As a general rule people, especially children, watch our every move with rapt attention. It does not matter if we are doing something they find strange (like picking up a dog and petting it) or something completely normal (like washing clothes). Tonight was no exception as we discretely attempted to burn our trash. As previously stated, our house had been well perused by a mouse before we got there, leading to gnaw marks and holes and poop in everything. Neither Ashley nor I feel okay eating food with mouse poop in it, so we decided to just throw all of it out (a thoroughly American and non-Tanzanian reaction to this problem). We also inherited a container of very bad smelling beans, which was added to our trash pile.
There is no waste infrastructure here, not even a location for a dump, so we must burn our trash to get rid of it (a thoroughly unsustainable practice, but I cannot think of a better thing to do with our trash right now). Ashley and I decided to take our first trash-burning adventure on an evening when very few people were around. Unfortunately, as our presence attracts so much attention, a throng of children showed up shortly after we began. Because of our limited Swahili, people often reach over and show us how to do things. A few of the girls decided to help by dumping out all of our trash all over the flames. In addition to nearly extinguishing the fire, this also exposed to a group of 11 kids that we were throwing away rice and beans. In a culture in which people often don’t get enough food, this is a travesty. We tried to tell them that the beans were bad and there was mouse poop in the rice, but it was ineffective. Instead, we just stood there feeling really awkward and embarrassed as the kids looked on or pawed through our trash in disbelief.
Then another kid tried to help us toke the fire by lighting a corn husk. This seemed useful until every other child decided to pitch in by adding corn husks. The result- a pile of cornhusks atop the trash that wouldn’t help our stuff burn, and no way to communicate this. They lit it and we had a mini bonfire as I helplessly looked on. As it was dying down a few women came by to see what was going on. I was thankful that the ashes from the cornhusks had covered up our shameful rice and beans (which, even though they hadn’t been burned, are sure to be eaten by chickens later.) The kids then started blowing on and poking the embers, trying to start the fire again. In this process they inadvertently uncovered the rice and beans, once again leading to a conversation in which we were asked how we could be throwing them away. Sigh.