We, those of us from the first world, tend to think of recycling as something we thought of and that we are the only ones doing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Poorer countries, like Tanzania, have been recycling for hundreds of years. Poor countries cannot afford to throw things away when they break and replace them with new. The United States used to be like that when I was a boy. Every town had a fix-it store and being a handy-man was respected profession. The Ferrari Testa Rosa I rode in from Bentonville to Gravette, Arkansas, was paid for by repairing VCR’s that had broken. No more. When I was a boy, plastics hadn’t really intruded into our lives much except in the form of toys, so we reused glass bottles, and paper sacks were used to make book covers for our school books. Sadly, the days of Opie and Mayberry have faded into the mists of time in the States, but not here.
Even though Shaban did not get back from Mwanza with the parts until almost six last night, he and the mechanic (fundi in Swahili) worked for three hours and got the generator fixed and working again. They had to put in a new piston, new rings, a new crankshaft, and other small parts, change the oil and replace the spark plug, but they did it. The mechanic said that it would be good for another five years at the very least. The total bill for all of this, including transportation to Musoma and Mwanza and back, came to just under $250.00. A new generator would have cost $3,000.00 which is three thousand dollars more than we have at present, but had we been living in the States, we most probably would have a new generator because no one would have known how to fix the broken one (except David Poulter, but he’s an anachronism). When you’re poor, you have to fix things and reuse things. When we were building our church, we would finish drinking a plastic bottle of water and throw it out of the window. After a while, we realized that we never heard any of those bottles hitting the ground. I went over and peered out and found about ten little boys waiting to catch the next bottle that came flying out of the window. Those bottles could be reused and were worth about ten cents to each boy that had one. The cardboard boxes in which things are shipped to us are never burned because they become chests of drawers and storage for our staff and for children. Nothing is wasted. Even plastic prescription bottles we get from the U.S. are treasured as safe places to store salt, spices, and other small food items to keep the ants and other insects out. There are guys here in Bunda that can resole and recondition almost any kind of shoe—and they make a good living at it. Paper is treasured here as well, and a full sheet is almost never used if a torn off corner will do the job. Bent nails are straightened and reused. It’s actually refreshing not to be generating mounds of trash every day. Think about all the trash you generate every day just from containers and packaging. It staggers the imagination.
Perhaps the worst offender of all is the plastic bag (banned in some U.S. cities), but not here. Here, plastic bags are gathered up, knotted up, and become soccer balls for kids way too poor to buy a new one (see picture at the right), and these balls can be regenerated when the bigger kids steal the one in play. We are actually closer to living in Mayberry here than we ever were in the States, and it’s nice. God asks us to be good stewards of our “talents” and reusing, and fixing, and reimagining how to use trash is the way of the future. Funny how God knew that all those years ago, huh?