Friday, 20 January 2012


A poplar tree
I had just passed a disgusting, smelling, large chunk of dog’s diarrhoea under a Poplar tree. Poplar trees are part of London’s green vegetation. Next to bees, trees are our best allies. Trees help make a city ( like this) replete with smoke fumes and smog,  petrol and diesel fumes,  industrial waste and general pollution by absorbing carbon and giving us oxygen. Without trees life on earth would indeed, sleep.
Poplars, however, can also be destructive as their long roots (growing up to 40 meters) may damage houses.
A few years ago I was puzzled to see long, meandering cuts appearing in almost every single wall of my London flat. I remember feeling petrified and confused when the land surveyor blamed the splits on Poplar trees in my garden.
“But they are so beautiful.” I protested.
“No,” warned the surveyor, “they have to go!”
“What about the birds and squirrels who sing from those trees every day?”
There was no compromise. Lose the Victorian house or demolish two Poplar trees.

In 2006, Science magazine- one of top scientific journals in the world- announced that the Poplar (from the family of Populus) will have its DNA sequenced, i.e. researched and studied in detail.  Poplars have multiple utilities; e.g. making paper, match-boxes, electric guitar fret boards, kit drums, chop sticks and due to the soaring price of crude oil and growing biomass energy from perennial plants (e.g. elephant grass in Brazil) the poplar has great potential for humans’ fuel needs.


So I am walking past the grey-green pile of dog’s diarrhoea under the Poplar tree. The mound is filled with massive blue winged flies. Such a spectacle might be common in hot southern hemisphere, but we are in the middle of a European winter and seeing such flies is rare. I am about to stroll on when the street’s sweeper wheezes past me, broom and shovel in hand. He scoops the stinking, runny hill of dog waste and deposits it into the cart a few steps away. The blue winged flies scatter and zoom around annoyed that their free lunch has been wrecked. The sweeper is whistling- gloves in hand- trying hard to get rid of the rubbish.  But the dog litter is too runny and soft it won’t come off, easily. To make his job better, the diligent sweeper scrubs soil and puts it on top of the pile and within seconds has the animal stool off the tree trunk.  Having cleaned the place we are however, left with a really bad, hideous odour.
Trees and cars on a Maida Vale street - north London - Pic by F Macha

The cleaner says:
“See now? I am going to use the same broom to clean the roads.”
Noting my puzzled expression, he elaborates. “People walk on the roads that I have just swept.”
“But they have shoes on,” I say.
“Yes, they have. As you know the majority of people in this country do not take shoes off indoors like back home in Africa.”
 I can see his point. In most of African countries- especially Tanzania- we always take shoes off when entering houses. It is a cultural thing. Partly hygienic, partly spiritual. You do not want to bring outside woes indoors.
Not all cultures do that, though. Canadians and parts of the Scandinavian world (e.g. Norway) do take off their shoes to avoid snow filled boots dripping wetly, in living rooms. But it is not a common culture across Wazungu land.
“People should clean after their dogs,” I continue the conversation.
Stray dogs in Athens

He flares up. “You hardly see any stray dogs in London. Ninety nine percent of all dogs belong to someone; they are pets. Right? I use to walk around with plastic bags and on seeing someone with a dog relieving itself by the roadside; I would offer them the bag. I would say pick up the poo; I will take it for you. You know what they told me? I will tell you what they said. Go to hell! (He adds an even stronger, unwritten insult).”
I say: “Dog stool has harmful roundworms called Toxocara Canis that may stay in the soil and are resistant to disinfectants. They may cause blindness. But dog owners are legally, supposed to clean after their pets, right?”
He stretches his obviously aching back nodding. “Oh yes. Some do. It is a responsibility. Like having your own child. You have your pet so keep it and the environment clean. Nevertheless, some are so arrogant especially when they see someone like me a road sweeper. They want me to do their job. You know what is wrong? Not the dogs. A dog is a dog. The dog owners need education. Their heads need educating. Have a nice day.”
He goes away pushing his cart filled with beer and juice cans, tree leaves, cigarette butts, plastic bags and of course, the dog waste.

Published in the Citizen Friday 20th, July, 2012

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