Saturday, February 09, 2008

2/08/08 The Trash People

Being in India is a great reminder: when it comes to trash, there’s no such thing as away. You can’t throw it away. An interesting part of my experience in Goa was that I didn’t know what to do with my trash. Everything is packaged in plastic here, whereas it used to be in leaves or newspaper.
In Mysore, there is a trash collection service going. I throw my compostables off the rooftop into the empty lot where any variety may come and munch it: dog, donkey, water buffalo, goat. There’s been a herd of shaggy horses ranging the neighborhood this week, which is a first for me to see. Paper items I’ll keep aside and burn (I am fortunate to have septic that can handle TP, so I don’t have to save and burn that. I haven’t encountered that in some years.) The rest, I put out on the curb for the collection. Of course the dogs come in the night and tear it all up, which is why I don’t put food scraps in there. I don’t like to think of the trash collectors having to scrape it off the street. Last week, as soon as I put my little bag out, a woman was looking inside it. I imagine travelers throw away all kinds of treasures.
They move in pairs, two men or two ladies, pushing a cart. They are wearing green smocks and headscarves, no gloves. The cart has four woven baskets about the size of ten gallon buckets. The trash is separated here, the cart pushed to a central location where there is a lorry to empty the baskets into. I don’t know what happens next. I’m scared to think of it.
At my favorite chai spot today, I saw the trash ladies again. The chai is best here because they use fresh, unpasteurized milk and lots of sugar. The chai is constantly boiling in the back of the tiny shop, which also sells sweets (tasteless cakes, delicious apple balls) and namkeen (endless combinations of fried pulses, rice sticks, green peas, coconut, peanuts). My 8-ounce cup of chai is 10 rupees- about a quarter. Trash service costs 20 rupees per month. A man knocked on my door at the beginning of February to collect.

The trash lady asked for a freebie from the chai guy. He made her wait in the street. She smiled at me in open curiosity, checking out my shoes, my jewelery. When she came near, I smelled trash strongly and it took a moment to realize it was she that smelled like a landfill. She was covered in it. Smears on the smock that covered the top of her sari. Small, course hands, long braid down her back, unusually dark skin. All the trash people are very dark skinned. She took a few minutes break to stand and drink the tiny plastic cup of chai. I watched them push them the cart down the hill as I drank mine. On my yoga vacation in India. How’d I get to be the one with the big cup?
I wonder about the idea of karma, seeing these daily distinctions between poverty and privilege. Accepting the present as the effect of past actions, from lifetimes already lived. Everybody’s got to work her way through it, I guess. Maybe I already did? Maybe I’ll be back there again? There’s no assuming that I can understand what I’m meant to learn in this life, through what vehicles.

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