Tuesday, March 27, 2007

talkin´ trash

antonio and i decided last month that it was about time to have a meeting in san jorge about the trash problem there. i don´t have any pictures of trash to show you, although it´d probably be easier to show you than describe it. but i´ll try to paint a vivid enough picture. el salvador is a beautiful country, and i´m of the opinion that the area where i live is more beautiful than the rest of the country. there is just one problem.....trash. it´s practically everywhere you look.....some places worse than others. every kind of trash you can imagine, but mostly plastic bottles (coke, salva cola, water, etc) in all shapes and sizes, litter the sides of the roads and the streets. potato chip bags are probably in the lead for the most popular type of trash that is found clogging up ditches and covering the ground in front of tiendas. san jorge´s location is interesting.....it´s located on a major road that links ahuachapán and sonsonate and FOVIAL (the national road construction group) passes every now and again and cleans up the ditches and what-not on all these major roads. so what the people of san jorge do is they gather their trash up in those plastic bags you get when you buy stuff at the grocery store and they then throw those bags of trash in the ditch and along the highway so that when FOVIAL does come, they´ll pick up all those bags of trash, seemingly solving everyone´s problems.

but it´s not even close to being that simple. first of all, like i mentioned before, FOVIAL only comes every once in a while.....like once every couple months or so. and people aren´t just putting their trash out there every once in a while. they´re putting it there every single day. secondly, you would not believe the number of dogs that run around and scavenge through every bit of garbage they can find. i´m still astounded by the number of dogs here and they just keep having more puppies and they seriously will probably overtake the number of human beings in this country some day. it´s inevitable. these dogs, in their wild scavenging for that last bit of grease that someone missed in their haste to get rid of their trash, tear up these mountains of bags on the side of the road, scattering it everywhere. third, not only are there dogs, but there are chickens, horses, cows, other birds and goats to pick up where the dogs left off. fourth, the wind. so after all the animals have picked through the garbage as meticulously as possible, the wind then comes in and does its job, blowing everything around with the force of a small tornado. last but not least, is people´s undying loyalty to laziness. they simply don´t want to deal with being responsible for that bag of chips they bought at the tienda and ate on their walk home, so they casually just toss it on the street. after all this has taken place what we´re left with is one trashy community.

at the monthly meetings in san jorge that antonio hosts with the madres of the community, i´ve talked about the trash problem and the responsibilities we have as human beings to not throw our trash around. i usually link it to health problems and things like that, and then antonio will talk more in-depth about the kinds of illnesses caused by the insects that hover around these trash pits. those meetings are always so crazy though....kids running around, moms chit-chatting, babies crying. so antonio and i decided to have a meeting with the entire community in the hopes that we´d get some people seriously thinking about the problem and what kind of options san jorge has in solving the problem. so we planned this meeting for today, and before i knew it, it was here!

i am getting better in my nervousness about speaking in front of a bunch of people. even in the states, when i was speaking in english, my own native language, i always felt intimidated (isn´t speaking in public like the #1 fear that most people have?). so what do i do? i CHOOSE to join the peace corps, where i am responsible for making a regular appearance speaking in public, only now i´m not even doing it in my own language. sometimes i just don´t get myself, really i don´t. so antonio and i worked all weekend planning the charlas we´d both give, drawing our explanations (you have to remember to draw pictures of the things you´ve written, because more likely than not, most of the people you´re speaking to can´t read), and just generally organizing how we´d go about the charla. we got permission from don paco, this guy who owns finca los andes in san jorge (which is so beautiful, it´s a flower vivero on this huge spot of land amongst the cafetales...i love it there), to use an area of the finca for the meeting. the finca has everything we needed - chairs, a place for the meeting, a bathroom, etc. we made invitations for the meeting on my computer and then printed them off and copied them at the computer place in apaneca (another salvadoran thing....you HAVE to officially invite people to things like this, or nobody will come. you can´t just put up a flyer on a telephone post, you have to personally go invite everyone...what a pain!)

so on monday morning we set out to deliver invitations to all 116 houses in san jorge. yeah! some people were all about it, some looked at us like we were nuts, and others showed interest, but still looked a little confused. but whatever, right? i was up kind of late last night trying to practice delivering my part of the charla and no matter how hard i tried to keep it the same every time, i´d end up ad-libbing which can really screw me up because i´m still translating from english to spanish and it just can get really confusing to stay on track.

let me tell you a little something about holding a meeting in el salvador. no matter what time you schedule a meeting for, the meeting always starts at least an hour later because salvadorans never come on time. never. we americans like to call it ¨la hora salvadoreña.¨ antonio knows this because, duh, he´s salvadoran. but he´s also a pretty punctual salvadoran (one of the only ones i´ve met). we agreed to meet at the finca at 1:30 p.m (the meeting was scheduled for 2:00 p.m.), because in his words, ¨it´s better to get there before everyone else does.¨ i was a little skeptical about people coming to the meeting, because we put on the invitation that the meeting was about the trash problem and sometimes i get the impression that the people of san jorge aren´t really interested in simply talking about the trash problem. they want someone to come and take care of the problem for free and that´s about as far as it goes.

so anyway, we sat there twiddling our thumbs at 1:30, and chit-chatted with the workers at the finca and don paco and his family, and 2:00 came and went and then 2:30 arrived and the first couple people moseyed on in. other people start coming in and like clockwork, at 3:00, we started this meeting an hour after it was supposed to start.

but good times! we had a pretty healthy audience (about 50 people came...more women than men), only one dog, some geese, only a handful of kids/babies (yay!) and a couple of turkeys. no chickens, thank god. but i was kind of wishing we´d had chickens instead of turkeys, because for the first time in my life i´ve had to talk over actual turkeys gobbling back and forth at each other. seriously, when i get back to the states, i should have NO problems whatsoever delivering any kind of presentation after having to stand in front of a bunch of people and give a charla in spanish, remembering to time my words correctly so as not to be drowned out by geese honking, turkeys gobbling and a dog sniffing his butt in front of me.

antonio gave our little introduction - talking about how the ministerio de salud and cuerpo de paz were collaborating in this effort to figure out the trash problem in san jorge, and then i launched into my part of the charla. i focused on trash and how it relates to the environment, while antonio talked about trash and its relation to people´s health. one thing i am good at when giving a presentation is making eye contact, and i´m glad i´m able to do that because when i was talking about the different classifications of trash (organic/inorganic) and how we need to pay attention to that and how the inorganic trash is bad for the future and all that, i could see people nodding their heads and agreeing with me and that really made it a lot easier to continue. one, i knew they could understand me (believe me, sometimes i still can´t believe i´m speaking another language) and two, i knew that they didn´t think i was just blowing a bunch of hot air. it´s easy to feel like you´re some kind of crazy person down here when you start talking about things like this because a lot of the time people look at you like you´re nuts when you pick up trash off the ground or tell someone you´re recycling your plastic bottles. (you should see people´s faces when i DON´T throw my trash out the bus window, but put it in a bag i brought so i can get rid of it when i get home). but in the meeting, i could tell that they really agreed with me and understood what i was saying about the consequences of trash and contamination. i felt like i was teaching them something.

it´s different with adults than it is with kids, you know? giving a charla to adults is a lot more intimidating and in this meeting there were a bunch of machista men there that i could tell were thinking ¨who does this broad think she is?¨ but they didn´t say anything crazy while i was talking, thank god. speaking of which, i toyed with the idea of throwing a little something about god in my charla, just because EVERYONE here is religious and i felt it wouldn´t hurt if i said that ¨god wants us to take care of the earth, so we need to do that.¨ so i did, and you should of seen these people - they were all smiles and nodding heads and what-not. things just work differently here and if it´s not gonna hurt to say a little something about dios, well, then i can do that.

antonio, obviously, talked a lot more than i did, just because he can speak spanish. i was so happy, though, because the people were contributing as well to the meeting. it wasn´t just antonio and i up front doing all the talking, which was so completely awesome! the one big obstacle that san jorge has in solving the trash problem is there is nowhere to put trash, other than burn it. burning it is better than leaving it to sit on the ground, but burning it is gross too, and horrible for the environment. pick your poison, i guess....literally. apaneca (the pueblo) has trash pick up every single day. a truck comes around town and you know when to take your trash out (you can´t leave it out because of the aforementioned crazy dogs and other animals) when you hear a bell ringing. yes, the trash truck has an actual bell on the side by the driver´s door and the driver actually rings the bell as the truck goes down the street. anyway, the trash truck goes through apaneca every day, not to mention the people employed by the mayor´s office that go around the pueblo with those metal barrels which have had wheels added to them, and clean up trash from the streets.

but in san jorge, the trash truck never makes an appearance....which is crazy to me, because san jorge is part of the municipio of apaneca, and it seems to me that all the caserios and colonias and cantones that are a part of the municipio of apaneca should get trash pickup. i want the people of san jorge to get organized and go to the mayor and ask him why they don´t get trash pickup, but i´m not sure how to approach that subject because i need to stay fairly un-biased in my work, and getting involved with challenging the mayor is a touchy subject. so i simply told the people in the meeting today that they all have the right to live in a clean place and possibly they could form a group of people that could explore options for getting rid of the trash. and they all nodded their heads in agreement. so we kind of left it at that....giving them an educational charla, but also giving them an opportunity to think about actually taking action. we´ll see what happens.

we´re planning to have another meeting in a couple months or so....maybe even next month....to try and get more people involved. don paco even said that san jorge should start kind of a collaboration within the community where the people who had pickup trucks could take a load of garbage to the basurero (landfill) outside of ataco once a week. see, that´s so cool....that´s what our work is about down here....getting people thinking and realizing that they have the ability to solve problems and the like.

so i feel way good about this little project!!!

in other news, our school was robbed! punk thieves broke into the school and stole a bunch of stuff and so school hasn´t really been normal for the past week (like the kids need any more disturbances what with all the fiestas and vacations and all that). next week is semana santa, so no school for a week. hopefully things will return to normal after vacation.

that´s it for now.....i´ll be back soon, i´m sure! buenas noches!