Saturday, April 23, 2011

Love thy neighbour

It's fair to say that since February's earthquake, most Christchurch residents know their neighbours a lot better than they did before. There's a feeling of camaraderie in the air - we're now looking out for each other by doing things like checking on empty houses and having genuine, caring conversations with people that live nearby. Real communities are being established and strengthened, and people are reaching out to each other for information and support.

This morning our tribe joined with my mum and some of her neighbours for a BBQ brunch. When the kids were younger the focus of the day was firmly on the hiding and finding of easter eggs... but my two think that such childish activities are long behind them now. Which is kind of a shame really, 'cos I used to get quite a bit of pleasure from hiding the tiny chocolate eggs in strange places around my mother's garden. Still, it was nice to sit, eat & chat with family and neighbours... even if they're not my neighbours, they're my mum's neighbours and therefore part of the extended whanau. And it's kinda my neighbourhood too as I spent my teenage years in a house just up the street.

There are so many self-generated community activities happening these days. Our current neighbourhood, or our street at least, is going to have a communal garage sale next month which will be followed by a shared BBQ. I think I can find a few things for a garage sale - anyone want a piano?! Packing and shifting an entire household twice in 6 months has shown me just how much I can live without, and especially now the kids are older, there is plenty of stuff we don't need to hang onto. I predict a few heavy sighs as I sort through all the detritus we currently have in storage but it just has to go. We've even got an old Merc sitting underneath a bunch of boxes that we need to get off the section before the wreckers destroy the concrete driveway along with the house.

But even in these caring, sharing times there will be one or two people who go that little bit far... who go beyond the bounds of neighbourliness and start to become downright annoying.
Since moving back into our suburb we've been able to spend more time at our broken house disposing of years of extras from the kids' paper round as well as sorting & throwing out the broken and the unwanted items amongst the chaotic storage.

Here in Christchurch we have a simple but effective 3-bin rubbish system - one bin each for household rubbish, recyclables and organics.
The green bin (organics) gets collected weekly, while the other two (red = rubbish, yellow = recyclables) alternate each fortnight. We're not spending a lot of time in the garden round at our broken home but we're having no trouble filling up the other two bins with unneeded junk & leftovers from a cluttered life... although some strange goings on recently left us bemused at first, then quite grumpy a couple of weeks later.

A few weeks ago, not long after we shifted into rental #2 back in our home suburb, my hubby took an evening stroll on a Monday night to fill the recycling bin round at the sad blue house. When he came back he described how the bin was already out on the footpath, filled with empty bottles & other recycable materials. We laughed it off at the time, figuring that maybe our next-door neighbour (who we know quite well and often puts our bins away for us) might have been clearing a backlog. There were a few weeks after the Feb quake in which the recycling bins were not picked up, only the red & green, so it seemed plausible and didn't worry us unduly.

The next afternoon I wandered round to check the letterbox and put the bin away and, as I started to walk back to the rental house, a woman came out of a house a few doors down from ours and walked down the footpath. As I crossed the street I turned to watch her stop outside our house and look up the driveway, as if puzzled to see the bin had been put away. Curiouser and curiouser, I thought.

The following week (red bin) passed without incident (maybe 'cos we filled it up early) but a fortnight later a similar thing happened, and that's when it started to get annoying. On arrival at our broken home on the Monday evening, I noticed that once again, our recycling bin was out on the footpath waiting for collection. I thought this was strange as I was pretty sure hubby hadn't been round to do it, so I lifted up the lid to check the contents. There, sitting on top of our clean recyclables (mostly old newspapers) was a big black bag that was filled with someone else's rubbish. Not recyclable material at all, but general household crap... and it most certainly wasn't ours.

Now I guess this could seem like a little thing, putting rubbish into someone else's bin... but it was more than that - it was rubbish in our recycling bin - that's more than presumptuous, it's just not cool. Rude even. We've got a great refuse system in C-city that works best when people follow the very simple rules about putting stuff in the right bins. It's not rocket science but it needs the co-operation of residents not counteractive, selfish behaviours like this. Given that I didn't see who put the rubbish bag in there and had no real proof about the previous culprit, I had no other option but to put the rubbish into my red bin to await collection the following week.

I didn't want to make a fuss... I thought about putting a note in that woman's letterbox - but what if it wasn't her? Was I going to ask my other neighbours to spy for me? Or put a note in several letterboxes, making everyone feel as if they were being accused?

In the end I decided that subtle but snarky was the way to go, and made a sign for the fence. It's only an A4 sheet of paper, and you have to walk up our driveway to where our bins sit, before you can read it clearly. Satisfied that this would safely target only the perpetrators (and maybe the curious too), I stuck it up on the fence last weekend. Hopefully this will be the end of the matter... in these troubled & difficult times we need to work together not take advantage of those already suffering, and I can't be bothered having a row with someone over rubbish disposal.

But don't push me, my nerves are frayed these days and I might just bite back. Hard.

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