The stink of ignorance (and the sweet scent of dignity)


As you have certainly come to appreciate from my previous posts, the brilliant results obtained through my post-grad education have given me a clear and indisputable intellectual edge, loaded with witty jokes and provoking statements. This privilege coupled with a particular European taste for the je ne sais quoi, might come across as snobbish attitude not required to enter the EU, but clearly preferred and expected. Oh, I so enjoy it. It smells smart. Cool.

Let us not get carried away by first impressions, though. I am sure that many people working in international organizations claim similar credentials. We all may have interchangeable CVs. We think we know the world and have seen it all. We certainly believe we know more than our next-best expat colleague.

I was recently in one of those situations that have proven me time after time that my sexy snobbishness is not that cool after all. It smells like ignorance and supercilious arrogance.

I will try to prove my point with the “first-thought” game: I say something, and you have only 5 seconds to tell me what comes to your mind.

  • I say: waste!
  • You think: trash, smell, dirty, stink, banana peel, litter, compressed Coca-Cola (o Pepsi depending on your taste) cans. 
  • I say: waste picking!
  • You think: dirty hands, diseases, offensive smell, dirty, sick, disgusting, homeless, junky.

Let us not deny it: waste picking triggers only stinky thoughts. In fact, I have played the “first-thought” game with my next-best colleague, and the ones above are his replies.

Well, I was given a big lesson on humility today, during a workshop financed through an IDB project to promote a Clean & Green Guyana. During the workshop, some waste-pickers and a solid-waste expert made a presentation about composting.

As some of you may remember from one of my previous posts, about 40 Individuals are working on a daily bases at the Haags Bosch Sanitary Landfill close to Georgetown, Guyana, in their capacity of waste pickers.

To my surprise, I did not see any banana peels. And I was not overwhelmed by any offensive smell. The only thing that struck me was the great knowledge mastered by the pickers and by the expert and my complete ignorance on the topic.

Well, in full honesty, I must admit that I did not even see them as pickers. I saw recyclers. I saw entrepreneurs. I saw real change agents.

These are the same entrepreneurs that are getting together and organizing as the first real recycling force in Guyana. These are the same entrepreneurs you can see in this video, who share problems and dreams trying to shake the current establishment and create a cultural change.

These are the people who carry the sweet scent of dignity. I, on the other hand, smell like ignorance. Gosh, I so need a shower.

Marcello Basani is a Water and Sanitation Specialist based in Guyana at IDB’s Georgetown Office.

The Spanish version is published on the IDB blog, Volvamos a la fuente

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