Bonfires and menstruation

Bonfires and menstruation

Sunday 14/01/18: I have a terrible confession to make. I did a really bad thing on Wednesday. I did lots of fabulous things this week too but it’s the shame of Wednesday that I’m still thinking about half a week later.

My sin? I made a bonfire and burned my rubbish in the street. Eeeww!

It was horrible but it’s the only option, unless I just wanted to dump it at the side of the road: apparently, either is acceptable. Rural areas in Nepal, like here in Changunarayan, do not have refuse collections so the little roadside bonfires are a fairly common sight when you walk around. Kids excitedly play beside them and breathe in the stinking black smoke, then pick through the singed remains after. Boys warming themselves by a burning rubbish pile

It was just a single carrier bag’s worth of rubbish collected over the last month but it felt so much worse. At home, I’m actually not that great at recycling, unless it’s plastic or glass, so I’m surprised at how bad I feel about this one little bag. I think it’s the difference between putting it outside for a nice bin-man to come magic it away versus actually having to deal with it myself. I hope this is a lesson that I take home with me.

My usual month’s worth of rubbish in the UK is considerably more than one small bag. One of the many brilliant things about Nepal is that they don’t have the same excessive packaging that we do in the UK and there are no ready-meal cartons that I’m so guilty of using at home on a daily basis. They do use plastic bags here but they’re smaller and flimsier so feel less destructive. 

My shameful litter bag only contained some biscuit packet wrappers (to the complete detriment of my detox, I’ve just discovered that most of the local stalls/cafes here sell small packets of biscuits; they even do a vague approximation of bourbon creams! Help!); discarded A4 paper (every inch used, front and back); the foil wrappers of some medicines; empty toiletries etc. etc. but the thing I was most concerned about burning was tampons. There’s something particularly gross about that. What if they didn’t even burn? Double eeeww!

Ah, the joys of menstruating in Nepal.  Tampons are not widely used here; the ones that are sold in Kathmandu are of a much lower quality than in the UK. With the threat of toxic shock syndrome, we were urged to bring our own tampons from home (unless you’d been smart and organised an injection, moon cup or any of the other awesome, but to me, slightly scary, methods of preventing/dealing with periods). I panicked and brought 800 or so with me. Every time I open any of my bags, a confetti of the little blighters escape. 

Nepalese girls that have money will use sanitary pads but the majority of the population can’t afford such luxuries and instead use old rags or even piles of leaves or sawdust. One of the other ICS teams in Nepal right now is holding workshops where women are shown how to make their own reusable cotton pads – fabulous!Menstruating in Nepal is tough enough without having to try and shove handfuls of sawdust down your pants.

Even in my own lovely host home, during menstruation we’re not allowed in to the kitchen or to touch any crockery at the same time as anyone else (your dinner, for example, will get laid on the floor for you to then pick up) and we have to wash our dishes using the outside tap. I might be a bit mental during my period (and I’m pretty sure my lack of spatial awareness means that I shouldn’t be allowed to drive) but I’m definitely not “impure”, or at least, no more than normal anyway.

The outrageous tradition of “Chhaupadi” practiced in some parts of rural Nepal, where menstruating women are forced in to exile for the week, was outlawed in August but when I googled how to spell the word, the first article was about a 21 year old Nepalese girl who died last Friday after being forced to sleep in a Chhaupadi hut. The law now states that anyone found guilty of enforcing Chhaupadi will face up to three months in jail or a fine of 3,000 NRP (about £22). The law being passed is one thing, but enforcement is another matter entirely.

Anyway, one problem at a time…

Disposal of sanitary products here is an issue. A couple of the girls, rather depressingly, have been told just to throw them in the river as the squat toilets can’t cope with inorganic matter. My choice was to double-bag them in thin nappy bags (sorry, Earth), bury them at the bottom of my makeshift litter bin in my room and then burn them Viking-style on my disgusting pyre.

We made the fire as hot as we could so everything did burn down eventually, more or less anyway.img_20180113_152609687021142.jpg A beautiful spot for a fire 😦

I couldn’t bring myself to burn my plastic water bottles though; it’s just too ingrained that burning plastic is definitely not a good thing! So now, I have a collection of 19 empty bottles in my room. I know I should be drinking boiled water in my reusable bottle but it’s a hassle to organise with the host family (they can’t simply boil a kettle and fuel is expensive) so I just get a couple of litres from them each day. I’ve got polycystic kidney disease though and I need to drink lots of water so I buy the odd supplementary bottle or two to top up.

I was contemplating making a plastic bottle wall in one of the schools but when I counted how many bottles I’d potentially need, my consumption, ironically, wouldn’t be nearly enough to get started. I’ve bound twelve bottles together with gaffer tape in a half-assed/half-started idea to make a small table to hold my toiletries/miscellaneous crap that I brought with me but at the moment, it’s just twelve sad bottles bound with gaffer tape.My new plan is that I’m just going to take them (along with the maybe 20 more that I’m likely to drink) with me when I leave for Kathmandu where I’ve been told that there’s a plastic bottle recycling shop. Travelling on the bus with bags full of rubbish is unlikely to help my popularity but if anyone else has any other ideas, I’d love to hear them!

 

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