The third in a five-part series from Alexander Mourant on his experiences on RAW Foundation’s journey through Africa.
The quest continues in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. We were quite fortunate to go speak to the Head of Office of the Mayor and Cabinet Affairs. Who was a nice man and an open book, he gave us access to all the waste facilitates we wished to see.
We first visited Koshe, which is Addis’s first landfill site, centrally located and is regrettably home to thousands of “scavengers.” These are extremely poverty stricken individuals who are born, live and die on that landfill. Like ‘Garbage City’ these individuals are also collecting and sorting recyclable materials, such as plastic bottles.
The shocking truth conveyed at the landfill is the sudden realisation of the sheer quantity of scale. The amount of used products is staggering and connotes our undeniably gluttonous global society. It’s that side of consumerism which is hidden to us in the West, we never stop to consider it, we never stop to think of the quantity – life runs at an all too fast pace.
We quizzed the Head of Waste Management and he was aware of contemporary single use issues; everyone we’ve encountered so far acknowledges the extreme increase in such products in the last 5 years.
We learnt Addis has one of each dedicated plastic, cardboard and e-waste recycling facilities. The department of waste realises this isn’t enough and they plan to create more. The first step in their 5 year strategy is to decommission the old Koshe site and relocate to the new sanitary site named Sendafa. We visited the new site which lies 25kms outside the city, built on what was Bereh Woreda farmland. The facility is designed to receive household waste directly from the city and hazardous waste from the new waste-to- energy plant at Koshe. They plan to turn the Koshe site back to mother nature in the form of a park, they also hope to rehabilitate the “scavengers.” This will prove a challenge as many oppose the idea of change.
In conclusion, it seems the Ethiopian government is aware and taking steps to process their waste responsibly, they are also aware of increasing single-use items (which they disagree with) and have implemented recycling centres and plan to increase their capacity and facilities in the future.
As we drive south we’ve seen blocked waterways, overflowing landfill sites and people morphed into animalistic scavengers. These sights are the exact juxtaposition of picturesque; it’s like a dark incessant knocking on our door. What I’m reacting to personally, through photography and the RAW Foundation’s harsh realities is the fact we’re at a precipice – an unbearable lightness – time is running out.
We entered Kenya at a very unknown border post called Banya Fort. This required a large amount of searching, but we eventually appeared in Kenya at the northern most tip of the mythical ‘Jade Sea,’ or as maps name it, Lake Turkana. The road was nonexistent, it required following, luckily, another vehicle’s tracks which must have passed a few days earlier. We traversed boulder fields, dried up river beds called luggars, on the constant run from a foreboding dark storm behind. We were genuinely off-grid for six days. It was a sight to behold.
“The Earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.” Joseph Conrad, ‘Heart of Darkness.”
We pressed on to the Milgis, an area of outstanding natural beauty. We were invited to stay by Helen and Pete, founders of the Milgis Trust. It’s an incredible community perched on the summit of El Kanto Hill. Over the past 20 years, they’ve developed working relationships with the Samburu, Turkana and Rendille tribes. They’ve created a safe drinking water infrastructure, brought conservation to a nomadic area and successfully reintroduced elephant and lion. Visiting the camp was a truly privileged experience.
Whilst staying at the camp, Helen organised around 30 of her scouts to come for an awareness and education talk by the RAW Foundation. This was lead by Melinda Watson, the founder of RAW Foundation and recipient of Earth Champion’s Change Agent Award.
Melinda spoke of the dangers of plastic, specifically single use bottles, which litters and intoxicates their extremely sensitive environment. We spoke of organic and long lasting solutions; such as traditional Calabash and stainless steel containers. The steel bottles are what we use, and we’ve successfully drunk water out of the tap for the entire trip. No plastic bottles have been bought. The scouts seemed rather concerned and a flurry of questions about what they could do to help arose.
They are now keen to bring the awareness home, to their families and tribes. They promised to spread the word as far as the eye could see and then beyond. The Milgis Trust was delighted the RAW Foundation could visit and they are now endeavouring to become plastic free themselves. The collaboration between independent organisations and individuals is essential, it is what I believe will create genuine change.
There are many travellers, authors, poets and artists who romanticise Africa on its landscape. I’ve discovered for myself this continent does indeed hold an aura, an ability to produce a renewed sense of self – there’s something in the air.