Unsung Heroes:Clive the recyling king | Sunday Observer

Unsung Heroes:Clive the recyling king

25 July, 2021

Apart from the incessant sweating and getting smoked by racing vehicles, jogging along the highway access road has been a thriving life experience that has ironically widened my friend-circle than burning calories. The ultimate addition to the highway friends’ club happened last Sunday; a most extraordinary person in the most extraordinary fashion.

The magic biscuit wrapper

It all started with a young school girl throwing a biscuit wrapper (which she probably ate for breakfast) out of the shutter of a speeding school van.

Little she must have known on the impact of soft plastic on the earth when throwing it. However, the wrapper landed on a side of the road where two cows were grazing. Seeing that the two poor creatures would eat the wrapper in no time, I took a little detour from the jogging path, picked up the wrapper and pushed it into my pocket. Within seconds, I heard a whistle and a clapping sound behind my back. It was a foreigner who was waving at me with a beautiful Labrador by his side. He was well built, robust and smiling. “Well done young man!” smiling, he complemented my action. I was not surprised to hear it, for I knew for fact that westerners love to complement people irrespective of nationality, gender, age level or situation. Then I was amazed to see a black garbage bag besides him, half filled with different food wrappers, empty plastic water bottles and beer cans thrown by various people who use the highway on a regular basis. “I know, it’s strange young man. Breakfast’s ready at Karma House if you need an explanation” said the stranger with a slight chuckle. Curious, happy and motivated, I accepted his invitation andw both of us walked back to Karma House with the Labrador that gave us ample company.

In the short walk back to Karma House, I learned that his name was Clive Martin Snook and that he is an expatriate since six years in Sri Lanka. Apart from his motherland Britain, he has lived in several countries in Europe and India. “Why Sri Lanka?” I asked bravely and curiously. He raised the garbage bag and said “The quality of living here is amazing. It’s just that the people don’t realize how to count their blessings. I’ve lived in India for four years. Comparing the two nations in terms of pollution, India is hell and Sri Lanka is a heaven”.

This must have some truth, I thought, for all my relatives who went on pilgrims to India complained regarding the same issue. For a moment, I felt proud about my country. But then the image of the biscuit wrapper surfaced immediately and blew away the momentary happiness. “I know it’s changing, Naveen. Things just started getting bad here”, he must have noticed the changes in my face.

The Karma House

We changed course from the main road into a small tarmac road that ran parallel to the access road. “That’s my hideout”, Clive pointed at a picturesque piece of land surrounded by a thick vegetation of numerous trees. It looked like a little green bubble that was standing strong against the hustle and bustle of the highway. “Karmaa House”; the gate read in large metal letters. “Why Karma and not any other house, Clive?” I asked him trying to decipher the mysterious choice of the name. “I consider it as a fusion of the Buddhist philosophy and Christian doctrine. You only have one life and one ought to do as much good karma as possible during that one life” he answered my question cleverly. Clive was clearly well read and full of wise sows. Subverting all my expectations of a mansion, Clive’s house was a simple and traditional Sri Lankan house built of red bricks without mortar. No tiles, No French windows or air–conditioning were found. “I know, they always say I am more Sri Lankan than a Sri Lankan”, that was Clive’s answer to my amazement.

The garden was a lush greenery that consisted myriad varities of flowers, traditional Sri Lankan medical plants, trees and a few ponds with different kinds of fish. The compost heap and the five recycling bins for five types of non-biodegradables added to the perfection of the garden. Surprisingly, Clive’s first task at home was separating and disposing the waste picked by himself at the highway into the relevant bins. Breakfast was served at the Ambalama ; a little hut at the corner of the property.

I expected an English breakfast but soon found that my inference was wrong again. Champa, Clive’s domestic served heaps of string hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Coconut Sambol and Chicken cooked to perfection. Clive initiated the conversation by thanking me again for my little act of goodness. “ I have engaged in countless battles to establish recycling here. It took three generations in the UK for it to get internalised into the citizens.

Now it is a part of their daily routine”, said Clive while showing me photos of some beach cleanups sponsored and organized by him in Galle.

“I am happy to help anybody in any way to get the public engaged in recycling. It’s a beautiful country you have out there and it’s a shame that the authorities are neglecting the issue constantly”, Clive’s troubles of mediating with the authorities are endless. I was mortified by some of his revelations and findings on the methods of waste management followed by the system. “ One day, during a morning stroll with Raza (the Labrador), I was mortified to see a vehicle, probably belonging to the government authorities, dumping waste into huge pits dug on the Thalpe beach” said Clive in a tone I could not understand. It was anger, frustration, love for the land and helplessness.

The Thalpe, is a serene beach growing in fame for its breath-taking sunsets and turtles. He also drew examples from the Sri Lanka education system and pointed out the vacuum of practical knowledge on waste management. “I am amazed that recycling is not a part of the school curriculum in a country where people die by toppling Trash Mountains” Clive rants on.

Intellectual capacity

I could understand his point because as school children, recycling for us was only limited to a one-page lesson. By the time breakfast we finished breakfast, I was having an adrenaline rush. Therefore, I posed him the biggest question, “How and where to begin, Clive? What do we need?” His reply was a hearty chuckle. I liked his subtle humor from the beginning. “You already have what you need, Naveen.

The country has enough resources and intellectual capacity. Like you picking up the biscuit wrapper, everyone needs to start from their immediate environment, with a small step”, Clive made his point clear. It was an emotional moment when he revealed that he has chosen Sri Lanka for the rest of his life.

Clearly, he owned a luxury living in UK with better facilities and living standards. However, for the sheer love towards the Sri Lankan culture and the community, he has chosen to be cremated in the local soil.

I bid farewell to Clive, the Labrador and Karma House, determined to come back again with positive news on my contribution towards recycling. Throughout the walk back home, Clive’s maxim kept echoing constantly in my ears, beating the noise of the speeding vehicles. “Think big. Begin small. One thing at a time”.