Behind the Scenes of a National Non-Neatness.

February 1, 2019.

I am at Ketu bus terminal, Lagos state, Nigeria.

“Please give me ten pieces of yam. And five bean cakes. Thank you.”

I am buying food.

In my hand is an empty plastic Pepsi bottle. I must have been carrying it for at least an hour since I got on the bus at Mowe, in Ogun state.

I want to do away with the bottle.

I turn to a nearby food vendor.

Hello, I’d like to dispose of this bottle, do you know where I can find a dustbin around here?

She looks at me, first with a blank expression and a stiffening of the neck, like she is trying to process my question. The blank stare then morphs into a hint of surprise.

She replies in Yoruba*.

Dustbin? What dustbin? Just throw it on the floor and be done with it.

There is no way in hell I am going to do that. One of the things that annoy me about Nigeria is how littered everywhere generally is. Paper bags, plastic bottles and all sort of waste are endemic on Nigerian streets. In fact, there is the general perspective that you can tell if a picture was taken in Nigeria or not, by simply assessing the state of the environment in the picture:

Pristine? Spotless? No rubbish anywhere? Nah. Too clean to be Nigeria. Picture was taken outside the country.

And so my response to the food vendor was to ignore her, still very heavily laden with my Pepsi bottle.

She adds:

Come on, just throw it on the floor. The people walking by will kick it towards the road, and then the passing vehicles will crush it.

In my mind I think: What? Wait, what? The passing vehicles will crush it? That is your own understanding of the process of waste disposal? Whatt?

I ignore her again. People like her are the reason Nigeria is reputed for being dirty, I think to myself.

What happens next takes me by surprise. The vendor woman reaches out for the bottle, snatches it from the crook of my elbow, and then throws it onto the floor. I stand there staring. Shocked.

I know if I did not do that, you would have kept carrying that bottle around with you.

I honestly do not know what to say. Thank you? What the fuck was that for? I am at a loss for words. I think I give her an ambiguous smile before turning to take my leave.

Later in the bus, I’m chastising myself for not picking the bottle the vendor woman threw on the floor. I am gradually becoming like these people.

I think it’s really interesting to become aware of the sort of thinking that engenders detritus-littered streets in Nigeria. The sort of thinking that leads to this:


and this:


I wonder what other ways people think that fuels general environmental uncleanliness in developing countries.

I wonder, I really do.


Got some funding for The Language Project. Feels great.

Got a new 15″ MacBook Pro. Feels very great.


Yoruba: A language spoken in southwestern Nigeria.


August 2021 P-PS:

The Language Project has been moved here.

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