To most people of Colombo, the Galle Face Green is a place to hang out at. It’s where you go for isso vadey, or to fly kites, or catch the sunset on your way back from work. To tourists, it’s one of those mandatory-places-in-Colombo-you-must-see. In short, it’s a very integral part of Colombo life. But in spite of this ‒ or more likely because of this ‒ come evening, Galle Face faces a rather nasty little problem.
Welcome to Galle Face Green, the promenade of trash.
Now, if one were to look up Galle Face on the interweb, you would find this description of it:
‘’The Galle Face is a five hectare ocean-side urban park, which stretches for a half kilometre along the coast, in the heart of the financial and business district of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The promenade was initially laid out in 1859 by Governor Sir Henry George Ward… The Galle Face Green was initially used for horse racing and as a golf course, but was also used for cricket, polo, football, tennis and rugby.’’
Unfortunately, in its current state, the Galle Face Green isn’t green at all; it is strewn with garbage, which accumulates all day and is the worst at night. From the moment you enter, from all sides except that of Dutch Hospital, you are greeted with the cool breeze of the ocean, the sounds of children playing, and the smell of piss, while around you, ice cream wrappers flutter through the air.
Once you have made your way across the dirt and dust that has been zealously called the Galle Face Green, you trail your way towards the beach where you can grab something to eat. There are many options to choose from. Unfortunately, they are also some of the reasons for all this clutter.
This isn’t to say that there is no hope; there are people who try and do something about all this waste. There are plenty of shopkeepers who store their daily garbage and keep it to the side so it can be collected when they close shop. And there are people who walk the distance to make sure their plates go into the bin once they are done. And yet, it’s hard not to notice piles of garbage at every corner, being picked up by the wind and hurled your way. As I walked around Galle Face these last few nights, I had to duck twice to ensure that I wouldn’t get hit in the face with ice cream bar wrappers, and one lunch wrapper with what I hope was chocolate smeared on it.
Colombo used to be known as a green city, and when I was young my father would regale me with stories of how one could walk down Gregory’s Road during midday and not be touched by a single ray of sunlight. Although I now understand that could have been an exaggeration, it saddens me to think what we have traded that for. And since growth means change, and old trees will disappear, the least we could do is keep Colombo green via responsible waste management.
This isn’t to say that Galle Face is overrated, or that if you want to enjoy a good meal you have to spend thousands of rupees and avoid street vendors. We can go ahead and enjoy Galle Face the same way generations before us have ‒ flying kites, having family picnics, enjoying the occasional achcharu or isso vadey ‒ so long as we clean up after ourselves. Too long have we lived with the notion that it’s someone else’s responsibility to pick up after us. And in the wise words of Javert: “We will nip it in the bud.”
In my time teaching, I worked with quite a few schools, and I know that they do teach children to clean up after themselves… But I don’t know if this will be enough. One school, in particular, gave each year group the responsibility to clean the canteen every week. If you are a parent or a teacher, or just someone who has someone looking up to you, teach them to go that extra 100 metres to throw away their chewing gum wrapper. Ask them not to spit on the road, or to throw things out the car window, because before you know it, it will be too late. If the law won’t enforce it, we as citizens should.