Monday, 15 June 2015

Talking Trash

At the moment I'm working in as a Recycling Advisor in Bexley, South East London. To prepare us for the job, we went on to see what happens to Bexley's waste.. This is a part of that story.

We’re standing in what look, at first glance, like a rural farm yard – barns, mud, idyllic countryside setting; the distant clanking of heavy machinery.  We loiter, Londoners in the Cambridgeshire countryside, in high-vis jackets and wellies. The affable Dan waits for quiet as a huge truck rumbles through to be weighed on a drive on scales: this is not a normal farm yard – this is the UK’s largest household compost processing facility.  The Envar facility in St Ives, near Huntingdon, processes tonnes of waste a year – turning food scraps and garden trimmings into rich soil improver.

Compostable waste comes from all over London and the South East, sometimes further afield when other sites run out of capacity. It’s fed through tunnels, turned over and over, sieved and filtered – but first its weighed then dumped in a large holding bay so that contaminants can be removed. Some people take ‘garden waste’ very literally – as anything they don’t want which happens to be in the garden. Dan tells us they’ve had broken plastic chairs turn up – but more common are plastic bags and excessively large branches. On the doorstep, a woman voiced her surprise when the compost collection folk rejected her bin, which she’d filled with an old carpet. “I don’t understand” she said “It’d been in the garden for years. Why wouldn’t they take it?”. Although unwilling to divulge damning details, Dan says some places have much better quality waste than others – the people of Bexley can be proud that theirs is of an excellent standard.

After large and obvious contaminants have been removed, waste is minced up a bit to make it more manageable and enters the first area – the aerobic digester. This part of the plant is undeniably stinky – though very little of the stench escapes the building (more on this later). Sitting in a series of tunnels at around 60 degrees, air is blown through organic matter allowing bacteria to break it down and render it harmless. It’s regularly probed to make sure that any nasties will be broken down – and then moved on to the next stage. To witness this, we have to walk through an extremely pungent corridor, up a stinking staircase, and cross a repugnant room – and out on to the relative freshness of the roof, bathed in fresh Cambridgeshire breezes.
From the roof, Dan talks us through the rest of the process. A large concreted area lies in front of us, with rows and rows and rows of steaming brown piles of muck which are being turned by a pair of diggers, which ensures everything is broken down evenly. Because of the amount of heat that the breakdown of organic matter creates, smoke appears to rise from the piles – and they have to be watered at this time of year, because the bacteria involved like a nice moist environment. It also prevents overheating and the possibility of fires!

From the roof, we can also see the series of sorting machines the matter travels through after waiting for weeks outside. It’s sieved and graded then heaped up under a barn in neat piles.  As we leave the roof, Dan shows us what looks like piles of driftwood. It’s in fact a clever biological filtration system. Micro fauna shelter here – air from the digestion tunnels is pumped through and the resident bacteria munch on the fumes, clearing them up – well, if not entirely, enough that they barely pong.

Before we leave, we go in for a closer look at the finished product. Dan shows us the tag which is used to mark each batch all the way through the process. By time it ends up under this barn, next to where we entered the site, all that’s left is a rich soil improver : all nastiness and stench has left the material. Well – almost all nastiness has been removed… our eagle eyed boss, Steve, spots a 1-direction earring in the pile we’re inspecting!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Village Saramaca - "This is the ghetto, nobody comes here"

This article is translated from a feature published 15/02/2013 in France Guyane, "C'est le ghetto, personne ne met les pieds ici". It's about the Village Saramaca in Kourou, French Guiana - the second town, location of the European Space Centre. What I liked about this article is that it voices the experiences of young Saramaca from the Village. I tried to keep to the spirit of the original text whilst translating, as closely as possible.

(image from Libi Na Wan, a cultural organisaton)

Disou, Anthony, Agassi Roni and Martin are sat together, as every midday.  Chatting and watching girls walk past, sunglasses, baseball caps, bling. Their look is flawless – but don’t be deceived.
“ What do we do? We hang out... chat up time pass...
We left school a while ago and we can’t find work. We’ve got qualifications: electrician, plumber, mechanic...But no-one wants us. Soon as you say you come from the village, people are frightened. We have a bad reputation everywhere, not just in Kourou. People think we’re delinquents, dangerous people. No-one comes round here. It’s the ghetto”.

 Not even the police; they claim. The result: a feeling of impunity that gets stronger by the day.  With social exclusion, it’s an explosive cocktail.
The Village Saramaca feels like it a ticking bomb.
“and wait for the next generation. The younger ones, 13, 15 and 18 year olds, they’re really angry. One day it’ll go off” announces Agassi Ronny.
“we’ve had enough of all this” interjects Martin, from behind.
He’s the youngest of the group at 19, and shares the same struggles.
“soon as something bad happens in Kourou, they point the finger at us -it must’ve been a villager who did it. It pisses us off. We’re like everybody else. We deserve respect.”

This is their day-to-day: uncertain future, dark present.
“We have to get money somehow. We have to survive. Feed our kids. So we do little jobs, cash in hand, when we can” Explains the eldest, 26.
“sometimes, yes, we break the law” mentions the guy sat next to him. Robbery, smuggling, they confess half heartedly.
“Anyway, we get accused of everything, so...”
“You know, waking up in the morning with empty pockets, that sucks” justifies Martin, defeatist.
“When we were younger, at school, Saramaca was an insult”, shares another, 25 years old. They called us “dirty Saramaca”. Today that word frightens people.”
Dreams of Power
Agassi Ronny voices his frustration
“It wasn’t always like this. Saramaca people built this town. And the space centre. Without us, there’d be nothing here. We’re hard workers – but we’ve been sidelined in favour of other communities.  It’s unfair!”
 He continues
“The history of our people is tied to that of French Guiana. Some even fought for France. But we no longer have any rights in this country.
 We’re ready to work. We have projects. Myself, for example, I wanted to start a grill restaurant – but I don’t have the means to, and no-one’s prepared to help”.

The young generation dream of power.
“We represent 40% of Kourou’s population –and yet it’s a minority who rule over a majority. Things will have to go the other way one day..”

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

On becoming an adult in French Guiana

For a few months, part way through 2012, I landed an awesome job, which would take me to places I'd never have the money to get to by myself, AND take care of some of the logistics of getting to those places: A Horse-Gift Opportunity Not to be Looked in the Proverbial Mouth.
And so I took part in the survey "Becoming an adult in French Guiana".

The mission

French Guiana has a not unnoticeable level of population growth: 1 in 2 is under 25 and fecundity is nearly 3.5 per woman. There is plenty of immigration (as mentioned in a previous post) and I would say demographics are a little difficult because it's so easy to cross borders. In some communes, populations have tripled since the early 90s, and schools are opening fast in an attempt to keep up with demographic changes.
All this background to explain the rationale for this survey - there is a feeling that these young people are poorly understood and that to serve them now and into the future, some attempts must be made at comprehension.   So, we were dispatched, a 17-person team with a 66page survey, across the entirety territories of French Guiana (conveniently and inevitably missing out one or two communes). With one hour per interviewee; we would seek to understand economic situations, ambitions, cultures, relationships to friends, family, partners and children, educational needs, beliefs.....obviously, an unattainable goal, with an apparently noble aim. This was to be carried out with 1600 young people, sixteen to twenty five, with various quotas to be filled in different locations of age, gender, occupation, commune of origin.. The results would then be analysed and passed to the relevant beaurocrats and politicians, certainly, ultimately, to be largely ignored (?).

For the first few weeks, we asked questions in educational institutions: Collèges, Lycées, the University, in FG's biggest towns: Cayenne, Kourou, St Laurent. This was a captive audience, booked in to take part by their teachers and mentors, educated and supposedly francophone. The survey was written in an unwieldy academic manner that meant little to even us the surveyors, so we perfected our techniques of question translation, which I had always been told was a no-no in previous jobs. Still, the survey would have been a field of empty leaves without this technique; so we proceeded.

After the initial captive audiences in schools and university; we would interview young people registered with various institutions for workless young people; pole emploi (essentially the job centre) and mission locale (sort of like a job centre but just for young people). This phase would continue into the more remote parts of French Guiana, to the rainforest communities of Amerindians and Bushinengue along French Guiana's two river borders, the Oyapoque and the Maroni, as well as to the rural communities of Mana, Iracoubo, Sinnamary and Roura. We would then return to Cayenne, Kourou and St Laurent to interview young people not involved in education OR in formal schemes for the workless; and finally we would interview young people in work in the private and public sectors.

17 people. 2 months. 1600 surveys. 80,000 km2 of rainforest, rivers and towns.
Play yourself some dramatic surveying music and wait for the next instalment.

Name change.

Oh to think of the heady days of 2010, when toucananas seemed like an excellent name for a blog. Those days are long gone, so I've updated my blog's name to reflect my there-and-back-again journey. The aim is to legitimise writing on more varied topics and to prevent the terrible-name-shame that floods me each time I update (it seems likely this same terrible-name-shame was likely at least 80% of the appeal to me of my blog's original name in the first place).


edit: it turns out my first ''name change'' attempt was already the name of several blogs. This one doesn't feature on the first few pages of google to any significant extent; which is good enough for me.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Police and thieves

Police And Thieves by Junior Murvin on Grooveshark
FG has a reputation among the metros (people from mainland France) as being lawless, and there's no denying it can feel wild west.
The presence of the various forces of order are felt universally on the territory, and their ineffectiveness is universally commented on. Gendarmes-  military police, Police municipale - community police, Police national, BAC, Douane - customs... Babylon, as anyone who's crossed them may call them. Various unpleasant characters in all of their ranks (in the interests of fairness, surely some good cops among them too)
In Chicago, a shabby neighbourhood along the stinking crique in Cayenne, you can buy any drug, sexual service, weapon, you could dream of, more at risk of being mugged than being arrested. Dealers sit openly on street corners, they'll cheep for your attention as you pass. At night, small bars open, playing bachata, zouk, compa, dancehall. Creoles, Brazilians, Haitians  Dominicans, Guyanese, Surinamese meander from one bar to the next. Inside, old and young couples dance under dappled light in dark bars and lone men eye up groups of women like hungry dogs. Rum, Heineken, Guiness and Desperados are bought and drunk, from behind the counter or from tired Dominican grannies in backstreet houses.
Edge and Chez Fédé (known universally as 'shitty bar') are two joints popular among the young of Cayenne's neighbourhoods, playing booming dancehall (endless PULLUPS). The air is heavy with smoke from cigarettes and joints, you enter confronting the gaze of revellers lined back to the wall on either side of the room, dancing alone or backstyle, gently or vigorously. As long as the place is full there's atmosphere - joyous and tense. Fights can, and do, break out at any time on a Friday or Saturday night down la Crique. In the midst of the first row of bars, along the canal itself, where scooters buzz past and fancy cars cruising for something illicit drag by, a large open space, in the evening filled with vehicles, dealers, men. This is where things blow up, when they do. As it ''heats up'', some people will leave, some will crowd around whatever action is erupting, others standing back waiting for it to cool down again.

I heard that in most of France, Gendarmes work in the countryside and Police in the towns- here, Gendarmes organise check points along main roads, pulling you over to check your papers, your vehicle's insurance or your immigration status. Me, a white girl, I don't have much to worry about, all I've had from them is some sleazy chat up lines and been on my way, even without the correct paperwork. Friends have had their rides confiscated.

Gendarmes have periods of checkpointing; it must be some quota imposed by bureaucrats. End of April, end of December, round the 27th of some months. Sometimes it's not just routine, sometimes you sense there's a motive and a profiling to the whole game; perhaps the trail of some criminal.

One sunday afternoon, on the way back from the beach with some youth from my neighbourhood, one guy spots a checkpoint ahead and we turn fast into backroads. The sky is clear deep blue, dry season, we zip through suburban streets, two to a scooter, drinking, high spirits among us. There's no doubt we'd get searched if we passed the cops, and all the scooters are illegal in some way or other- lack of insurance, paperwork, over the limit, stolen. We emerge onto the main road, checkpoint behind us, passing through to get more beers before heading back the street outside our houses.

The BAC are one of the meanest police forces around.
THEY're the wild west.
The first time I met the BAC, I was driving with a friend towards the bars, late saturday night. Suddenly there's an SUV besides us, a squeel of sirens, and wound down windows with guns pointed.

-to the bars

And that's all. Then they're gone. The BAC deal with serious criminality but mainly they seem to deal in shows of force.

Early evening. Two cops walk up my road, Rene Jadfard, on the borderline of the calm and the 'chaud' districts of Cayenne. They're plain clothes, two huge, hench, rectangular white men, shoulders together, guns in pockets...They don't go unremarked.
The young people in this neighbourhood, mostly under 25, mostly unqualified, mostly first generation or immigrants, are unfazed. Several of them, the ones I see most often, work informally from their yards or apartments as tattooists, piercers and small time drug runners. Mornings, afternoons, evenings, sometimes through til dawn: sitting on steps or plastic chairs on the wide pavement, drinking everpopular Cayenne drinks: Rum, Heineken, Guiness; sharing joints and cigarettes. Boys talk nonsense, bravado and girls, girls talk girl talk.
The two cops walk past, robots to their mission, youths hang, normal.

Sometimes other cops will come hassle here: they know that there's always some vagabonds around they can work some tension out on. They roll up in their car, search all the guys, remind them of their failings, leave them to their business. The guys are resigned - there's no point putting up a fight, just comply and the cops won't even take your weed from you. It's such an old routine, Babylon know what they will get; the kids know it won't change anything. More than one amongst them here are illegal, but they've been here long enough that they're not going to get deported- so this old piece of theatre is played out, once again, on a slow hot afternoon.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Immigration and Migration facts and figures, French Guiana

Two thirds of French Guiana’s population are immigrants according to a report published last week by INSEE* and INED**. The wide ranging Migration, Family and Aging report explores these topics in each of France’s overseas département, in a publication that highlights the differences between the territories.

In contrast to Guadeloupe (20%), Martinique(16%) and Reunion(17%), 62.3% of French Guiana’s inhabitants are immigrants, and unlike the other overseas département, where immigrants are usually born in metropolitan France, the majority (42.8%) were born abroad, with only 13.2% coming from the mainland. A majority of these immigrants have been living in French Guiana for a long time (20 years or more); this trend is especially high among inhabitants originating from Surinam; and least reflected among immigrants of Brazilian origin who represent the majority (37.6%) of those who have arrived in the last 10 years. If the ‘native’ French Guianese population is examined, over seven in ten of those born in French Guiana are first or second generation immigrants – this figure is under two in ten across the French Antilles and Réunion.
The study also examines “natives”, people who were born in French Guiana and “returning natives”: those who were born in French Guiana; left the territory; returned. The latter category are more educated than the average -29% of them hold a higher education qualification compared to an average of 16% in French Guiana- perhaps not surprising given that pursuing studies is the most common reason for ‘’returning natives’’ to have left the département ; this is the case for 29.1% of them, with 22% leaving for family reasons and 18.1% for work.  This contrasts with the average for the overseas département where the main reasons for leaving are work (29%) and military service (24%).
54% of young people (18- 34) surveyed said they would be prepared to leave French Guiana for work if necessary, however for a majority of these (60%) this was on the condition of being able to eventually return to French Guiana.  Indeed, it is almost exclusively (99.8%) young people (under 35) who DO leave the territory for an extended period, most of these (72%) are aged 18 to 25, with the most common destination being mainland France.
Among new immigrants to French Guiana there are startling contrasts according to settlers’ countries of origin. 80% of people arriving from metropolitan France already have work before landing on FG’s soil and 4 in 10 benefit from pay bonuses as a result of their migration; for people from South America and the Caribbean, the search for work is the most common motivating factor in migrating. At around one in five, Metropolitans are the least likely to intend on settling in French Guiana, with Haitians and Surinamese (around 69%) the most likely to plan on making French Guiana their permanent home. The former are among those most likely to report having had a positive experience since arriving at 94%, along with 98% of Brazilians and 60% of immigrants in general; despite nearly half of recent arrivals reporting experiencing difficulties since arriving in French Guiana.

*INSEE is the French National Office of Statistics and Economic Studies
**INED is the French National Office for Demographic Studies

The is writted from a report which can be found on this link ; there's lots more information and the report goes on to discuss family make-up trends and ageing trends.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Refuse// The Future is Now

I’m back from Cayenne for the moment. I will continue writing as and when I feel like it. 
This happened a few months ago, near Chicago neighbourhood. Chatman is a neighbourhood guy -that’s Ch like shatman.

I’m at the door with Chatman and a guy in a blue striped tshirt. Monday night is bin night (Wednesday night, and Friday night too). Chatman motions me to look at the truck. Woah, new truck! That’s crazy maaaaan! The new truck is a layed-down cylinder , square mouthed,  digesting dustbins’ contents. 

Bin men wear a futuristic fluorescent yellow and green jumpsuit and a facial mask. They work in a team:  two at the back feeding the machine; one at the front driving. The truck makes regular stops and has mechanical arms that lift bins to its mouth once they have been placed in its talons by the waste disposal technicians.

This vehicle’s tour de force was the unusual movement of its abdomen: the cylinder turned upon itself like a smoothed out cement mixer, accompanied by an intense clonking rrrrohhring noise. Sometimes it stopped spinning. Sometimes it span when stationary, sometimes whilst moving. 

We sit there watching as this machine passes by. Chatman proposes a possible configuration of the cylinder’s interior functions. The machine seems most likely to chew things up inside; to compress things. 

Is this the first time you saw it? I ask Chatman

That shit’s crazy.
The future is now!

Toddler-type wonder ends as we talk and regain our adult, unimpressed fronts.
After that I went inside. 

When you try and imagine the future, there are many things we might have, like complete and extensive demographic records or total, inescapable mobile phone network coverage. The future colonises our lives with machines you never thought of.