Friday, October 13, 2006

The Hardest Working Guys in Jordan

It's interesting in Jordan. As the government has eliminated redundancy, streamlined offices, and generally improved its service delivery (yes this really IS better!), clearly people must have been worked out of jobs. It seems to me that one way the government may have been creating jobs is by hiring more people to sweep the streets. Yes, there are literally street sweepers in Jordan. And, I think they're about the hardest working and most polite people I've seen. Let me give you an illustration. In our apartment, we are on the ground level and are fortunate enough to have a garden. Jasmine grows along the top of the wall surrounding our place, smelling sweet and looking pretty. Unfortunately, when the flowers fall off the plant, they turn brown and fall off in the hundreds. So, we have the detritus of the dead flowers lying around, clogging up our walkways. All of this is inside our wall. So, one morning, I came out to open the gate for folks who would be arriving. I sat to take in the lovely morning breeze and noticed our street sweeper coming along. He smiled and greeted me (in Arabic, of course), and proceeded to reach around inside the gate and get the worst pockets of jasmine flowers. While his job is to clean the streets, he took a little extra time to clean up our little part of the world. There was no apparent thought on his part that this isn't his job. He always smiles when he sees you out and about.

~~ Warning, major tangent ahead! ~~
Sadly, his work must be frustrating. There seems to be a growing and quite profitable business in digging through trash cans and getting out spent coke cans. And, it must be very profitable. For those of you who may not be familiar, in Jordan, people do not flush their toilet paper (well, WE do, but... most people don't). Instead, they have little trash cans in each bathroom and the toilet paper is dropped into the can. These are typically put into bags with all of the other household trash. So, the guys digging through for coke cans are literally digging through a pile of refuse to get the cans. Yep, they're knee deep in poop, smelly diapers, rotted food, etc. Honestly, I can't imagine it. I mean one guy, maybe. But these guys drive up in trucks and have teams to do this. It's bizarre. The worst part about it is that in their efforts, they don't even attempt to ensure that the other trash doesn't escape. The sad reality is that ten minutes after our street sweeper has finished, trash is blowing down the street from the bags that the can seekers have ripped open. By the end of the day, our garden has a collection of newspapers, empty cartons, candy wrappers and other items that catch the wind and blow about.
~~end of tangent~~

Well, you are likely thinking, one street sweeper can hardly by called evidence. You are absolutely correct. Before the kids started going to school, I took the same path to work every day. There was a street sweeper who was in charge of this very large road. It is four lanes of busy traffic and prolific litterers. And yet, every day, before 8 in the morning he was sweeping up the refuse tossed casually out of the car windows by those who were never taught better (or choose to ignore it). One day, as I saw the sweeper, he happened to look up. Seeing me sitting in my car waiting on the light, he smiled and waved. Unprompted, he smiled and waved to me. So, again, as polite as can be.

Nowadays, El 3atal and I take a different route to work after dropping off the beans. And, on this route, you guessed it, we see a street sweeper. Every morning, we see him arrive at work and get right to it. His area of charge is an even larger limited access four lane with attendant bridges and tunnels. And, he gets tow work and starts cleaning up the trash. With the work ethic and attitude that we've seen, it's amazing that there's any trash left.

I think there are two things that would be helpful in cleaning up the streets of Amman. First, begin a recycling program (given how profitable it seems to be, I wonder if it wouldn't make enough money to offset the costs) and second, come up with a campaign that is as effective as Don't Mess with Texas. Few places have managed to get the entire state behind fighting litter, Texas actually makes money off of their products. Maybe that would help here. To give applause where it's due. In my Arabic class, we use a government textbook and it has a reading passage about taking care to pick up after yourself and value what you have. So, they are trying, but I'm afraid social responsibility of this sort may be a long time coming...

Clean streets.


At 11:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you on the street sweepers, but unfortunately people make their work harder, people say what the hell through trash in the streets.

And here is a small tip: we give the sweeper some money when he cleans our garden, I guess they deserve it ;)

At 2:48 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Samer, it's sad, but I think it may be part of an overall lack of understanding of each person's part in community and social responsibility. No one seems to worry about consideration of others and how what they do might impact someone else...

At 6:20 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, they are the hardest workers in Jordan, and the ones I most appreciate.

Their orange uniforms also remind me of X-wing pilots. Which makes me smile:


At 11:43 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Too funny. I'll be imagining them ready to hop into airplanes from now on. Thanks for the visual image, Samer. And, now that you mention it, they do bear a resemblance to the uniforms Bruce Willis, et. al. wore in the movie Armageddon when they were heading off to save the world ;).


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