This is about rubbish. Literally about rubbish, no political satire or irreverent dribble.
I have spent a total of thirty minutes behind garbage trucks in Kampala this week. I have complained, talked, written and prayed about this before, and whereas I am not giving up soon I am beginning to accept certain smelly, unhygienic facts about the lives we lead.
The most significant trip I made behind an open-ended garbage truck took place on Tuesday afternoon, following one managed by ‘Nabugabo Updeal Joint Venture’. This extravagantly-named outfit has a website – www.nabugaboupdeal.com – that says they are the “Best Waste Management Service Provider in Uganda”.
And THAT is what almost made me give up on the idea that we will be one day rid of all this smelly rubbish.
The four chaps on the back of the truck were standing right in the garbage and hopping off occasionally to collect bags of garbage that belonged to them. In between stops, they were engaged in such jolly banter that I almost envied them, as I was alone in my vehicle and conversation-less.
I had just had my lunch and because of the narrowness of the road and their slow progress, was forced to watch the steaming garbage pile up. I was happy that my car radio was functional; otherwise if I had to listen to some radio presenters I would have cracked – see, you should only be made to stand so much garbage…
Outside my office, I finally stopped having to follow them but as I was reverse-parking into my spot I was horrified to see one of the fellows jump off the truck, walk straight up to the courier/messenger/tea-fellow of my neighbour’s office, and SHAKE HIS HAND!
He didn’t just give him five or ‘bonga’ – he SHOOK HIS HAND!
I almost lost control of my vehicle as my mind exploded with visions of germs transferring from garbage man to courier/messenger/tea-fellow and from there to wherever he had been sent to deliver envelopes or a flask of tea.
Petrified, I observed them in conversation so long that it ended and the garbage truck left with its diseased contents, allowing me to recover my wits enough to summon the courier/messenger/tea-fellow.
Dropping my window (I always keep them up and the air conditioning on because of the high propensity for being behind a garbage truck), I made as if to shake the courier/messenger/tea-fellow’s hand and…he OFFERED IT TO ME!!!!
(Take a pause to go and relieve yourself. There are many ways to ward off nausea, but take a walk and get some fresh air).
Startled at my vehement withdrawal, he confessed to not having even thought about his pal’s occupation even though the man was clad in really filthy green overalls and had literally jumped out of a pile of garbage to say hi to him. And, of course, he had not noticed how black his friend’s hands were!
“Put that phone into your pocket immediately and go and wash your hands!” I instructed, a little frantically, and as luck would have it the phone rang as if on cue…and he was raising it to his face when I screamed at him not to.
The rest is biology.
I washed my hands maniacally when I got into the office, and have stopped taking handshakes. That courier/messenger/tea-fellow has delivered envelopes to me before, and I dread the thought that his garbage friend takes this route daily on his route…
Gloves cost about Ushs2,000 a pair – and my house has been re-stocked.
From a discussion I had with the managers and staff of another garbage collection firm, Bin-It, some companies actually give their employees protective wear such as gloves but they choose not to wear them – which is not to say that they wouldn’t have shaken hands with my neighbour’s courier/messenger/tea-fellow…
www.nabugaboupdeal.com carries photographs of employees at work and none of them ever has gloves on their hands.
On the website, they explained of their “Gabbage (sic) Collection & Disposal Services:”
“Our suite of waste collection services stretches past the old-fashioned standard skip delivery and pick-up to the provision of a simple, integrated platform that is responsive to the individual needs of our customers.”
I don’t know what that means – it’s a rubbish statement. Pretending to take the garbage away while dropping bits of it in the road and sticking it to our hands, envelopes and tea flasks.