people live here, but I have seen at least two families with 3 toddlers by the fire pit.

  Yes, all in the same area.  The HOA back in Virginia had a hissy fit because my kids parked their scooters on the porch.... I wonder what the neighborhood by-laws are regarding starving, mangy goats  and open fires on the front lawn...! Just saying!



  1. That is a great post, Diana. Living here we don't get the same opportunities you do, ,which is why we want to travel and work with our kids. What a great chance you have for teaching and gratitude and service. I am feeling extremely blessed. Love you guys.

  2. Such a humbling reminder of our blessings - and the needs to be filled in the world. Beautifully written, Diana. We hope there's a way we can help even a little.

  3. Makes you look at the things we throw out in the garbage differently. Sad to see such flagrant extravagance next to abject poverty. Thanks for sharing.