Mittwoch, 6. Januar 2010

5. 1. Oxfam Quebec

Jaqueline of Oxfam Quebec brought us to a place nearby, where they had a hut filled with different kinds of waste: mostly plastic and glass bottles, aluminium cans, but also newspapers. Young women were sitting in front of it, eating or cleaning bottles. We waited for the woman, who would take us with her on her tour.

Celestine arrived, with a big, empty basket on her head. She was one of the “Women of the Quarter”, who come regularly to collect all bottles from the households.

Celestine walked around with her basket on her head, shouting"Bouteille!" Then she waited in front of some gates, until somebody came out with bottles, and Celestine BOUGHT them. This was our first complete twist: People come to the houses and buy waste! This specific area was rich – diplomats, embassies, villas -, so the domestic servants sold the household waste for an extra income. Later on, we saw women with bottles everywhere in town, even on our hotel on the beach.

After her tour, Celestine´s basket was well filled, and she came back to the storage. Here the bottles were cleaned and separated, and when the quantity is big enough, she would walk 3 km in the boiling heat to the big market in the center of town to sell their collected goods to her certain person.

They buy PET-bottles for 15 cfa (about 1,5 cent) each, and sell them for 25 cfa.

We went to the market – but we did it by “zemidjan”, the moped taxies, which is no option for the collecting women - they need space for their bottles. They also can´t take a car taxi, because this would be far too expensive. They have to walk.

On the market, we were introduced to the president of the association, a quite old, tough lady and nice grandma, who only talked Fon, which made communication complicated. She was elected by the women working there, but she also had to be accepted by the commission running the whole market.

We decided to come back later for an interview.

4. 1. Embassy and Research

Morning starts with going to get visa for Benin at the Benin Embassy. We all had only transit visa for 48 hours, so we had to extend. Application was quickly, but they had to keep our passports until the next day. Joachim was happy about the trash dividends he found in the dustbins of the embassy.

Then money exchange, which is not possible without passport. Fortunately, we had Monique with us, so she could do it for us. The problem was, that as a local woman, she only could change a maximum of Eur 1.000,- at a time. After a long, long time of waiting, each of us finally got our exchange money for Eur 200,- each.

Manuel got the contact of a woman from Germany, who spent the last 20 years in Cotonou, works at the German Embassy, runs a small boutique – and is supposed to be somehow involved into recycling.

The address was near the Brasserie, where Manuel´s girl friend is working, next doors we found a nice internet café, run by a woman from Morocco. We went to the boutique, and waited until it opened.

Carola Kipp was the right contact for us. She came to Benin as a social worker, and soon got involved into waste management projects. She told us, that the city of Benin had bought a large piece of land in the swamps around Cotonou, and all the waste was put 1 m under the earth, one line after the other. That there was a project making compost out of organic waste, because it was not easy to get good soil for gardening. And she mentioned the women´s project we had found on Sunday – the headquarter was in the same street as the boutique. We went there, and the Canadian boss was in the middle of a meeting, but handed us over to a young woman – Jaqueline -, who told us to come at 9 a.m. the next day, she would show us everything.

3. 1. Cotonou go slow

In the morning we went to the Benin embassy to prolong the transit visa we got on the border. Then eating and go to a German woman somebody had recommanded to Manuel. She works at the German embassy, runs a boutique and does a lot of comunity work. Carola Kipp has been in Cotonou for 20 years, and she knows everything about trash here.
She told us, that the headquarter of the women´s cooperative we discovered in the market the day before was just a few hundred meters down the street. We went there, and got a friendly welcome by the canadian director.
Oxfam Quebec is a Canadian organization, who supports and organises different projects in Cotonou. The director handed us over to Jaqueline, who made an appointment to meet up next morning a 9 a.m. to got with the women who collect empty bottles in the quarter.
Meanwhile, Joachim had almost 50 different empty plastic water sacks in his collection. He puts everything on his excel list and analyses the different names, dates and symbols on them. This will be wonderful dividends for one of our lucky shareholders.

Sonntag, 3. Januar 2010

2. 1. Cotonou exploration

Still holiday feeling, but we had to go out to explore urgently. Joachim found a new item worth collecting: plastic water bags, which exist all along the beach and actually everywhere, so it was easy to find about 30 different types within an hour, saying things like: Don du Dieu, Jesus t´aime, Omi Tutu, Al Moubarak, Excellence, Princesse… We saw big tableaux growing for the exhibition in our minds.
Then to the beach restaurant to bring our donation from “Parkhouse” in Graz: 15 white plastic chairs. The restaurant was crowded with guests, but for the chairs there were immediately 3 people available to clean and put them around the tables. It was a celebration.
After unloading the chairs, we went to the city center to explore the huge market.
I went with Maryam and Joachim, while Stefan and Igor stayed together.
Along the bay, which borders the market, there are piles of trash again, but nothing real attractive for collecting – the area serves as public toilet as well. We took lots of pictures, and after a short talk everybody was really friendly and nice.
Before it got dark, we found a women´s cooperative recycling plastic and glass bottles, and we made an appointment to come back on Monday for photos and interviews.

1. 1. Rest

Discussing plans for the next weeks all morning. Joachim and Maryam had raised their own budget for their part of the project, and they only stayed 2 weeks, so they were fine. We have serious financial problems: we can afford to stay on a cheap place until we fly back with our private money, but as soon as we want to work, we need more. Most of all, we can not afford going to Lagos – visa, fees and bribes make it too expensive.

Maryam and Joachim landed in Lagos and stayed there 3 days of trash research already. Maryam had hundreds of photos, showing real impressive waste heaps.

Crossing the border to Benin had cost them Eur 100,- each – it was an adventurous story of arbitrariness and corruption. For them, Cotonou was the low-cost paradise, while for us, coming from the other side and different stories, it suddenly was really expensive: we can´t live in the truck anymore, it had to be parked safely and protected, so we have to pay a hotel room for Eur 30,-/night.

We tuned in to Cotonou slowly, next days will be garbage-rich again. Finally.

31. 12. The big reunion

Heading for Cotonou through a country of grey skies, burnt soil and smoke, sometimes a bit of the fresh green in between. My throat hurt, I did not want to talk anymore.

Then finally Cotonou: crazy traffic, then off road along the beach and finally - it was almost 8 p.m. – a warm welcome by Maryam and Joachim at the Auberge au Large. We had made it – our Tour team was complete now.

Monique, a restaurant owner nearby, invited us to eat at her place directly on the beach. The wind brought clean air from the sea, and suddenly my voice was 1 octave lower.

At midnight we jumped into the rough waves of the Atlantic ocean.

30. 12. Benin burning

The children woke up a bit later than we did. They simply stood there staring at us. I said “hello”, took a few photos and showed them, they smiled. Then on to Benin.

Border in the heat of noon, almost no water. The border official shouted at Manuel. A nun, who went from Africa to Europe without visa, was sent back in handcuffs recently. A nun! Who are we to think, that we can simply come here without visa and cross the border? Go back to Ouagadougou and apply for a visa at the Benin embassy!

Manuel showed the stamp from his entry last April: he always does it this way, it never was a problem before. You get a transit visa for 48 hours, and then prolong it at the embassy in Cotonou. “No way, go back to Ouagadougou, immediately!”

A woman in uniform was sitting in the corner, nodding, and another officer looked grim. Manuel told, that his girl friend was waiting to see him in Cotonou on New Year´s Eve. This did not impress them at all. What is his girl friend doing there? Manuel told them, that she is from Cotonou, then took his mobile phone and said, that he would call her now, and they could ask her. He tried, but she did not answer. What the hell did I want to do in Benin, he asked me. Tourist? Not really - we have many Africans in Austria, and I want to understand them better. The women waved me to her: “What would you think about marrying an African man?” – “Basically – why not?” “I like you”, she said, pointing at the other officer: “This is my brother – would you marry him?” “Many Austrian women marry African men, so basically…”

Everybody started to laugh. They offered us apples and watermelons, we were eating and joking, exchanging phone numbers, and after a warm good bye we were on the road again.

Driving through a country of smoke for hours and hours. Everywhere people are burning the grass and bushes to get new and fresh green, they burn their trash, there are fires for cooking… The sky was always grey, and every now and then you could see billows of smoke from far and near.

The night it became worse, we were driving through a burning country. We were driving until we found a place where we could breath a bit and fell asleep exhausted.

29. 12. Ouagadougou pass through

Feeling real bad in the morning. In Ouagadougou we were looking for a camping site mentioned in our travelling guide. After a long time searching, a moped driver led us to a huge, empty space. The buildings there had no roof, and the owner apologized for having neither water nor electricity. The site was actually closed down.

I insisted for immediate truck repair, and the owner of the camping site brought us to a place around the corner, where they fixed the hole in the exhaust within half an hour for almost no money.

Then internet café and phone, linking with our Ouagadougou contact Günther, a Viennese who works there for UNESCO. Stefan and I had met his wife Petra in Ruanda last year. My beloved colleague Mihael Milunovic was also supposed to be in Ouaga, but I was too weak to do anything. At the end Manuel and Stefan insisted to continue for Benin, and it had some logic: the rest of our Trash on Tour team, Joachim Hainzl and Maryam Mohammadi were waiting for us in Cotonou, Benin on December 31st, and Manuel wanted to be there for his girl friend to celebrate New Year´s Eve together. Good reasons, but the very bad feeling to skip an interesting country.

People here behaved really different from Mali. Nobody asked for money or presents, taking photos was no big deal. The country is even poorer, but there is a well-paved street (called “highway”) running through, most of the people seemed to have bicycles, we saw many green fields…

At night we stopped near a village and asked a farmer, if we could stay on his land.