After a long dry summer,
the storm drains filled up waist- deep in waste;
-plastic wrappers, polystyrene cups, old shoes, broken toys, all sorts of junk.
We are talking about the storm drains where ragged children play,
in the troubled downtrodden neighborhoods, where junk is life:
Junk food, cool-drink and chips,
bought in bulk and sold on the corner cafe,
where we use our pennies to fill our bellies
for a little treat,
to make it all feel a little better.
Just for a while,
to distract from the bigger hunger that looms all the time.
The soul emptiness of loss and trauma and not enough love,
not enough money, not enough food, not enough of what we really need.
So we find temporary comfort in something sweet.
When we are done, we wonder on
and the wind takes the wrappers
we don’t know where they go.
Out of sight out of mind.
Such lovely weather this autumn day, perfectly still.
The litter collects on the weeds and makes bumps in the perfect glassy water.
The other day there were men with gloves pulling it out.
But there is more than ever before. Where is it coming from?
I had a chat with Bill Tomlinson, a local resident, who keeps himself informed.
He said the town-council sent a crew to clean out the drains,
but they were stopped by the gangs.
The gangs rule those neighborhoods,
like packs of dogs, ready to kill.
Nobody dares cross their path.
Life is cheap -junk cheap in those dangerous zones.
Junkie lives have no respect for their own lives,
so why should they respect anyone elses?
The council workers had to get police protection to do the job.
Perhaps they didn’t follow up. No wonder..
Cleaning the drains is a dirty job, which could cost your life for a minimal wage,.
So when the blessed rain we had prayed for, finally came,
the junk washed into the estuary-
Where fish breed. All kinds of important fish breed in this Zandvlei Estuary.
And so the fisher folk, will find fewer fish in their nets.
Their hungry children will eat junk food for dinner on a lucky day.
Apathy makes us all poorer,
When we give up hope, we eat and drink more junk for comfort.
We talk junk, we watch junk,we live plastic lives to escape.
So these are the consequences: the fish eat the rubbish, the birds eat the fish,
and so do the dolphins, the penguins, the seals and even the whales.
When the whole microscopic system becomes polluted –
our children become chronically ill.
Doctors puzzle over diagnosis. Could it be that they are poisoned?
And yet, there are solutions, they say.
Mr Tomlinson tells me that there is a machine, made in Japan.
It turns plastic into petrol. Simple science, you know.
Plastic is made out of petrol.
Plastic can be made into bricks to build houses for the homeless.
But here, the junk is killing us.
They should stop it at the source, of course.
“Ban it at the border” Said a woman walking her dog.
“Kenya has done it. So we can too!”
Perhaps there is hope. Can we turn this around?
This vicious cycle of turning our lives to junk?
Can we save ourselves from the machine that is making this reality?
Can we buy into a new model. One that cleans it up?
What will it take? A critical mass momentum?
Leave the plastic at the shop. Eventually the retailers will send it back to the factories. It’s up to us to reverse the vicious cycle. Each one of us.
Such a beautiful calm Autumn day in Cape Town.