It is almost one year since the ban of plastic bags in Kenya which took effect precisely on 28th August 2017. With the recent stories in the news that the ban is not being implemented and/or enforced, I decided to share with you an extract from my diary on the day before the ban took effect. This extract will show you, dear reader, how much we had embraced plastic bags in our lives and explain the struggle we are now having to get rid of them:
DEAR DIARY, today, the 27th day of August 2017, turns out to be a most significant day in my life. Not because it is my birthday. That was three days ago. Not because I will get my contract renewed. That was three weeks ago. Not because my sister will get married. That was three months ago. And not because my husband will set up his own business. That was three years ago!
It is a significant day because, with the ban of plastic bags in Kenya taking effect on the following day, I suddenly awake to the realisation of the significance of plastic bags in the average Nairobian’s life!
It is a bright Sunday morning and there is a cool breeze coming down from the Ngong Hills and blowing the fresh clean air from the Ngong Forest to the City and its environs. These are one of those mornings where you wish time would stop and you would live in the moment for ever and ever. But life has to happen and I wake up to prepare for church.
Today is the day I wash my hair. It is thick and natural and requires a lot of oiling and moisturising during the week to keep it strong and prevent breakage. I shampoo my hair and then apply a generous amount of “Afrodizia Deep Conditioning Hair Treatment: Penetrates Each Strand Again and Again and Again!”
The instructions on the tub say I have to cover my hair and leave in the conditioner for a minimum of 15 minutes. I take a plastic bag and wrap it around my hair and then wrap it up in a head scarf and head off to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.
As I busy myself clanging pots and pans, my husband calls to me from the bedroom.
“Could you bring me a plastic bag from the kitchen?” he says. “I need to protect my bandage from water!”
He had cut his hand yesterday while tinkering under the hood of his car. The cut was so deep that the doctor had to stitch it and after applying the bandage, had warned him to keep it dry.
Quickly and without thought, I go to the plastic bag that hangs from the hook behind my kitchen door. This plastic bag is full of plastic bags and anytime we carry shopping back home, the plastic bag used is folded neatly and put into this plastic bag for reuse. I select a white one because I can see that it is clean and I hand it to him.
“And when you are done showering,” I tell him, “Could you please come and fix this pipe leading to the kitchen tap. It is leaking and we are losing a lot of water which we have to pay for.”
“Sure,” he says. “When did it start leaking?”
“This morning I guess,” I say. “It wasn’t leaking yesterday.”
I sit down to my breakfast as the “Afrodizia Deep Conditioning Hair Treatment” works its magic in my hair. Presently my husband comes into the kitchen and inspects the leaking pipe.
“This will require a plumber,” he says. “The pipe needs to be replaced. You see here? The pipe seems to have a crack.”
I don’t see anything but I nod in agreement.
“Let me just tie it up until the plumber comes,” he says. “Remind me to pass by the hardware store after church and buy another pipe.”
“Okay,” I say.
He goes into the plastic bag of plastic bags at the back of the kitchen door and selects one of a particularly tough variety. He tears it into strips and proceeds to fix the leak, or at least stop it temporarily.
As he is doing this, I go back into the shower, rinse out my hair and prepare for church.
“The sun is too hot for this time of morning,” I say as I fill up a bottle of drinking water.
“Yeah,” says my husband. “It may rain this afternoon.”
“But we are not expecting the short rains until mid-September,” I say.
“You never know with Nairobi,” he retorts. “It can rain at any time.”
I tear a square piece out of a plastic bag and seal off the mouth of my water bottle before putting the bottle cap on to prevent any leakage. I put the bottle into my bag and we head off to church.
As we leave the gate, we see some neighbourhood children playing soccer on the road. One of the boys kicks the ball towards me and it hits my shin painfully. I wince and bend over to massage my shin in an attempt to take the pain away. The ball is made of plastic bags tied tightly together with sisal rope and this makes it hard and heavy. My husband kicks the ball back to boys and the one who hit me shouts an apology.
“Mind how you play,” my husband shouts at them. “You can hurt somebody.”
The boys again shout their apologies and continue with their game.
“I don’t know how those boys can play with such a ball,” I comment. “It is so heavy!”
“Their feet have adapted,” he says and I laugh.
We approach the main estate gate and the gateman rushes forward to my husband holding out a book.
“Boss, you did not sign your car in yesterday,” he says. “The gate book says here that your car is still out.”
“Where do I sign?” asks my husband as he takes the book from the gateman.
The gate book is a hard covered counter book with dog eared pages. It is covered with a newspaper and labelled “Hekima Court Estate January 2017 to December 2017.” The newspaper is then covered with a plastic bag that is taped into place on the inside cover to protect the book from the elements, I presume.
My husband signs the book and hands it back to the gateman and we proceed on our way.
We arrive in church just before the mass begins. The choirmaster sounds off the entrance hymn and everyone joins in. I notice that most hymn book covers, like the gate book, are protected by a clear plastic bag.
The first reading is from the Book of Isaiah Chapter 22 verses 19 to 23 in which Isaiah prophesies that the Lord will depose some person or other from his office and put Eliakim son of Hilkiah in his place. The said Eliakim will then be dressed in the deposed persons clothing.
The second reading is from the Book of Romans Chapter 11 verses 33 to 36 where we learn that the riches of wisdom are very deep and so is the knowledge of God. We are also asked who has ever given anything to God that God should repay them.
We move on to the Gospel reading and today it is the Gospel according to Matthew Chapter 16 verses 13 to 20 where, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Simon Peter, son of Jonah, fisherman of Bethsaida, and one of the Twelve, declares that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Upon making this declaration, the Twelve are sworn to secrecy and are not to reveal to anyone that Jesus is the Messiah. I then wonder who among them was the snitch for, not only is the secret known by at least thirty-one percent of the world’s population, but is written down in a Book that all and sundry are given free of charge and encouraged to read.
We now settle in for the homily and as usual, the priest does not disappoint. He completely circumvents the theme and teachings in the three readings and dives with gusto into the topic of environmental stewardship. This is quite confusing to the average parishioner, I tell you.
“God created the earth, with every living and non-living aspect of it,” says the priest. “He then placed Adam and Eve on this earth and told them to name every living creature. This was a great responsibility given to mankind through our earthly father Adam.”
I am now thinking, “How does this link to the subject of Eliakim son of Hilkiah and his hand-me-down clothes?”
The next words of the sermon are very telling.
“Plastic bags have become a big threat to the planet,” says the priest. “This invention of evil human minds and creation of ungodly human hands! The conniving evil one has planted it into our very beings that these filthy objects are more important than food itself! And what is this deceitful one doing now? He is strangling rivers, killing marine life, contaminating our soils, generally wreaking havoc on God’s green earth and creating untold pain and suffering to all of His creation, including mankind!”
The congregation nods in agreement.
“And now,” says the priest. “The young generation have said it is enough! They want to inherit a clean earth and pass it down to their children in a condition better than they found it. They want to start this initiative here in our very own church compound. I invite you all to step outside as we engage in a tree planting exercise.”
The choirmaster belts out a tune as we march outside behind the priest, the altar boys, the catechist and the youth leaders.
“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.”
We arrive at the scene of the tree planting and I look around, wandering if I am the only one who sees the irony of the presentation before us. I nudge my husband and try to gesture to him, but he either sees nothing or just chooses to ignore me.
For the tree seedlings, believe it or not, are planted in plastic bags! And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The female youths (I am not sure if it is correct to refer to them as such) have clothed their hands in plastic bags as some kind of protective gear to prevent their manicures from being ruined by the soil. One of the youths is carrying a watering can that must have had its handle cracked or entirely broken (who knows?) in some far off adventure, for the handle has been fixed in place by the use of a plastic bag!
And now the priest moves forward to plant the first tree. He may have had a back injury or is averse to bending for some reason or other. I suspect that it may be because he is a very tall man. He moves to kneel on the ground and plant the tree but is outmanoeuvred by the catechist who practically dives forward with a large plstic bag and spreads it on the ground to prevent the priestly robs from getting soiled. I look around and try to wink to my husband in a telling fashion but he again, ignores me.
As the tree planting ceremony is ending, the sun is covered by a thick cloud and the weather becomes cooler. The wind picks up speed and blows the young seedlings which sway as if dancing with relief at being released from their tiny plastic bag prisons.
“The Lord has looked down on us and likes what He sees,” says the priest happily. “It looks like they will receive rain today.”
Mass is soon over and as we file out of the church compound I say to my husband, “Did you notice all the plastic bags that surrounded the tree planting?”
“The tree planting was a good gesture,” he says. “I am glad the church has taken up environmental advocacy.”
I roll my eyes in frustration and remind him that we should take the right turn to the shopping centre and not the left turn back home.
The shopping centre is teeming with business as congregants from various churches have descended on it to do some Sunday shopping or eating or just loitering. As my husband goes into the hardware store, I make a beeline for the vegetable vendors on the other side of the street. They sell their merchandise in make-shift stalls made of plastic bag walls and roofs. The colourful plastic bags add to the attractiveness of the richly coloured fruits and vegetables or display.
I purchase a hundred shillings’ worth of oranges and move to the end of the row of stalls where the juicy aromas of the street food waft their way seductively into my nostrils.
I find a woman boiling maize and I ask for two cobs. The maize is cooked in a large sufuria and covered with thick plastic bags to keep the steam in. As she moves the plastic bag aside, large clouds of steam escape and with them, the sweet aroma of the maize. I give her a fifty-shilling note for my purchase and she pulls a small plastic bag from deep within the confines of her large bosom. She retrieves a ten-shilling coin from the plastic bag and hands it to me before putting the note I handed her into the bag, securing the top with a knot and restoring it to its safe hiding place.
As I walk up the street, I feel a few drops of water on my forehead and look up to see thick clouds, pregnant with rain rushing furiously across the sky. I run to the veranda to shield myself from the impeding downpour.
“We should take a matatu back home,” I tell my husband. “Otherwise we will be caught up in this rain.”
“I told you it would rain,” he says smiling and flags down a matatu for us.
We board the matatu and I get a window seat. The glass on the window has somehow gone missing and has been replaced by a clear plastic bag. The plastic bag is stained with dust and grease and as we drive along, I see hazy figures of women protecting their hair with plastic bags and rushing to find better shelter from the rain.