While tens of thousands of young people descend on Roskilde Festival to get drunk, watch the occassional and perhaps pick up an STD, others come to make an easy buck – on can and bottle deposits.
Under the punishing sun sit tens of thousands of young men and women in camping chairs and beneath white pavillions, whiling away the hours before the music starts on Thursday. There is a pervasive drone from hundreds of stereos powered by car batteries while kites float in the breezy summer heat.
But not everyone is here to bake their skin to leather and perforate their ear dreams while drinking themselves into a mesmeric stupor. There are plenty of opportunities to be had at the festival and some leave with more money in their pocket than when they first arrived.
They work tirelessly, moving purposefully between the camps searching for discarded bottles and cans each of which earns them a krone. But it’s not pocket change they’re after. Gathered outside the refund stands are queues of collectors with dozens of black bin bags stuffed to capacity patiently waiting their turn to deposit hundreds of cans at a time.
In a sea of northern European fair skin and blonde hair it’s not hard to stand out. Three distinct ethnic groups have made the journey to festival, paying the 1600 kroner entrance to capitalize on the valuable waste – the Roma, East Asians and Africans. Hardly any I tried to speak to spoke Danish or English and even fewer would stop to talk, time is money after all.
But as I left the skatepark I met 37-year-old Kenneth Okora. Originally from eastern Nigeria, he came to Denmark as a student on the International People’s College 12 years ago before moving to Malmö in Sweden where he now works as a cleaner. I find him guarding the evening’s collection beside the skatepark and while he scans the horizon for the other members of his crew he finds a minute to talk about racism, migration and homesickness.
“Sometimes I get sad being away from home. I feel stuck between two places but I know if I go back to Nigeria I will want to be back in Sweden with my family,” he explains.
But while he misses the town where he grew up and his childhood friends, he felt the need to leave and find new challenges. But he also believes there is a bigger and more positive picture to migration.
“It’s good when people mix up a lot and meet each other like this. People need to do this so that we can understand each other.”
When asked about whether he has experienced any discrimination at the festival, he laughs, removes his sunglasses and adopts a philosophical tone.
“Racism to me is not a problem. It’s all about mentality. In Africa we have a lot of different people all mixed up together. Where I am from you have Nigerian people telling Ghanians to go home so it’s not about colour.”
“When you get to know each other it’s ok. I have never seen a man get hurt because of his skin, only because of a bad mentality. That is all it is.”
The interview is over and he resumes his work guarding his valuable hoard of plastic and aluminium beneath a setting sun. The music has not even begun but people already look weary and tanned, their clothes stained brown from the dust and hair dried to the texture of straw.
Outside a camp a Roma collector stops and asks the empty cans. They’re thrown into the waiting bag and she moves along. It’s a civilized and polite affair. Perhaps the festival’s Roma Amor initiative to improve relations between collectors and festival guests is working. Or perhaps after first arriving in earnest in 2009, professional collectors from across the globe have finally become an intrinsic feature of Roskilde Festival – here to stay as long as we overlook the golden opportunity hidden in our waste.
Originally published in The Copenhagen Post.