I see it sometimes hiding among the grass as soon as I step out the front door in the morning, and I wonder why it is stalking me. During my walks, its eyes peer at me from everywhere and I cringe, repulsed at its very existence. Whilst walking along the sidewalk which flanks the Lindo park on Goodwill Road, it pursued me. I have become its prey, for the many players on the field, the adults sitting on the benches enjoying “the view”, listening to the painful pleasurable sounds associated with sports training, unwinding with idle chatter of all sorts seem to have escaped its clutches. I scanned the area hoping that others had become aware of its predatory nature, but I seemed the only one trapped. I lifted my head perforce I could escape, and the green carpet which adorned the mountain brought some relief, but only temporarily. I ascended the hill, my tongue tingling with the bittersweet reality of the regressive nature of our progress.
A few years ago, Chikungunya came knocking on our door and the authorities embarked on an island wide clean up to ensure the breeding places of mosquitoes were eradicated. It was amazing to see the amount of garbage that was “discovered” and carted out of the environment all over the island. Garbage that had become part of the landscape, that had grown on us until it became pleasing to the eye. It took Chikungunya for it to become an eyesore to those around it.
I grew up a witness to children and adults sweeping yards and the front of homes early in the mornings before the business of the day overwhelmed all. It was a very important aspect of the cleaning ritual at most homes around the island, and we all had our “cocoye” brooms to master the task. Even as recent as the 1990’s, my nose would be assaulted with the antiseptic smell of the popularly used “Jays” while on early morning walks through Roseau. It could have been deduced then that cleanliness was the mode of the day. Today, however, cleanliness seems to be an abstract concept and I am held hostage to garbage.
Today, I say without reservation that many children are not taught to clean. If they are, then, they are not cleaning, not yards- front or back or anywhere else. I wonder sometimes whether they know that their environment must be kept clean, that garbage is something that must be disposed of responsibly, as if disposed of irresponsibly, their lives could be impacted negatively. I write frustrated but concerned about the impact that our inaction is having on our children and our environment. I often tell my students that I don’t live in a pig sty, so I will not work in one. I refuse to teach unless the classroom is clean and very often 95 percent of the class will laugh and do nothing, while a mere five percent will clean up. This is troubling because it forecasts what’s ahead for Dominica if we don’t all put our shoulder to the wheel.
If we really want to be honest, we will accept that “clean” is not an adjective that we can really ascribe to Dominica because we are failing in our responsibility to keep it clean, and since children model the behaviour they see, I am working in “garbage hell”. I have closed my eyes and tried to see the yard of the Dominica Grammar School during the 80’s and though I am sure that we brought our snacks in some sort of bag, I am trying to recall my principal making a fuss about the “invasion of garbage”, and at no time can I recall my principal having to stand like a sentinel, microphone in hands to announce to students that they must pick up their garbage and dispose of it responsibly before the business of “learning” other things can continue. At school, students eat and drop bottles, plastics, other food wrappers and containers on the ground and walk off. They also shove these food wrappers or plastic bags into any aperture that materializes before their eyes. What is worse is that they often sit right among that garbage so engrossed in their games that they are not affected. When the bell rings, they walk off without a care in the world. If I invited parents to school at the end of recess, there would be enough work to keep them busy for close to 40 minutes, work created by their children who enjoy wallowing in trash. There will be pieces of bread, empty juice boxes, plastic bottles, etc. on the windowsills. Some will close the window once in the classroom, so they don’t see it. During classes, pencils are sharpened and shavings are dropped on the floor, papers rolled into a ball and tossed into a corner and when those who use the garbage bin realize that it is full and in need of being emptied, they turn a blind eye and begin to create a landfill behind the door. I am not sure if we are blessed at my school with the children who enjoy a dirty environment or whether that blessing extends to other schools.
I should not be washing my dirty laundry in public you say. I should teach them how to behave responsibly at school, but I see no other option because this generation of students are tone deaf because the messages they receive, and process verbally and visually are incongruous. I hear stories from parents which begin with,” He does not have anything to do at home,” and continues, “so he has enough time to study and do homework.” It is a moment of epiphany for me and I say to myself, “No wonder he does not know how to keep his environment clean.” I do accept that we have progressed so much that our children are spared menial work. We are a more affluent society, and in many homes there is a helper, so children do not have to wash dishes, make beds, sweep and mop, scrub bathroom and steps. Then we are also able to afford gardeners and landscapers, so someone weeds, cuts the grass, cleans the dog poop and takes out our trash. We have car washers, so they don’t have to wash the cars, either. Life is about progress and our progress is allowing our children enough leisure time to prepare to contribute to irresponsible living in society. What’s more, adults whose behaviours are key to the educating of children in society, teach children either in word or deed that someone else is responsible for his/her garbage. When a box of KFC hits the road in front of me after being tossed out of a car, I understand the siege I am under from garbage. When a show ends and I am not sure whether it took place on an asphalt surface or grass, I understand the siege I am under from garbage, when I must walk on the road because a business place has taken over a part of the sidewalk for its garbage and pick up will not be done that day for whatever reason, I understand the siege I am under from garbage.
Since school is meant to teach more than academics, we can only demand that while under our watch they practice social responsibility, but we are often stymied by the voices of parents who cry out they did not send their children to school to clean. That they pay school fees -a mere pittance when the cost of tuition and school upkeep a year is taken into consideration- so the school should pay someone to clean. I walked to a nearby school last week right after recess break and commented to a colleague that I see they are facing the same problem we are with irresponsible dumping of garbage: she respond that if they did not become litter wardens during break, it would be worse. I shook my head and wondered if Dominica will soon become like some of the garbage infested places I see when viewing TV.
I believe that we are failing our children when we engage in and enable the scarring of our environment. Hopefully, we are a more enlightened people. We know the value of a clean environment to our health and the health of Dominica. We should not wait until we have another health scare to clean up. We claim to be the ‘Nature Island of the Caribbean”. Lately, I have been hearing that we are the “Nature Island of the World”. I think, however, that we are delusional. I am not sure if saying this enough will convince us that this is so. I am not convinced and will not be unless I see more respect being afforded to our natural environment. Change is often not welcomed, so there will be much resistance. This is a call for introspection-the question- “how have I contributed to the state of Dominica’s environment today? It is only when it is realized that personal action is powerful that the wave of change will help turn the tide. Nature is doing its part. The Green is showing up everywhere again. There has been effort geared at planting trees. What about the effort to keep Dominica Clean? The work must begin now! We must keep Dominica clean and green to proudly hold on to any claim of being a “Nature Island”.