I’d cycled less than half an hour along the river Lahn to get to the recycling centre on the outskirts of Marburg. A dozen rubbish containers line the parameter of a yard, each one huge enough to cast me into shadow as I walk by. Slightly early, I wait by the gate for another minute and eye up where the office could be. Eventually I spot a container similar to the rubbish repositories but with two windows looking out onto the courtyard.
I entered the room to be met by two women sat amongst several plants that made the office look like a biotope in comparison to the litter-strewn wasteland behind me and in front of them. It was cool inside and they both looked fresh and serene. The boss handed me a spade and a broom and pointed to the nearby wheelbarrow. My job was quite simple: collect the rubbish that had escaped the containers and tidy up the yard. Of the crates towering over us, one lay deep in the ground and she demonstrated how I could quite easily wheel my barrow over to the edge, once full, gently raise it to become perpendicular to the ground and the contents would spew into the container below. Easy peasy.
I got sweeping and collecting and worked my way around the yard. The first two hours were peaceful. I could hear swallows in the barn nextdoor, first wondering if the chirping was coming from any neighbouring trees or a little woodland. A win for nature, I though chirpily as I kept on sweeping. I’d learned about barn swallows last year whilst working for NABU. They build their nests in stables, barns and eaves. Although they’re not considered an endangered species, their nesting sites are decreasing in number. As lovely as they may look and sound, swallows create a lot of mess. Increasing hygiene standards often call for the removing of swallow nests and the renovation of old barns and the building of new ones also means that the small cracks through which the birds normally fly are being sealed up or not longer exist.
I swept on, listening to their chit chat, enjoying having been left to my own devices, whistling about the enclosure and enjoyed the warmth of the not yet beating down sun. The chief came out and gave me a bottle of water. “I hope this job isn’t too awful”, she said with sympathy. “Not at all”, I smiled back to her. And I meant it. In a weird way, I felt like I was assisting this world of recycling by collecting all the little scraps that had fallen or been left behind. It was very satisfying scooping up all the little bits of rubbish and plastic from the yard floor that had escaped their container homes whilst in transit and had ended up on the ground or between the fence and tufts of grass beneath. Once I was a quarter of the way round the yard, I looked back and beamed with satisfaction at the paperless and plastic-free trace.
By midafternoon the sun’s welcome warmth had become something to avoid and I turned my attention to the messy spots between the containers where beautiful shade and a breeze awaited me. Lorries were beginning to arrive with the next containers and the peace and quiet of a meditative task turned into a game of dodge the truck. By this point I’d developed a new sweeping tactic. At the beginning I was quite literally putting my back into it but soon realised that I treasure my back and don’t want to inflict any unnecessary muscle pain. Out of this observation I developed an upright sweeping technique with a bit more wrist-flicking.
At four o’clock my sweep marathon was over. “You can come in now”, called the boss from the cabin a couple of minutes before the shift’s official end. Upon entering the container I was once again struck by the cool climate and the freshness of the employees inside. Although I’d made the most of the time in the yard and felt quite positive, all things considered, I wasn’t sure if I’d be coming back. The boss, however, was particularly kind and valued my work highly in comparison to other employees who may or may not know how to pick up a broom. I accepted a tip and said yes when she asked if I’d come again next week. I’ll be very happy when my English lessons get going again, but until then, back to the yard and next time with the essentials : sun cream, a hat and a smile.