Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Rubbish..... (aka Street Cleaning Week)

There is a revolution going on in Rishikesh..... (No, the workers have not gone on strike again!).

Previously unheard of events are taking place and strange, never seen before items have landed by the roadside with mysterious messages written in the sky!!!!

No, the sun has not finally got to me, nor has the incessant noise driven me around the bend... The new Clean Himalaya rubbish bins have been installed on the streets with accompanying publicity banners strung above them, across the roads.

Although this may seem to be a bit of a non-event, through western eyes, it is a big help for Clean Himalaya (CH). Instead of just asking people not to throw their rubbish on the floor, there is now somewhere they can ask the public to put their bottles, cans, papers etc... Marc and I were out early this morning photographing the bins and banners. I know, I know... really exciting? No? Well, hopefully it will be useful as CH had a good write-up in a national circulation hindi language paper this week - and with any luck there will be a follow-up to that with pictures and also a further story about the CH clean-up week. More of that later... Anyway, a picture of someone using the bins was needed, but with very few people on the streets at that time, we could have been waiting around for ages to get the required photo. It was quickest to ask one of our friends from the internet cafe if they had any rubbish and did they mind being photographed putting it in the bin? No problem... but it was when our friend walked straight past the new CH bin and went to empty their rubbish on the ground behind it, that it became clear just how far outside the Indian mentality it it is to put anything in a bin. Even as far as not recognising a bin when it is right their in front of them, clearly labelled!! And if this guy didn't manage it..... Getting everyone to use the bins could be a long job!!

This is not to say that the job is impossible or that Indians are not interested.... A Dutch girl, Louise, last weekend organised a clear-up of the area immediately in front of the "German Bakery", a popular western tourist hang-out. There is a good view of the Laksman Jhula bridge from the bakery which is completely spoilt by all the junk that is thrown into a small, steep ravine right by one end of the bridge. Although Clean Himalaya makes daily rubbish collections from the bakery, there is just not enough staff to clear up the streets and areas in the vicinity. Louise took matters into her own hands -organised a few of the tourists to do a clear up and asked Clean Himalaya for help with sacks, gloves and disposing of the collected rubbish.

There were about 20 people involved, 3 of us came from Clean Himalaya to help out and spread the Clean Himalaya word! Louise and her gang slithered down into the steep, muddy ravine and spent an hour and a half clearing it of all the foul gunge down there. The attention it created was amazing! Crowds gathered, jostling to get a glimpse of what was going on, cameras flashed, jaws dropped when it was realised what the bunch of westerners were doing! It certainly made a difference to the view from the bakery and hopefully made all the people that witnessed the clean up, think about what was going on.

Meanwhile, back with Clean Himalaya.... To accompany the new bins and the publicity push, CH had also organised a street cleaning campaign, but spread over 5 days. The usual CH people are all taking part, Jitendra, Steve, Swami Susan, Amit, Marc and myself, plus as many other volunteers as we can get together. We are just asking people to spare an hour or two whenever they can. So far we have some very enthusiastic kids from the local school, guys from rafting and trekking companies, a lady who looks after stray dogs, swamis and many others associated with Sivananda Ashram and a few people who have been walking past, wondered what was going on and then deciding to join in!

Today (Tuesday) was the first day. Despite the current monsoon season, it was a blistering hot, sunny morning. As a result, we have now got sunburn over our tans!!! The prospect of spending the afternoon picking up rubbish out under the merciless sun was not too appealling. In the event, of course, I should not have worried about it as we had only just got stuck into the task in hand when the sky darkened and the heavens opened. The monsoon struck!

We had been out for about an hour and made a really good start on the area where I was clearing up, before the heavens opened. But after the rain stopped, there was more rubbish washed down the centre of the road than was there before we started! Thankfully, no other groups had this experience. We had all made a good start on the week-long clear up, although we all got a soaking for our trouble. Even the kids were drenched, but chattered excitedly about everything they had done while we all went for a well-earned and warming chai (Indian, sweet, milky tea).

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