From the viewpoint of a Waste Walker, the day could not have a better start than the galaxy of calories in various forms of African dishes arrayed on the table under the shade of a massive Baobab tree, which offers shelter from the glaring morning heat promising to become a searing day. Satiated beyond satisfaction, we make our way to the principal’s office where we are to perform the celebratory signing of the awed guest book, which seems to be a vital component in Tanzanian offices. A teacher dedicated to education, as is hard as it is pleasing to find globally, introduces us and the project to his students. They now have the task of dividing themselves into groups and brainstorm on environmental topics which we volunteers will have an entire class period’s time to discuss with the students. For us, this is a great opportunity to get insight on their view of pollution and how they would propose to improve the situation on a larger political, the macro level, as well as within their immediate surroundings such as school and home life, the micro level. We ask many open questions, with two volunteers (at least one Swahili speaker) per classroom, in hopes of getting an unfiltered opinion and also to see how far the general understanding goes in terms of connections between pollution and phenomena such as global warming and spreading of diseases – which is a very current topic at the moment with a Cholera outbreak in full blow only miles away as we are speaking. Especially the significance of seemingly meaningless everyday acts – accepting a plastic bag for an item one could easily carry in one hand, such as a plastic bottle, subsequently tossing the bag and bottle on the ground – and their significance in events such as Malaria infections. Unfortunately, the results from all eight groups could not have been more versatile, leaving us with many new thoughts but no conclusion to speak of. In one classroom an alternative to tossing waste on the ground was offered: “Just burn it”, while parallel to this a lively discussion was taking place on how to best convince international firms to replace all plastic bags with recycled paper etc. While the discrepancies were large also due to differing ages of participants, one may not forget the context of the situation: firstly, we again created a Halo effect through our white skin, which may have influenced their willingness to speak. Moreover, in Tanzania students speak when spoken to and are generally not conditioned to voice opinions all to much, especially not the critical ones we were looking for. Lastly, all this took place as a mandatory extracurricular activity on a Saturday at a boarding school, meaning we were basically stealing their free time on a hot weekend. We were all once students, and you have got to have something real damn interesting to say in order to keep a teenager’s attention under those circumstances.
The sun keeps its promise from the morning hours and its rays scorch away our plans of going on a treasure hunt for trash around the school with the students. In retrospect, it is harder to say if they were happier about this excuse or if indeed the volunteers appreciated the very valid excuse to make use of the shade instead of waste pickers. Instead, half the Waste Walk crew sits down and talks with the members of the school newspaper, who will be doing a story on the project in the upcoming edition. The other half answers questions and examines possibilities together with students of the German-Tanzanian Club as to how they can make Mbonea High greener with ideas like a school garden actually being planned for the very near future. This is a highly productive interaction resulting in another 97,5kg being left as a starting capital, which at this school is a very realistic opportunity to generate actual income due to the close proximity to multiple recycling firms. This poses a nearly unique chance not available to any schools we had visited to date, who would have a much further way to Dar and would somehow need to organize the transportation of the waste independently.
When the work is done, it is time for play and Fenja celebrates her birthday in the small circle of fellow Waste Walkers at a nearby bar. The circle is reduced to an even smaller number through the absence of Hanna and Felix; the former having been infected with the stomach flu by the latter, and so the latter is now dutifully treating the former who is retching quite wretchedly out of the tent’s entrance.