Monday, 26 April 2010

Plastic Indian Mafia African Four Leaf Clover

Since this weekend I didn't have any big excursion ( although I did cook 26 cheeseburgers for my room mate Patrick's birthday, filmed a two and a half hour play in Swahili and found my very first four leaf clover!), I thought maybe it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about work. I think from the way I have been posting on this blogedeedoo that we are always taking it easy and livin it up (well maybe we are living it up but we are definitely not taking it easy).

Since I started working here a little over three months ago, we calculated that for these centres to make profit, they need to be buying and selling about 4 tons of plastic a month. I'm willing to bet none of you actually have the slightest clue what 4 tons of plastic looks like, so let me tell you it's enough to fill your house.

(Farouk, who is a muscle machine and one of the strongest and hardest working people I've ever met in my life. He runs one of the centres.)

Trying to acquire 4 tons of plastic is enough work. Finding a youth group who has collected enough to make it worth our while for us to rent a truck and go and pick it up, or to buy from some crooked middle man who has stuffed metal inside of the plastic (to add weight), so when we put it in the machine it brakes and we have to hire someone to come and fix it. Loading the plastic into the truck is a gruesome job. If the plastic has been out in the rain you will be sure to get some of the funkiest smells East Africa has to offer and you will be covered up and down in the juice of garbagio all the while surrounded by rats whose homes you are destroying.

(Some of the recycling team posing for a group shot. Or more like an album cover)

Once you have enough plastic in the centre you need to shred it as fast as you can. Sometimes it takes a while to get that done since everyone has a crazy schedule or there is no electricity (sometimes for days on end) or people say they want to listen to the soccer game and can't hear it with the machine running. The days of shredding in the centre are hard work. The air is hot and stagnant. When the machine is running it's like a marathon trying to get as much done as possible, running around like a worker ant sweating to sweet hell.

The biggest problem we've been having is infiltrating the buying market. It has come to our knowledge that this plastic market is run by a racist Indian mafia. Until I came, these companies refused to buy from youth from slums. Once they saw me they opened their doors. They operate in the dark corners of Nairobi's industrial area with out any licenses from city council or signs on their doors. Trying to set up a buy with them is sketchy affair. Most of them refuse to do any cash transaction with Africans and say none of them aren't trustworthy. These guys make me so fucking sick it's ridiculous. So they have been giving us shit prices for the plastic which has been really hurting the businesses financially. Of course we are persevering and hoping if we can hook on to one buyer to trust us and build a relationship, then they can start to give better prices. Unless anyone has any better ideas.

(Nairobi's biggest G's Patto Buddah and Kaka)

I'm so impressed with the guys I've been working with. They work so hard and have so much dedication it really touches me. It drives me to work even harder and I think we fuel off of each other. We really enjoy working with one another and that I think is such a crucial element to having a successful business. No one is ordering anyone around ( except for the other NGO's who like to show up once every few weeks to try and tell us what to do and then disappear once again) and everyone works equally as hard.

We always say to each other "You have to love this work" because if you don't you won't last day working here. We've had volunteers come and go, most only can handle one day in the centre. The hard work has it's high points, like riding all over Nairobi on top of a truck in the hot sun with the wind in your face, or getting to know everyone in one of the most vibrant communities on this planet. I don't want to sound like Deepak Chopra or whoever but I really love my life.

This is Kaka and Stacy. I think I've mentioned Stacy on here before. She is the daughter of my dreams. Her mom calls me Baba Stacy 2 (Father of Stacy #2)

Photos courtesy of Rob Chursinoff. Thanks Rob.


  1. Sounds amazing, gruelling and challenging, and makes me miss home even more!

    Out of interest, are the Indians African, or from India?


  2. You're welcome Nathaniel.

  3. The Brazilian artist NEWTON AVELINO shows the Brazilian culture and art to your blog