rubbish revolutions [august 4, 2014]

In between sewing a shirt for a local police officer and managing the construction of a new dressing room in his tailoring shop, Hammad and I reviewed and finalized the budget for the rainwater collection systems. “There is a lot of pressure on me,” he explained while thumbing the blue and white material. “You see, at the same time I need to get the roofing sheets, buckets and finish this dress.” Jokingly, he added, “If I don’t finish it, the man will arrest me!” After completing the budget, I was left to watch over both the shop and the carpenter hammering away at the dressing room while Hammad went to confirm the final prices of the items. Upon his return, Hammad let me know we were lucky that the shop owner was willing to honor the original price. Because, in just one day, the cost of a roofing sheet had escalated by two cedis. Hammad implored sarcastically, “Emily, please, talk to the dollar, have it wait for the cedi.”

Despite grand plans for meeting with the water committee to plan for the following week, a combination of heavy rains and funeral arrangements led to an unexpectedly delightful afternoon with four children in the Zongo. Following a demanding photo-shoot replete with every pose one could imagine, the ringleader of the group stood up proudly and said, “Let me sing you a song. This one is a Christian song. I call it O’er the Mountain.” This first vocal was followed first by a “Muslim Song” and then a second “Fante Song” with back-up from the other three children. “You see,” the lead singer confided, “I am from the north and stay in the Cape Coast Zongo. I am a Christian, but I want to be a Muslim.” Though perhaps directly irrelevant to The Zongo Water Project, this recital and exchange provided invaluable insight into the complex and nuanced social and cultural dynamics at play in the Zongo. At the end of the day, the lessons learned from these types of conversations were some of the most valuable towards the understanding of, and planning with the residents of the community.

Sunday, perhaps even a quieter day than Saturday, consisted of visiting last year’s rainwater collection system recipients to get a better sense of how they use the system, when they use it, and what could be improved for this year. Most of the residents had similar responses. They used the water for a range of activities including drinking, washing, cooking, and praying. They all knew how to boil the water and add chlorine tablets for drinking, but a common complaint was that some of the old roofing sheets (fabricated of mostly iron and not coated aluminum), at times dirtied the water. This year then, it would be a good idea to give more direction to the carpenters to arrange the new roofing sheets and gutter in a way that began at the ridge of the roof and cascaded all of the way down to the gutter. Every recipient was very appreciative of the work thus far and demonstrated their gratitude in different ways – from leading us in prayer and escorting is towards our next interview site, to even giving me a beautifully tailored white dress with pink intricate patterns.

Following the questions about the rainwater collection systems, we decided to also take this opportunity to ask residents about sanitation in the Zongo – where the households dump their rubbish, what the rubbish consists of, who dumps it, and how often. We also asked the biggest challenge the Zongo faces in terms of sanitation and if they had any ideas of how to improve the situation. Again, many of the answers overlapped. The residents all dump their trash at one of two “dumping sites” (consisting of a couple of large dumpsters): either on the hill behind Kotokuraba market or in a neighborhood called Aboom. When we had asked who dumps the rubbish and how often, all replied that it is mostly the children who dump it on their way to school everyday. The rubbish consists of Politan bags, dead leaves, rubbers (plastic bags), rice, stew, other foodstuffs, kenke peels, fish heads and bones, pepper stems and garden eggs. The biggest challenge residents lamented was that there is no place to put the rubbish and that although the compounds are well taken care of, that it is the public areas that are neglected – people just throw the rubbish wherever they wish. One woman complained that she had just finished cleaning the public area in front of her house and the rubbish was enough to fill three large politan bags. Mnay residents echoed that a way to remedy the situation would be to have “community labor days” and “dustbins at strategic points throughout the Zongo.” Awal Muhammad, the resident helping me with the interview translations pointed out that the dustbins should be marked. He said with determination, “The date should definitely be there – so that even a small boy would know the year the revolution took place.”

The day ended in conversations with Yusuf and Awal – two of the Quranic School teachers – to talk about how to engage the children in activities related to the project. Even though I had begun the discussion thinking we would do something other than a children’s book, Yusuf explained that we should definitely continue with “Gizo Gizo” and that it should become an “educational storybook series” about water, sanitation, and erosion. He went on to explain that because the children now know the characters and the water issues they faced in the last story, that this year we could build on that knowledge to develop a story more focused on sanitation in the setting of the Zongo settlement. Yusuf pondered whether we might begin with the individual and hygiene and then work outwards to include the house and finally the community. He explained that this way, “we could have both theory (the themes in the storybook) and the practice (a clean-up exercise in the Zongo)”.