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Monday, 5 March 2012

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On the garbage trail

Late one night, driving to one of our friend's houses during a blackout, my partner and I temporarily lost track of our whereabouts. Were we on the right road? Did we turn at the right junction? Suddenly the headlights of our car caught two garbage bags hanging from a nail near the front gate of a whitewashed, newly built house.

A few meters away we saw three more bags, brimming with garbage hanging from yet another wall. Our anxiety vanished. I sighed with relief. I knew we were on the right road. "Waste may not always be wealth but waste can always be an invaluable landmark to the weary traveller" I found myself writing an imaginary post on the wall of my Facebook account.

If Sherlock Holmes wanted to give Mr. Watson a proper training on the ABC of conducting a proper investigation, he should tell his erstwhile companion to take a walk down any by lane in and around the suburbs of Colombo. The highly residential areas, consisting of beautiful, architecturally designed houses and well kept gardens have one eye-sore; bag upon bag brimming with garbage, hanging from nails or hooks on the front walls of almost every house.

A cursory glance is enough to realize what the inhabitants had for lunch two days ago, how many coconuts they consumed that week, how many times they had eggs for breakfast. Does Mr. So and so, snack on bananas? Elementary, Mr. Watson.

Bags filled with biscuit wrappers, empty tins of salmon and shampoo bottles are free advertisements for the brands they represent. Are the proprietors of the garbage bags paid a fee by the owners of these companies for displaying their goods after being used, to the whole wide universe? One wonders.

Pity the visitor who has to search for the bell on the wall through the hanging bags of garbage. What a welcome! Or a warning! An indirect sign to discourage visitors; a more subtle and modern way of saying keep off, than the age old 'Beware of Dogs' sign. What kind of image do you form of your host when you see his garbage before you see his face? Once again, elementary Mr. Watson.


Now showing: Garbage

Roadside 'attractions'

You are what you hang on your wall

"Things were not like this in the past" complains a resident who has been living in my friend's neighbourhood for over 58 years, when I return to this same town the next morning to find out more. "We buried all our waste in our backyard in the past" she explains. "Shopping bags were unheard of when we came to live here but even if they had been there we would never have dreamt of filling them up with garbage and hanging them on our front wall". No, she says, she does not want me to reveal her name. "Just say a concerned resident said so" she suggests.

But, as always there is another side to the story. Those who collect their garbage in shopping bags and hang them on their walls say they have no other alternative.

"Most days when the garbage collectors come we are not at home. If we don't leave our garbage outside we will never get a chance to give them to the municipal council workers because they almost always come on weekday mornings" contents a gentleman giving me the kind of look Captain von Trapp gives Maria in the Sound of Music the first day she spends in his house as the children's governess (i.e saying indirectly, mind your own business). But explaining further he says he and his wife tried to keep their garbage in plastic garbage bins by the side of the road but dogs toppled the bins and scattered the contents all over the road.

He drives off when I ask him if I could quote him in my article. "He did not answer me because he did not hear me" I tell the garbage bags on the wall. A crow lands on one and tries to peck at the contents inside. I shoo it off. At least for the time being Mr. X's garbage is safe.

Did we find our friend's house in the dark that night? We sure did. So would you if you ever get lost trying to find if you are in the suburbs of Colombo or not. Here is a landmark you will never miss. Keep an eye out for the garbage bags on the walls. When you see them you know you are there.

One man's waste is surely another's signpost.

aditha.dissanayake@gmail.com

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