Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Fly away bottle!

It's summer in Tunisia and summer means a few different things:

Summer is melons - cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelons, yellow-melons -
all for about 15 cents per kilo!

Summer is beaches - soft sand, hot wind, salty Mediterranean sea and
wide blue skys!

Summer is heat! - hot, sticky, smelly city heat and the hum and smell
of airconditionning!

And so, of course, summer is all about vacations away from the heat,
where we can lounge on the beaches and eat our melons (and Arabic
coffee - that's for all seasons!).

My mother and grandmother arrived about two weeks ago, and to soften
the blow of the city summer, we whisked them away to Tabarka, a
holiday spot on the Algerian border and on the sea. We spent four
lovely days there in an apartment on the old port, looking at the
ships and the old colonial fort on Tabarka Island. Very scenic.

There were a lot of high points on our trip - the sandy stone pillars,
the merchants, the tomato salads, the home cooked couscous. One of
the most memorable moments, though , was really a low point, not a
high point.

On the trip home we piled into a big taxi, called a louage, and
settled in for the 2 and a half hour ride. I had a bottle of coke
that I was drinking, and when I finished I moved to put it on the
floor. I was in the fron bench seat between Loren and the driver.
The driver tisked at me (that means no here, not shame on you) and
gestured at the open window. I shook my head at him. He reached for
the floor to grab the bottle and I snatched it up first and put it
between my knees.

He looked vexed and he gestured at the open window again. I said,
quite firmly, "No." I wasn't expecting what happened next. He
reached over, plucked the bottle out of the grip of my knees and
launched it out the window. My mouth opened to send some choice words
his way, and I promptly shut it. No matter what I had to say, it
wasn't going to change a thing.

The driver was actually conscious of his environment, but just his
immediate environment: his vehicle. He didn't want waste in his
vehicle. How could I explain to him that throwing it out the window
wouldn't get rid of it? He wouldn't understand. Out of sight, out of

All I could see was the small size of the country, the borders, and
the longevity of that bottle. In his mind it was gone, in mine it was
stuck there forever. For that matter, how can I explain that even in
the garbage bag, the dumpster or the incinerator, we're never rid of
the thing? The very act of producing the plastic used to make the
bottle creates a waste product we can't be rid of. That applies to
almost everything - paper byproducts, all plastics, shampoo, cleaning
agents. It's not the act of using it that hurts the environment, it's
the act of creating it. But as long as there's a demand, we'll keep
creating it, as long as it's there we'll keep using it, and as long as
there's a drain to pour it down or a window to throw it out of it will
be out of sight out of mind.

How does one explain this with limited Arabic to the louage driver?
One doesn't. It's sad, though. And I was furious for an hour.