Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

While I have yet to see any formal system of recycling here in Cameroon, it seems that recycling is a natural part of life. However, this type of recycling and thinking is different than I have experienced in Portland, which would probably pride itself on their recycling and composting efforts. Due to the fact that resources are relatively scarce here, it fosters creativity on the part of individuals to reuse and create needed objects.
For example, the kids that live behind us and play in our yard were running around squirting each other with a squirt bottle, an activity that I am sure every kid has done. However, their squirt bottle was made from a thoroughly used shampoo bottle, that had who-knows how many other uses before it was transformed into the kids’ toy.
While saran wrap is available here, it is harder to find, and doesn’t seem worth spending the money on. Additionally, every time you buy anything at the market it comes in a plastic bag. We have found ourselves re-using these plastic bags as saran wrap…have a bowl of anything that needs to be saved? Put it in one of our many plastic bags, tie it up, and you are good to go, sans saran.
Our front door mat and potholders were all found outside of our apartment when we moved in — there was a large cloth thing outside on the patio, and Shaun cut it into the corresponding pieces with his pocket knife, I washed them, and voila, we now have pot holders and a ‘welcome’ mat.
Our old tomato sauce cans from pasta dinners are used to elevate our cake pan off the bottom of the larger pot in our “oven”. I have also heard of volunteers using these as muffin tins, but we have yet to try that.
When we bought a nicer bottle of red wine to share for my birthday, little did I know we were also buying our rolling pin. We have had fun making pita, naan, and tortillas these last few weeks, and found the wine bottle waiting to be disposed of; thankfully we hadn’t gotten rid of it yet! It is quite a strong rolling pin at that too!
Luckily, the Greek bakery in town has little ‘outpost’ stands throughout town to sell their bread, and one is just up the street from us. If we make eggs in the morning, we will run up the street and grab a baguette of bread. When you buy the bread, they hand it to you with a piece of torn paper wrapped around it. Yesterday, the said paper to carry the bread home was a piece of paper ripped out of a student’s notebook. It made us laugh that they were recycling last year’s notes to sell bread!
But, the one that gets to me each time is water, because water is actually a commodity that we all (should) care about preserving. We mostly shower from a bucket, because this way we can have warm showers, but it is amazing how little water you can use to shower. It has also amazed me how much less water we use here, and how relatively unaware I was of my water consumption in America. Also, we do laundry out of buckets, one wash bucket and one rinse bucket. We have learned that just because the laundry is done, doesn’t mean the water needs to be thrown away without being used further. While in Bafia, we would use the wash/soapy water to then mop the bathroom floor. Here, we use the water to wash our shoes that are constantly muddy, or to wash off the patio so we don’t track in more dirt.In Cameroon, people use the same water as many times as possible, sometimes due to the fact that they had to carry the water a distance to get it to their house, or to save money if they do have running water. But, either way, it is saving the resource, which does us all some good.
While I wouldn’t rate critical thinking as a super strong trait of the population here, I would say I have been impressed by their creativity to reuse simple objects in different ways, to reuse no longer needed objects, and their willingness to conserve resources. It is something that I am glad Shaun and I have picked up on.


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