By the time of the grand clean-up day I had reached the state of nonchalance as nothing seemed to be working out anyway. The environmental ministry had changed its boss who in turn sent us only three trucks instead of the promised 40. Companies that had been bragging about excessive supports had sunk into silence. And out of the volunteers who praised the flexibilities of rubber-time, only 10 were really reliable and saving us from going thoroughly mad. But even though, two of them ended up in hospital, two went off to a planned trip and one got busy with exams. Intended cleaning was sinking from the ambition of doing the full city and became an action around the riverside only.
To my great surprise, on the final day, the river was full of people. Hundreds of individuals stood in the water, a trash bag in one hand and a glove in the other. The environmental minister was sunbathing against a pier and was observing the workers, doing nothing himself. And the garbage collectors kept throwing huge bags of trash into the trucks. Only when I went closer, a dim reality loomed. Green grass flashed from the mouth of the bin and packaging still floated down the river.
Plastic into sea, grass to the landfill
Old men were sitting on the riverbanks and pulling out grass from between the stones of the pedestrian road. It was then thrown into the river which in turn carried it along to where the volunteers were standing. They, in turn, collected it and stuffed it into a plastic bag and finally sent it off to the garbage truck. When, on the other hand, they saw a piece of plastic floating by, they opened their legs to let it pass towards the sea.
“But please tell them that this is biodegradable and can dispose in the water. Instead, the problem is with the plastic packaging,” we tried to find some local to guide the cleaners.
“We already said so, but it changed nothing,” he answered with the usual smile. The smile that Indonesians love to get on their face when there is nothing they can do about a problem.
I then tried my luck myself. A young guy was sitting in satisfaction claiming that it’s all done. There was an immense trash pile at his back, untouched. I started cleaning it myself, bit by bit, and asked if anyone cared to help. But they all shrug and answered:
“This is not on our territory, but a sewage canal that belongs to the house. Anyway, it all goes to the river in the end anyway and the problem will solve in a few days by itself.”
I really didn’t know what to reply to this, but only to accept the reality that our words were just received by smiling walls.
But to be fair to the others, let’s end this post with a positive vibe. We also did have a group of people working their asses off to go through all of this and a large group of people actually cleaning what was necessary. I guess we should be happy for what was done and hope someone will take it another step further next year.
Let’s Do It! project opened a brand new reality within these months. Suddenly everything that I had believed and promoted concerning travelling, cultural differences and any of the kind, turned into a naïve shallow approach of faraway places. I used to believe, deep in my heart, that all the people of the world are existentially the same and, despite all the variations, have similar needs, wishes and hopes, that are made distinctive only by traditionally learned behaviors.
But during the project it grew more apparent that cultural peculiarities are like roots collecting its energy from somewhere so unfathomably deep down in a gulf, that in need to proceed the tiniest change, the whole rootstock should be extracted. To say that the bottle of coke doesn’t belong to the sea, the whole system of material values should be given a new sense. To reduce bureaucracy even the subordination inside of families need to be reassessed. To give up corruption, the cult of giving gifts should be started with.
But also the other way around. To exercise us with the flexibilities of all operations, the traditional belief in responsibilities, transparency, keeping promises and structured worldview all need to be fractured.
** Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.