Recently, Cale and I were having a conversation with another PC couple about trash in Sāmoa. I have already shared with you in my previous rubbish posts (oh, so cleverly named My Kingdom for a Lapisi and Lapisi Pt. II) some of the confusion I have over what Sāmoans think of trash and how the dispose of it.
Paul was talking about how until relatively recently most of the things that people in Sāmoa used on a regular basis they made themselves from plants. Plates were weaved from coconut tree leaves, as were bags. When the plate or bag started to wear out, you just threw it over your shoulder and made a new one. There was no reason to fix the old one (since the materials were readily available) and not worries about just throwing it in the yard (it would eventually biodegrade or get eaten by a pig).
However, there is now trouble with trash. Plates come from the store, as do bags. Food no longer simply comes from a plant or an animal; it comes in packaging. However, the Sāmoan attitude towards material goods and the trash generated by them has not changed. So if your plate breaks, just throw it over your shoulder and buy a new one. If your bag has a hole, don’t bother to fix it. Throw it in the yard and get a new one.
It doesn’t help that most of the products over here are cheap knockoffs made from lower quality materials and with lower quality standards. Things are going to break and fall apart quickly and the waste is going to build up just as quickly.
We also talked about how there is a lot less maintenance and repair in this country. An excellent example was the sewing machine. Lots of people have sewing machines, either to make their own clothes or to make a little money as a seamstress or tailor. However, no maintenance is performed on the sewing machines. Simple things like oiling, replacing aging parts or keeping it rust free. Once it breaks, it won’t be repaired either. It will be discarded and a new one will be purchased (if there is the money for it).
It is just a different attitude towards material goods than what we are used to in the States. In fact, it is almost like an attitude I associate with the lavishly rich in the States. “My shoe broke? Throw it away, I’ll buy a new one!” It seems extravagant and wasteful. But that is not where it is coming from. Sāmoans aren’t throwing trash willy-nilly and failing to repair broken items because they have money to burn. Quite the contrary. It is just what happens when Sāmoan culture/history meets a flood of Western (well, in this case Eastern, as most products come from China*) products.
*Though China is west of Sāmoa, so maybe it is Western. This is all very confusing no?