In Malawi there is no waste-system. Everybody just burns it behind their houses, if lucky. Because often the waste is just thrown out the house, garden, car or wherever they are. Bushes, gutters, side of the road, it all looks like a refuse-dump. People in Malawi think it is the most normal thing in the world. When I refuse to throw my waste out of the car or bus they look at me as if I were crazy. In some ways they are right, because the pile of plastic bags with waste (just plastics, I have a compost heap) is piling in my backyard and I know that one day I have to get rid of it. And that day is coming soon because in 2 months I will be leaving and my replacement is going to take over my house. I can hardly offer him a house with a personal refuse-dump in the backyard, now can I? I’ll have to figure out how I am going to do it. Probably by throwing it over the fence and hold a burning match against it. Burn a pile of plastics… I can’t get myself to do it. It is totally against everything I stand for, which is foolish since I don’t have much choice here.
My colleague, the environmental officer, want to introduce some kind of waste management in Nsanje boma. He wants to construct a refuse-dump and decrease the waste on the streets. Pretty ambitious since it is a completely new concept for most Malawians. When I just arrived, I talked a lot about this issue with him and there are so many challenges. Who is going to collect the waste and how? Money for a car is not there and no-one has ever heard of waste bags to put the waste in. Who is going to pay for it? The government doesn’t have the money. After some discussion he decided to try to make a start with trying to get the market and bus station clean. Even this will take years and is a huge challenge and the Malawians react the same as any Dutch would do: “Not in my backyard!”.
Because of our conversations I really thought my colleague was very aware of the waste problem and would try to set a good example himself. Can you imagine how surprised I was when I saw him throwing plastic bags with waste out of the car when we were driving to a meeting?! This happened many months ago, but it still bothers me. I mentioned it to him. Why do you throw your waste out of the car, when you know what problems it’s causing and you want to decrease the waste on the streets yourself? How do you expect the villagers to change, when you set the wrong example yourself!?
He looked at me in surprise. “But” he said: “what else do I do with it? This is how we always do it. Someone will burn it. Maybe…” I could only take a deep breath and sigh. Malawi has a long way to go.