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A Drum’s Journey

April 1, 2011

44_290.jpgA 44 gallon drum is manufactured in the USA in a highly automated production process that sees no human involved, from the arrival of the rolls of steel to the packaging of the empty drums onto pallets. Only when the pallets need to be loaded on to trucks does a human appear, in the form of a forklift driver.  Even the plug and bung are inserted by machines.  

A batch is shipped to Petronas in Kuala Lumpur where they are used for storing and shipping petroleum and oil. Some of these make their way to Ethiopia where they are used for their primary purpose then on sold across the border into Sudan and are finally purchased by the lads here. They are decapitated (the drums that is) and the tops are made into dustpans. The bases are removed and put to one side for dustpans and experiments and MIG welding practice. The bases are removed and put to one side for similar use. The resultant hollow tube is then cut open and the metal rolled out on the ground and panel beaten by a 6’6” Dinka with a very large hammer. Resistance is futile and soon the reinforcing ribs vanish and the sheet is as flat as it can be made by being pummelled on this black clay.  Those sheets are then cut and folded in to shelves and ends and the result is a set of rigid, high load-bearing shelves. Just how strong is a point made by on of them standing on a shelf. 

A recycling story?  Yes, but you would be without imagination or compassion if you thought that was all it was about, and had witnessed the process.  Far better is the story of purpose, meaning and direction (and income) these fabricators have in reshaping these things into new and useful products their community can use. A whole generations raised with no education, work prospects or willingness to contemplate a future. Twenty plus  years of war will do that.  The humble old 44 is a small element in the rebuilding of this country – though they are keen to never see them again and buy preformed sheet metal.  I sympathise with them   

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