Living in Africa today is a little like living in mid 20th century Britain. My parents remember periodic shortages of certain goods in the shops, power cuts, gas bought in cylinders and rubbish pits in the garden just as is common in urban east Africa today. The difference is that in the 1940s and 50s, there wasn’t the problem of bulky plastic containers and bags. Rubbish pits and fires were do-able sixty years ago without the plastics, disposable nappies and polystyrene of today, whereas now these fires set to dispose of rubbish exude toxic smoke and fumes.
In Kenya the lightweight bags (anything less than 3 microns) that litter the countryside and have become known as ‘the flower of Africa’ were recently been banned and heavier gauge bags are now carrying a new tax. This bag ban has been in force in South Africa for some time and I read in the newspaper that a small town in England has voluntarily followed suit. Maddeningly I can’t remember the name of this town, but do recall that they have the highest number of registered lesbian residents in the country….
There is something of a panic in Nairobi, as up until now, each item you buy seems to have been dropped into a thin plastic bag, and then the bag gets reused time and time again until it winds up fashioned into a football made up of plastic bags or used for waterproofing or something. How will the flying toilets system now operating in the slums continue with no more small bags?
Watching television news in England about the terrible flooding also reminded me of home. The newsreader in Gloucester was using words like ‘bowser’ for the first time, when describing homes that are now relying on water being delivered to their homes by truck because the water treatment plant in their area also flooded and is now out of use. Many homes in East Africa rely on water being delivered in bowsers by private companies, if the homeowner can afford it. Gloucester residents were advised that they should not drink this water (welcome to our world in Africa!) but can use it for washing etc.
There is deep shock in England at the state of the roads after flood waters have subsided, as the tarmac has broken up leaving deep cracks and holes. The cost of mending roads will be huge. Local councillors and newscasters are talking in millions. Each rainy season in East Africa the roads become flooded, are sometimes impassable and wind up broken. It’s an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed at least twice a year. Eventually varying attempts are made to fix them according to the area budget and they range from patching to re-carpeting and the clearing of clogged drainage ditches.
In fact, in light of the UK flooding it’s even possible to feel a little sympathy with the Kenyan Government for the first time, rather than just feeling the niggling annoyance at their general inefficiency when bumping over potholes.