The Future of Forever Plastic

Having been around the world, I’ve given up hope. Not that people are normally and naturally o.k./good even, yet hope that the world won’t just become a really dirty place marked by plastic. Some countries hide it better than others, some even are doing the right thing, yet the majority of the time, for the majority of the people, we are not righteous within the eyes of garbage. I know what not to do, but I find myself with that plastic bottle, take out dish, the plastic bag.

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As the crow picks, this is just plastic now waiting for a forever resting place.

Garbage on the streets could be a symptom of a lack of taxes paid, a lack of elected working officials, a lack of civil organization as there isn’t money to make in garbage. Visible garbage, floating in streams, gathered on road sides, stuck in trees and half buried on beaches seems to be a common visual sign ‘this government isn’t functioning that well.’

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A rough river of waste in the city center.

Bangalore gets a good score, yet fails in many ways. After recently living in a poorer country, we find our garbage interactions turned positive, so we shrug and remark at how better the air is here, how there are fewer smoking plastic piles. Then the sun shines, the rain dries and the smell of rotting collected trash (a really special and amazing smell) catches me by the throat.

 

 

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Our apartments garbage going to a secret place, maybe in a hole, maybe just on the ground.

In our thousand person apartment complex, there are wet and dry garbage days, where each goes, no one I’ve asked knows. The internet has told me of former quarries being packed full, rick shaw by tractor load. The side of the road, any road, still remains a favorite, even though this is no solution except for that one person at that moment. These road side dumps have an ecosystem; the dogs come, cows, birds and people to sift through the last bits of someone’s life to see if there is just a little bit more energy for a day forward to the next. The bugs finish what they can and the plastic bits live on.

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Worth only six words, this picture is not showing kilometers of road that has piles and piles of garbage, hundreds of personal little dumps.

On a recent hike with school, we were given little bags to clip around our waste and as we climbed, we each eagerly scooped up bits of plastic. It felt good getting this ugly human trace off the mountain. As the face pitched up, we naturally broke for a rest and I wondered off trail a bit to see the view. There were hundreds and hundreds of hunks and pieces of plastic strewn down the mountain. Evidence that someone climbed up 20 mins of effort, to dump bags of garbage. I didn’t even bother to raise a call to the group, to pick up 40 out of 600 hundred seemed pointless. I quietly went back to the trail to the peak to survey the land from so high up that not even the trace of people could break the flow and strength of nature, at least from that one perspective.

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A final resting place for more than just us, thousands of little monuments to how we can’t control what we create.

 

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They built this city on…

In the city of perpetually rising cement, granite rules the foundations, sidewalks, fences, vineyard posts and benches. At .77 cents per square ft, this rough cut granite is cheaper than cement ($4.04/bag). With a corresponding cheap labor force that is tasked to move the 168 lbs/square foot hunks, granite is planted in surprising places, at least to me.

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Like whipped cream on top of hot chocolate, scrapped and dug at until the solid rock is finished.

At first glance, the flat forested areas around us yield no mountains to peel apart. Bangalore is a plateau resting on many kilometers of granite and where granite is exposed there are hands ready to break it apart.

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Here at Nandi hills, everything old(temples to houses) is impressively constructed from rock

During our travels hand shaped old stone is always a must see. We often ponder at the how and the who that placed the stone as it stands, tall or curves, protecting or stabilizing, celebrating or trapping. Granite is one of my favorite substances on the planet, yet I quiver at the idea of having to move more than a handful of it at a time.

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Wide at the bottom narrow at the top, so the top can kill the bottom without getting killed. Who stacked these blocks all those years ago?

The surrounding quarries produce slabs of granite that are used like plywood. With the absence of timber, the Bangalore granite fences stand like crooked teeth, guarding assorted areas. These brittle slabs are often snapped in half or are leaning over, as the rain softens the ground.

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This fence is astounding and are common place enough to not be picture worthy.

Thrown over the ditches, so that cars, trucks and people can pass by unmolested by the waste water and much worse (I assume). The slabs are a marvel of labour, economics and just really remarkable that stone like this is still viable to serve as a bridge across a modern moat of sorts.

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A game of hopscotch that ends in a sewer, these blocks support massive dump trucks.

 

 

 

Who grew this carrot?

A familiar scenario that is ignored after the first wave of curiosity and utterly forgotten as the plate of ravioli is placed by the waiter: Who makes our food, is it safe? Are they being paid well? Imagine a reality TV show about a star farmer instead of chef-what a different planet it would be.

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I ate one of these tonight at a restaurant -what did it eat before I did eat it?

Of all places, Bangalore astounds with how it produces and moves food around. Just that number of 8 million, seems un-tamable-is there really enough rice for 8 million people, day after day?

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This is the positive side with lots of space, little squares of food – in the distance, people, lots of people.

We are (from my perspective) fortunate and have choice of our food yet also the cause of the issue. From the thirteenth floor of our modern high rise apartments, we see the surrounding farm land being eaten up with the same exact blocks in which we live.

The momentary pause looking out from the balcony, allowing reality to pour in and how frighteningly fragile sustainable life really is. Where does the water in my taps come from? I know I can’t drink it, but why? The apple, I’ve got in my hand arrives from a fruit seller on the street, but I’ve never seen an apple tree in Bangalore.

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Pineapple, oranges, apples, mangoes, potatoes, corn, onions and custard apples.

Out on the bike, passing through either fields of corn or gates of empty luxury soon-to-be filled-with-people towers. There isn’t a tractor to be seen, cows plow, hands plant and pull unwanted plants. All of it small plots for a little money based upon the free sweat of labor against the price in the market.

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$154.12 is what a ton of coconuts can fetch on the open market.

Easy to understand why in eleven years and five countries, I haven’t ever had a student tell me they wanted to be a farmer. In Bangalore, farmers are turning into real estate brokers as polluted lakes burn and money is in, selling land not food.  So, then there is the repetition of the aging farmer, the dwindling land, the fights of water, the despair over the water that is too polluted to use.

Grim.

Friday night the door bell rings, closing the balcony door I see the Dominoes pizza trotting in on Shea’s head. I’ll figure out where the pepperoni and mozzarella is made later, just not right now.

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Who can figure out what to do, to make everyone have enough food.?

 

The Cow Who Laughed

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Tired after a day in the market? Plunk it down until the mood moves.

There is the simple effect of living in a place that tries to honor life. For us, for many and for the cows this means India is known for the wandering, powerful cow. Though sacred these cows are not worshiped, just appreciated for the work in fields, for their milk and Ghee (clarified butter). Since Quinn and I have become bike school commuters we have multiple daily encounters with cows and cow poop. Big hunks of splattering cow dung are things to be avoided especially by mt. bike tires.

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The wonderful Amritmahal doing duty in downtown traffic – those men laugh at gas stations.

On a recent trip up windy roads, with large box like careening buses within mere centimeters of our car, it seemed like that was the worst worry until a hairpin corner taken at speed revealed a Vechur cow nonchalantly standing in the road. Our driver yanked the wheel over into on coming traffic and then yanked it back to remove ourselves from the impending dump truck. Not an eye was batted by him, I was left shaken and each corner became another possible cow death wish.

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She’s not angry, just confident that this is her street, not yours.

Though highly honored and protected from harm, there seems to be an air of neglect within the city center of Bangalore.

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The trash cow, the least majestic of the city cows, but a lady has to eat in a city of 8 million.

Who needs a cow in a city of cement and stone?  Out by our place the cows have people around who care for them, milk them and guide them around.  As the farm land, little villages and rooted agrarian culture dictates usefulness and need. The need can extend to cow patties as in the morning, the tied cows make avoidable piles that are then scraped up and used (nope, not for what you think). Around the nicer buildings (ones with cooking gas, electricity) the poop stays until the rains come and rinse it back into the ground, but not before getting all over me.

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Safely, parked next to a Biryani place knowing that no one can/will eat the flesh of beef.

Serenity now!

Depending on the perspective, mega cities are crowded with traffic, honking, rickshaws, motos with many people sitting on one seat, with a myriad of activities. For the young and single and interested, the mega city even has the discotheques, high end sushi restaurants and other such fineries.

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The wonders of the towers all residents vying for one tiny badminton court.

The Urban Meadows (buildings A-L) with our thousands of neighbors can feel like a space ship orbiting the great city center, as a taxi ride can be an hour to downtown. This is where a turn to the Northon the Mt. bike, the city of millions fades away to smaller apartments, little hamlets, homesteads and then a eucalyptus plantation surrounded by corn farms, a reeking garbage dump and a muster of wild(?) peacocks.

 

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Anthills and wild dog packs, peacocks and trash – A little slice of heaven for me.

The trails cut through this swath of land are mainly utilitarian trails, shaped by water and tired farmer feet. At points along the trails, humanity drops back and there is a sense that this might be a first person sort of find-some ancient trail discovered, and then the trash comes into focus, a farmer passes through on a battered motorcycle to his plot of corn.

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8 million of my friends are just over that field to the left.

All of this land has experienced human touch, whether being cultivated currently or at some point in time; shepherds wander through, men looking for a little shade to drink, others who toss their trash, families wanting a nice hike, ancient or modern water shed damns creating holding pools, flood breaks for surrounding plantations. And on days it is empty, like an amusement park just closed- Quinn and I get to play here free from city noise.

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The India equivalent to a man cave- a banyan tree, a place for all the little empty whiskey bottles.

 

This is the price we gladly pay to live outside of the city center-a hunk of space to get into how the country could have felt oh so many years ago.

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Ancient rock that has given birth to the sandy rocky soil, my safe space 20 min from home.

 

 

 

We Were Promised Monkeys

Climbing in and out of apartments, snatching bananas and cereal, holding little monkey babies while scampering through trees, yet the 13th floor of J building has no trees for the little guys to leap. So, though I try to leave the screen doors open as an invitation (Colleen quickly closes them after me) to the Simian cousins, they never come.

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Temple monkey living off of coconut offerings and stolen ice cream bars.

Down the row of our complex, the trees bend close and Shea and Quinn have seen the monkeys hopping up to ravage eggs and crispy cookies. The adults(Currie and I)are locked away in the apartment working.

The last of three weekends, we traveled to see places from old temple stone and modern temple malls to vegetable street markets(all while trying not to think about the seat-beltless taxis we rely on to go anywhere).

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Why are there four different KFC opportunities here? Tried one and-spicy was the experience.

Since our daily life is locked away in school culture, it is the weekends and the various little evening interactions that are shaping our perception of a city of 8 million and a country of 1.3 billion.

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Picking up veggies from the local mini-mart

A month in and I feel like I know Bangalore, yet really I have no idea of neighbors, those who live in little hamlets we pass through on our walk to school, boys driving trucks on rural roads, Uber drivers, the Muslim fruit seller on the street, the stores where our delivered groceries originate and the type of snakes that swim in the lake. Just little snapshots barely enough to tell a small story.

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The family mini-van imagined in a smaller and cheaper way without cup holders.

 

We are finding that our experience in Cameroon is filtering our experience here, much more than coming from America. We’ll see the use of the moto as a family vehicle and not be shocked, yet appreciative for the common thread of need. The chasm between the shanty and the gated high rises isn’t as shocking, it is common place. We delight in little conveniences like seeing M&Ms newly advertised on billboards (well, I delight in seeing M&Ms), Pizza Hut and Subway as delivery options (mid-week highlights).

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The bull temple served spiritual as well as Facebook needs for a brief time.

A difference has been our new found selfie fame; we have been asked at places like the markets and temples to be in selfies and photos with Indian families. Curious to see where we’ll be recognized next.

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Only out of town does this happen, I would not like being famous one bit.

 

 

 

The Idle Dogs of Bangalore

Always it is ‘awww, look at the cuteeee doggie!’ Always we see the patches of missing fur, wary eyes, the torn ears and the ring worm, so we shoo our kids away, forcefully whispering no petting.

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This country is not a bad place to be a stray dog, but not a great place either.

At first we warily kept a distance as they could be biters, aggressive or some sort of ‘chien mechant!’ After numerous non-event encounters, we have started to see them as living gargoyles spread about the city. Mainly resting, curled tight against some cool monsoon winds or just to protect paws. Or many are also in some phase of dying by the hand of neglect and age.

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Here is a temple of the dog, not moving fast enough to seem like things are going well.

This is one symbol of our new county of residence: that stray dogs are nice in temperament, neglected in health and plentiful in place. No one, that I have seen, actively hurts or harms them, even cars/motos swerve to avoid damaging the bold crossing traffic dogs.

I like this; I like the active avoidance of cruelty to the owner-less and cared for, sure the dogs have no steady food source but neither are they harmed. A nice aspect of Hinduism that has a ripple effect to not hurt things with souls, though, throwing stones at goats is still fair game, apparently.

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Amid the central market bursting with humanity, cold stone be damned, a nap is had.

In the trails of a nearby eucalyptus plantation where I bike, reside tribes of free dogs, healthy, totally feral and within the pack mindset. Thankfully, they don’t chase bikes or even turn their heads at the sound of my heavy breathing. Instead they break off and slink into the brush after something they only know about. From my perspective a better way to be, but not all dogs can live forest free.

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Seemingly, knowing where to go is part of the plan for city dogs.