Samstag, 6. Februar 2010

1. 2. The long ride to Lagos

The distance between Cotonou and Lagos is about 80 km, so we were convinced – considering all expected troubles at the border -, that we would arrive in Lagos around 10 a.m. when starting in Cotonou at 6 o´clock in the morning.

We expected some small troubles: Manuel had lost his vaccination card, and the stories we heard from Maryam and Joachim were not really promising.

We arrived the Nigerian border quickly. We had to get out of the taxi, I went barefoot because of the huge blisters on my feet. People offered me their sandals, but no way.

A long row of tables, we had to go from one to the other for control: passport, visa, vaccination card, drugs, customs… On every table somebody new who asked, why we did not get our visa from Vienna, but from Cotonou. Why we want to go to Nigeria. Obviously, they were looking for something to make us pay, we observed a constant stream of money, going into the officer´s pockets.

Manuel was stopped at the first counter because of his missing vaccination card, and after a not too small payment he was allowed to pass. A few counters later he had to pay again.

I mentioned Susanne Wenger and could pass all controls quickly. On the last counter they asked: “What do you bring to our people?” – “Sorry, we have nothing left.”

We continued in a Nigerian taxi. The driver charged a huge amount of money, because we are white, and this means: more police controls than usual, more troubles. Our Benin driver had charged money from him to hand us over, and there was some fight we did not understand between people we had never seen before. They passed money around, and finally we could go: Welcome to Naira land.

After some hundred meters we had to stop for the next control. The car before us did not stop immediately, the policeman was beating on it with a golf club. Everybody had weapons – heavy guns, small guns, knifes, golf clubs, metal claws… We felt a bit uncomfortable. There were stops every 5 minutes, Manuel had to pay for his missing vaccination card again, and some stops later they wanted to have money for a mask Stefan bought in Mali. It was a souvenir-shop Dogon mask, obviously new, but they wanted to charge money for an antique. Endless discussions, they wanted Eur 30,-, this was more than the money he paid for the mask. Stefan could not pay, they wanted to keep the mask, not even Susanne Wenger could help… Finally we said, we would leave it with them, but we want official papers, so we could claim it back. We could keep it for 1000 Naira, which is around Eur 5,-.

During all this horror drive I observed mostly women in orange overall, cleaning the streets. They had the logo of LAWMA on their clothes – Lagos Waste Management Association. Joachim and Maryam had been there already, the director expected us to come with the video camera. I was too shocked with all this police controls to take any pictures of the waste workers. There was police everywhere, and cameras definitely would give them another reason to make us pay.

We finally arrived in our hotel at 1 p.m. – exhausted and frustrated. We did not feel like going anywhere, the country seemed to be hostile. The taxi driver was complaining all the way about mismanagement and too much police, traffic jams and controls everywhere.

We had the first hotel room with air condition, so we switched it on and went to bed. The hotel had high walls, barb wire and a strong gate, protected by a guard day and night. We felt secure.

After a short nap, I wanted to contact my friends in Lagos and check emails, but there was no internet and no phone to the outside world. After checking the hotel nextdoors, we found out that it had internet, but was much more expensive, so I looked for an internet café nearby.

People on the street were helpful and friendly, quiet atmosphere. The internet café was close, the hotel manager gave us his own sim card for our cell phone, and we could start to organize our stay. We called Mr. Bode Fanima of LAWMA, and he visited us at 10 pm for a drink and talk. He promised to arrange a meeting with the executive director, and a visit on their biggest waste disposal site: the waste dump of a city with 18 million people – we were excited!

31. 1. Cleaning up our Steyr and burning

Stefan started to pack his own stuff early in the morning, then we put all dividends into recycled metal cases, which will be sent to Austria as soon as we have raised enough money for shipping.

Then we said good bye to our home of the last months. The truck with its rich load of dividens can stay at the German Embassy in Cotonou for the next few months.

Instead of leaving for Nigeria as planned, we felt weary and tired and decided to leave early next morning. We were packing at about 40 degrees Celsius heat, so there was not much energy left.

Nevertheless, there were 2 big bags of our own waste left from the journey, and all the Austrian waste we brought and nobody wanted. It was not too bad for 3 months of journey, but considering the small dustbins of Manuels girlfriend´s house where we stayed for our last days, it was quite essential.

Waste production in African households is incredibly small, for an apartment house with 3 floors there was only 1 medium sized dustbin, which is emptied once a week, and this is usually sufficient – but not, when you have European guests.

We decided to make a final Benin shot and burn our trash on the beach – as we had observed local people to do regularly. Where ever you look, there is a fire burning waste.

It was Sunday evening, and the beach was crammed with people enjoying the sunset – and a big fire of waste burning on the side of the road. We were curious about the reaction of people when they see us – white people – burning trash the same way they do. What would happen?

We stopped and put our waste out of the truck. Manuel drove the truck away. The situation was not discussed before, and it was quite confused. Stefan asked me to throw the waste into the fire, but I did not feel comfortable with the idea, so he started to film the sunset. After a short thought, I decided to take a bag anyway and throw it into the fire. The bag was heavy, and I went too close – the ground was loose with ashes, and I slipped right into the embers, wearing only sandals. My toes burnt like fire. I tried to get out of the ashes, but trying this I was sliding even deeper, so I let myself fall down and crept out.

In the meantime, some children had taken our other bag and started to fight over its content. Then some barefoot children ran into the hot ashes and pulled out our bag. A car passed by, the driver shouting out to us fiercely. I was looking at my toes, shocked and convinced, that I would not be able to walk for the next days. Not knowing what to do, I took some pictures, while Stefan was filming the children and Manuel came back talking to a man he just met.

I decided, that it hurt to much and asked Manuel to bring me to a doctor. Stefan hanging on the outside of the truck, we were driving back into the city for a pharmacy, where Manuel got me a salve. Then we went back to the apartment, and I spent the rest of the evening with my feet in iced water, while Stefan cooked a nice meal.

Manuel tried since noon to find a taxi to pick us up at 5 o´clock in the morning to bring us to the Nigerian border. He made countless phone calls, at the end we had 3 taxi drivers competing. None of them would bring us over the border. At 2 a.m. Manuel finally fixed an appointment with a driver from Porto Novo, who would hand us over to a Nigerian driver at the border.

30. 1. The tour to the market

At 9 a.m. we were at the quarter´s bottle storage to wait for Celestine, who came with baskets full of bottles, then went away to collect some further goods. The other women helped her to built a huge tower, which she put on her head, an on we walked. While in the quarter, Celestine still stopped to ring up households, and then we came to the big street, and instead of walking, we stopped 4 “zemidjans”, the moped taxies. We filmed and took pictures while driving, and on the market Celestine went to the Oxfam headquarters to sell her goods. She got cfa 2.000,- (Eur 3,50) for her collection, which she bought for cfa 1.600,-, walking from house to house for hours. This made a wage of cfa 400,- for a whole day´s work – not even 1 Euro.

We doubled up the cfa 2.000,- and bought some of the bottles for the exhibition and one of our lucky shareholders. With our budget, we could not do more.

In the afternoon I started to pack my stuff from the truck, we had to leave it in Cotonou. Stefan went to Aston to exchange a painting by Schaumbad artist Michael Maier for a work by Aston – we had discussed this at our last visit. Stefan came back with a great picture plus a small sculpture, which will be raffled of between our lucky shareholders.

While packing, somebody started to burn their waste on the street.

29. 1. Back to the waste world

After a few cheap days of doing nothing for the project we had to prepare for our way back and make loose ends meet: The story of “Oxfam Quebec” was not finished for the video, and we tried to make an appointment with Jaqueline, our competent guide from the first tour. Jacqueline Djidonou is responsible for the empowerment of women and public relations.

We could not reach her on the phone, so we went to her office to learn, that she was at their branch in Ouidah, a few kilometres out of Cotonou. We got her cell phone number and gave her a call: we would like to interview her, but we also needed Celestine, the woman we filmed last time on her tour to buy empty bottles, cans and paper from the households. We covered the collecting part, but not her walking 3 km to the market and selling the bottles. We did not interview her so far. Jaqueline promised to find out her cell phone number and call us back.

We were about to leave the office, as Jaqueline´s boss came and asked if he could help. As Jaqueline was out of reach, I asked him for an interview, but he immediately phoned Jaqueline and told her to come to the office, which would take her about 2 hours time.

In the meantime we decided to go to the place were the women of this quarter have their bottle storage, it was quite close to the Oxfam office. We hoped to get hold of Celestine. At the storage there was the usual crowd of women washing bottles, eating, chatting. They recognized us and went away to bring Celestine, who was not happy about our request: her next tour to the market was on Monday (we would be in Lagos then), now it was Friday and she wanted to enjoy the weekend with her family. She also claimed, that she did not have enough bottles to sell. Hm, how about a small fake? We would buy the bottles from a colleague, and she could sell them and get all the money without having to collect them all day. We also would pay for her taxi to the market, so it would safe her lots of work and 3 km of walking. Finally she agreed, and we made an appointment for 9 a.m. the next day.

Jaqueline came and gave us a comprehensive interview about Oxfam Quebec – their history, structure and fields of waste management.

Basically, they take care of all solid waste in Cotonou and Ouidah: they have this plastic recycling program, a compost production from organic waste, a huge landfill site, as well as educational programs, where people learn how to avoid waste. Oxfam offers “abonnements” to all households: for a very small amount of money they get a dustbin, and Oxfam would come every week to get the waste. To promote this, they have groups of “animateurs” on the streets, in schools or walking from door to door to demonstrate the advantages of professional waste disposal. Additionally, they produce TV-spots, Jaqueline was playing in some of them.

Oxfam Quebec is a Canadian organization founded in 1942 to fight hunger and poverty. In 1996, a regional office for West Africa was established in Cotonou, Benin to supervise activities in Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Waste, which was a big problem, turned out to be a chance to provide jobs for many people, and it was a success story. Cotonou became much cleaner, and many other communes now ask for a branch in their cities. They soon will expand to Porto Novo, and probably further all over the country.