Friday, April 15, 2011

Using Resources

Writing after a long time feels nice. I have no idea why I stopped writing. Today is Vishu, and I am glad I have chosen the New Year day to start afresh on my blog.

This happened when I was in Tanzania last year. Mzee and I were running some errands in the market area of Iringa(a beautiful town in the south-central part of Tanzania). We came across a cobbler and Mzee stopped there to get some repair work done on his shoes. The cobbler was an old man with a very kind face. He sat on the side of the road surrounded by his tools and lots of used truck tyres. A blue tarpaulin sheet above him supported by two wooden sticks protected him from the rain and sun. This makeshift arrangement was his shop. As Mzee was getting his work done, I sat down beside him on the side of the road. He was a pleasant man and we talked to each other in a mixture of rudimentary Swahili and English but mostly signs and gestures. Mzee would chip in with translations whenever things got too complicated. Just as he was almost about to be done with fixing Mzee's shoes, the shoemaker offered to make me some rubber sandals for 3000 Tsh (slightly more than $2). I said yes mostly because I was fascinated by the fact that he would be making these sandals from scratch and by his claim that it would take just 10 minutes. He took measurements of my feet and then leant over to one of the used truck tyres to cut open a slice of rubber from the softer parts of the tyre. Just as he claimed, in under 10 minutes, he had made my sandals.
And they felt quite comfortable as well. I mean not that comfortable that I would lounge in them the entire day, but decent enough that I would be able to walk in them every now and then. I moved closer to the tyre to see which tyre I would be wearing. And surprise, surprise - it said 'Ceat Tyres'. For those of you, who have never heard of Ceat Tyres, it is an Indian tyre manufacturing company, with a running rhino on its logo which says 'Born Tough'. I smiled when I realized that my sandals were going to be worn in the US, but they were made in Tanzania built out of a tyre made in India. 3 countries, 3 continents. A truly global sandal.

But more than this what got me thinking was how everything was used to the fullest extent possible. This is true recycling. This is use of resources until it cannot be used anymore. A few weeks back, at one of the campsites, when we had to fill diesel in the truck from a large can of extra diesel that we had, Mzee made a makeshift funnel out of a used plastic water bottle by simply cutting it in half and inverting it into the mouth of the gas tank. Simple solution but what a great use for something that would otherwise have been thrown away. I got inspired enough to use the other half of the plastic water bottle as a cup for shaving.

Thinking back , I came across quite a few examples of things being resued in contexts that I would never have thought of. Necessity does that. In the US, however everything is so readily available, that you don't have to think about reuse. The end result is that we use up so many resources when really there is no need to. The question I asked myself back then was would I even try to change my behaviour when I went back to the US. Would I change something as simple as using cloth instead of paper towels to wipe kitchen counters. I am ashamed to say that my behaviour has not changed since I still am sticking to the convenience of a paper towel which I can just throw away after use without the bother of washing it. It is sad but true that generally, people downgrade their use of resources only during necessity. Only a few minority are capable of doing this without the duress of necessity and unfortunately, I am not one of them. But I will keep trying.