Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please, No Rubber

Quite unexpectedly, "Please, no rubber" is a major part of my vocabulary here. No no, it doesn't mean that. A "rubber" in Ghanaian english is a plastic bag in American english (I still feel awkward saying it, though). And are rubbers everywhere in Ghana. Any street food comes packed in two, or even three, small black "rubbers." At the provisions store near my house they pack every can/bottle individually in its own rubber. I always feel a twinge of guilt throwing away the seven rubbers I got from buying three items, but it's often easier to just take them than it is to explain that I can carry a pineapple without it being double-bagged.

It's obvious where the rubbers end up: streets, gutters, vacant lots, and trash heaps are filled with them. But until the other day, I had no idea where they come from. What does it take to make a plastic bag? Are there giant cargo ships full of plastic bags arriving daily from China? Who profits off a rubber?

And then I discovered the Ghanaian rubber-making industry.

Meet Thomas, the rubber-maker. Using his feet, he can lower an arm that has a hot wire and a blade running across it. He stretches the tubular plastic roll out to proper rubber-size and lowers the arm down to seal the bottom of one bag with the wire and cut open the top of the next with the blade. Stretch, lower, stretch, lower, Thomas is a one man rubber-making factory.

"Please, no rubber" will be a little harder to say now that I know about Thomas and domestic rubber-making industry.

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