You can’t eat an orange and throw the peel away- a man is not a piece of fruit. -Willy Loman
I was out on a boat over the weekend, heading out to explore some of the lagoon and get in a little diving. Beautiful day. Sunshine reflecting off clear waters. Palm trees on the shores of lush islands rising from the Pacific . Trade winds blowing gently. The Sirens’ song, beckoning from a distant atoll. The styrofoam plates lolling on the sea’s placid surface. Welcome to Paradise.
I have been amazed at the amount of littering I see during the course of a day. Here at the school, on the “road”, along the shoreline, in the towns–everywhere. On the campus of Xavier, the garbage accumulation is not so bad as elsewhere, but it is still an eye-grabber. I’ve watched a guy buy a bag of potato chips, eat the chips, drop the plastic bag, and keep walking all in one smooth, natural motion. If you slapped a tutu on him, it could have been a ballet; it was so fluid, if not repugnant.
I’ve mentioned the cars rolled into the lagoon. Well, the styrofoam cups, aluminium cans, and candy wrappers are their impish little brothers born of islander parents. I can’t figure out why. I’ve watched my students walk by an empty Fritos bag on the otherwise well-manicured lawn of the school grounds. It is of such proportions that in the two weeks I’ve been teaching here, class and fitness time has been replaced with “Pick up trash” time on three separate occasions. To be fair, there is also a fair amount of natural debris that needs to cleared away. Palm branches, coconuts, bread fruits–all have cluttered the grounds here from time to time. The school even has insurance to protect itself from a lawsuit and cover medical expenses if, in fact, a coconut falls on someone’s head. And you think your big city problems are bad. Although, the Micronesian court system is backlogged to the tune of 2000 cases. I actually met a local business person who runs a scuba shop, and the shop doesn’t carry insurance. “What are they going to do? Take me to court? It’ll be at least ten years until the case comes up. By that time I’ll be in PNG [Papua New Guinea) or Fiji or someplace remote.” But I digress.
I still sit dumbfounded at people’s lack of awareness that they are dropping garbage everywhere. I even had someone ask me what I was doing when he saw me picking up a Jolly Rancher wrapper off the ground. I wonder…Is it linked to the lack of clear tenses in the language. Where there is no future, who cares whether the swill I produce is bio-degradable or not? Is it a byproduct of years of colonization? The idea that this place belongs to the locals and is their responsibility is relatively new. The Japanese colonized them; the U.S. colonized them and still holds huge economic sway over their fate in the shape of handouts and loans. Dean Rusk is often sited as saying that is in America’s best interest that Micronesia be an independent state but dependent upon the U.S. economically. Americans made lousy colonists and make even lousier colonialists. Could it be people’s strong connection to their ancestral island? No one I’ve spoken to claims this island, Weno, as their island. Maybe the folks from Tol or Moen or Mwoch or Feffan just don’t give two cents (in pennies with Honest Abe’s profile) about Weno. Is it due to the plentiful amount of food everywhere? I’ve watched people climbing trees, picking papayas, eating them, and tossing the peels and remnants on the ground. Just add SPAM to the equation and you can replace peels and husks with cellophane, tin, and foil. Perhaps all these factors have come together to form some Frankenculture.
Beats me. All I know is that every night before going to bed, as I empty a handful of trash into the wastebasket in my room, Willy Loman’s words echo in my head. Except I swap the word ‘man’ with ‘island’. It’s tough watching people treat these islands like a dying salesman.