As I stuffed and stamped the trash into my bags, I thought of another hot dusty morning far far away when I was walking from my office to my classroom in that city across oceans on another continent. A student walked in front of me, sipping orange soda from a can while talking to her friend who was drinking bottled water and laughing. They both seemed so happy, and I smiled. I like happiness. Then, both girls finished their drinks and tossed the empty containers to either side. The aluminum can arced skyward before landing next to a drainage ditch, reeking with sewage and clogged with trash; the clear plastic bottle hit the trunk of a baobob tree. I called out to my student, the girl who had aimed her bottle for the tree, and asked her to pick the bottle up and carry it, please, to the trash can placed conveniently next to the path some thirty feet ahead. She turned and stared at me, only long enough to say distinctly and loud enough for all to hear, I don't touch trash.
When filled with water, her hand could cradle the bottle, bring it to her lips, but when emptied, it instantly transformed to trash, impure and unacceptable. She could not carry trash in her bare hands even for thirty feet, and so she tossed it.
I touch trash. I pick it up, bag and place the filled bags in trash cans that will be emptied by others who will tip the cans into trucks that will carry the compacted trash to landfills where it will fester and decay. Not the best solution, perhaps, but better than waiting until empty lots are ankle deep in trash, ready to be set aflame. Five bags of trash this morning. Five bags less trash on The Street.
I still remember waking, closing the window to keep out the acrid odor of burning plastic, waiting for the jitney with a scarf over my nose and mouth, feeling that oily smoke settling on my skin. When the trash burned even the girl who would not touch trash took the trash into her lungs.