Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I have not yet made peace with certain things about myself, but especially my views towards the environment. Well I guess I know my VIEWS, but I need to work on my ACTIONS. Mostly because, well, I’ve been busy doing my best not to think about it because I feel guilty.

I turn off the tap water when I brush my teeth, I don’t use aerosol cans of hairspray, and I don’t ever litter. That’s really it. I’m big on littering. Isn’t that about the most kindergarten philosophy you can have? Just pick up after yourself.

I was walking next to another Fulbrighter a few months ago when he threw a gum wrapper on the ground. That’s always a weird position to be in… you don’t want to be the jerk making a big deal out of a gum wrapper, but then again you’re thinking, “Come on, man. Is it so hard to put in your pocket?” I almost kept walking, but I was briefly haunted by the image of my grandchildren wading through Juicy Fruit on their way to school.

And he said, “Oh, I forgot. You’re the one who doesn’t like littering.” What? Like that’s a thing?He said it like “Oh, I forgot you don’t smoke” or “Oh, I forgot you don’t eat meat.” Does that imply there are people who like to litter?

Anyway, the point of all that is simply this: there is trash everywhere in Indonesia. People throw candy wrappers out of car windows. My students just leave plastic bags on the ground outside before they walk into school. Everyone litters.

I think part of the problem is that there are so few, if any, public trash cans. If you make it easy for people to recycle or throw garbage away, I think most of them will. But trash just lines the streets. There are sewage canals under all the sidewalks, and often the concrete will be broken and you’ll find yourself staring down into river of year-old trash. The stench underneath is overwhelming.

There are two seasons in Indonesia: the hot season and the rainy season. The six-month-long rainy season started about a month ago. Yana and I were caught on the road on her motorcycle during the first big storm. It was insane—we the water rose so high in thirty minutes that we couldn’t even drive her bike anymore. We were stuck for two hours under an overhang on the side of the road. Finally, her dad was able to get through with an SUV.

I asked Yana if rain that hard was uncommon. Nope, she said. Then why don’t they build the roads higher? It was hard rain, but it only lasted for 45 minutes or so, and it completely shut down all of Palembang’s roads. She said the only reason everything flooded was because it was the first big rain in six months. It wasn’t the amount of rainfall that caused the flooding, it was the fact that half a year of garbage was blocking the sewers.

Rain rain go away

Eww. So we weren’t really “waiting for the floods to go down” exactly, we were waiting “for the water to push the trash out of the way.”

There ARE landfills, but in some places, people are expected to just burn their trash. I take my own trash out to a bucket in front of my house that I share with four other families. Yes, just exactly the shape and size of a normal bucket. Obviously, this doesn’t hold five families’ worth of garbage, so it’s always overflowing and spilling into the road. I just discovered that for $1 a month, my trash is being taken to a clearing in the woods near my house and burnt. It’s burnt! I have such a problem with that, but I don’t know how to just stop producing trash or where else to take it.

The smell is terrible. It smells like … well, like someone setting a whole bunch of trash on fire. And it smells like guilt. I wonder what I can do…


  1. Katie--glad to see your blog. I thought you had retired until the New Year. Your "trash" comments reminds me of the 1960's, when everyone just threw their wrappers out of car windows. We have gotten better because of people like you and legislation. You go girl. Dad

  2. I can't believe it. Under the Palembang entry on Wikipedia is this: 1st place of the cleanest metropolitan city in Indonesia 2008 (Adipura Award)