Last week I volunteered to assist with a trash clean-up detail outside the base. One of our Army units here worked with the Japanese and Djiboutian Armies to come together for a few hours and clean up about a mile stretch of road between our gate and the Japanese Base gate. This was all worked through our embassy and the local government. Each nation committed about 100 troops each for this effort. I was told that a previous effort to clean this stretch of road was not taken so kindly by the local government. Their first reaction was that we should pay their people to do this. We were just trying to be good stewards and they were looking for an opportunity to get more American money. This time we let the embassy grease the skids.
Believe me, the 1-mile stretch of trash we cleaned up is nothing to the amount of trash that is strewn all over this country. It is pretty messy, but what can you expect when you are housing refugees from a neighboring war-torn country. It’s like driving a rental car, I am not overly concerned how dirty it is when I turn it back over as long as it served its purpose when I needed it. There are plastic bags (Wal-Mart Tumbleweeds as they are called in the States) everywhere. Stuck in bushes and trees. I was on a road trip outside the city and just looking out across the desert you could see blue plastic bags out to the horizon, blowing off into the sunset. That being said… we were able to do our part and make our area look a little better.
I got the title of “Trash Truck Commander” since I would be in charge of an 8-person team and 4 trucks that would travel between the base and the dump site. My charge was to gather my folks at the motor pool at 0745, hand out gloves, water and provide a safety brief which included things like watch for spiders and snakes when picking up trash, use 2-man lift when picking up large items, and avoid contact with the various animals in the dump. Once that was complete we jumped in our trucks and headed to the dump so that everyone knew where to go.
The dump site was about 3 miles up the road from the base. The plan was to start from here drive down past the US base and turn around at the Japanese base then bring your collection of garbage to the dump and then do it all over again until all the trash was gone. There would be a team of 8 US Army soldiers stationed in the dump to empty the trucks as they pulled in. That had to be the worst job. First off, as you would expect, it smelled pretty foul. There were piles burning off to the side. There were animals (camels, cows, and goats) all over the place… I mean herds of each feeding on the garbage. There were locals and refugees rooting through the rubbish looking for anything they could recycle or reuse. We left them their with a box of water and a van. They were Army, they could survive.
By the time we got back down to the base the clean-up crews had already filled enough bags for a couple of truck loads. We barely made it down to the Japanese base before all of the trucks were filled, so we had to turn around and head back to the dump. Fortunately the Army had brought a couple of dump trucks along, because it wasn’t long before they were all full. We ended up making 3 trips each, plus the dump trucks. There was so much trash.
The event was quite successful. Our little part of Djibouti was clean and I got to meet a couple of Japanese soldiers, A Romanian sailor, and the only Korean stationed in Djibouti. Although I was a bit hard on the cleanliness of this country earlier, it was nice to work with the locals to show them that we do care about the country and the people. The pictures below show a couple of before and after shots that will give you an idea of what the level of effort really was. It was quite amazing how 3oo international strangers could come together for a couple of hours to make a small difference and make a few new friends.