Wednesday, May 09, 2007

a tale of two mayors

i cannot begin to explain to you how friggin' proud i am of the people in my community – especially, ESPECIALLY, the members of the committee that was formed in april. they've officially named themselves the "comité de saneamiento ambiental" and we've met five times since forming the committee. let's see....the first meeting was basically a "ok, so here's the problem, here's some solutions, what can we do?" meeting. the president, don wilfredo suggested that we figure out some ways to raise some money – raffles, excursiones (community trips to the beach or other popular places in el salvador), etc. then they decided they'd write solicitudes to the local fincas and viveros (which are all owned by people with money) for any help they can give us. then, they decided to write a letter to the mayor of ataco asking to use their landfill to get rid of the trash that does end up getting picked up by whoever we found to collaborate with us and pick up the trash (i say "get rid of," even though dumping trash in a landfill isn't really getting rid of it, but believe me, a landfill is the best solution for el salvador right now...). so we wrote up these solicitudes and then i printed off all this stuff at the internet place.

we had another meeting on the following saturday and invited people who were passing on the street to come in and meet with us. i've come to realize that i'll never attend a meeting in el salvador where there will be a quiet setting. it's all but impossible! i already told you about the turkeys and geese (and i failed to mention the traffic on the highway that could be overheard through the trees) at finca los andes for the first two meetings antonio and i had. well the following meeting at niña reyna's (the treasurer) house there was this little dog running around barking at everything, as well as kids playing pelota on the street. well, this meeting was by far the worst as far as noise was concerned. there happens to be an evangelical church right across the street from don jorge's (the vice president) house, and they decided to start up the blaring, jazzy, electronic keyboard and singing right about when we started the meeting. ugh! but salvadorans don't care one bit. amid the praise be to god singing and dogs barking and kids coming in and out and in and out and in and out, we got all the solicitudes signed and decided that guillermo (one of the guys who volunteered to help haul the trash for the cleanup campaign) would be the guy the community would hire to take the trash. he was at the meeting and he said he'd charge $15 (that's about the going rate for something like that) to pass once a week through the main streets of san jorge and along the main road. everybody agreed that that was reasonable. so it was then a question of where to take the trash and how to get the community to pay for this service.

so sunday morning we (me, antonio, don wilfredo, don jorge, geovany, diego and carlos) took the letter for the mayor of ataco to try and give it to him at his house. ok, so let me explain why we were asking for permission to use ataco's botadero (landfill) and not apaneca's – because san jorge is part of the municipality of apaneca. here's why: it's simply the location. ataco's botadero is closer to san jorge (located right on the main road outside of ataco), while apaneca's is on the other side of the pueblo and up on the road that leads up to laguna verde....a way longer trip. so we go to "meet" the mayor. we went and waited outside the swank hotel that he apparently lives in, along with another group of people waiting to see him. i felt like i was back in medieval times – we were peasants waiting to be addressed by the king or something. so ancient!!! we waited for about a half an hour and then the mayor came out and greeted us. his name is oscar gomez, but everybody calls him "el capitán." nicknames are a big thing here for the men, and you don't always know why someone is called that certain nickname. and sometimes men won't tell you what their nickname's like this big secret (like our boss rolando won't tell anyone his nickname). but this guys nickname wasn't a secret, nor the origin: he was in the military. anyway, he turned out to be a big asshole! first off, we told him we were from san jorge and he was like "oh, no i can't meet with people from other pueblos today. come back wednesday...." but somebody managed to ask him if we could give him the letter we wrote so he had an idea of what we wanted to talk to him about. so he read the letter and was like "absolutely need to go to apaneca. san jorge is part of apaneca's municipality, that's YOUR municipality." like we didn't fucking know that. we explained in the letter that we were asking to use ataco's botadero because it was closer, AND then don wilfredo explained that theoretically trash in san jorge is ataco's problem because san jorge's at a higher altitude and all the trash that it is in the cuñetas (drain ditches), by the laws of gravity, flows down into ataco. but he just continued being a jerk and was like "no, i can't permit anyone from outside the municipality to use it" and folded our letter up into like 8 pieces and stuffed it in his shirt pocket. so we walked away and were like "well, i guess it's off to ask the mayor of apaneca..."

while we were walking back to the bus stop don wilfredo and don jorge said that they were suspicious of the directiva (specifically the president) of the ADESCO because they'd come to find out that the ADESCO is mad that we formed this committee. and apparently they heard through chambre that don rodolfo (the president of the ADESCO) went to the mayor of ataco's office and told him ahead of time that we were looking to use ataco's botadero, and advised him not to allow us to use it. now, i'm not sure if this is exactly what has happened, but i certainly would not be surprised. you see.....people here do things like this. and it's all politically driven. don wilfredo emphasized at the beginning of at least two meetings that this is not a political committee. the only focus is the trash problem in san jorge. we've got members of ARENA, FMLN and PCN, as well as members who aren't a member of any party on the committee. but it doesn't matter who is for what party – this committee has nothing to do with that. but don rodolfo is ARENA and from chambre in the community i've heard that he's not into this type of thing....our committee. for someone like me it can be super frustrating because i've not been around for 20 years to see the various problems that have passed back and forth between people, nor the origin of grudges that are still held to this day. most of the people i talk to in san jorge have willingly told me that the ADESCO doesn't do shit, and i'm inclined to agree with them. not because i care who is on the ADESCO or anything, it's just a fact that i've never heard of them doing anything except coordinating with the mayor's office to have two streets repaired....streets that happen to have the houses of three members of the ADESCO (yes, the president's is one of them) on them. well, whatever. don rodolfo can kiss my ass if that's truly what he did and if he's truly against our group.

so we met again the following wednesday and drew up another letter to the mayor of apaneca (our second grade educated mayor!) to ask for his support and collaboration in our effort to clean up san jorge. this meeting lasted forever.....mostly because, of course, it started an hour later than it was supposed to. they keep scheduling these meetings for 5:00 p.m., which is fine for everyone but me since i live in apaneca. the last bus to apaneca is around 7:00 p.m. so i either have to leave or stay and hope i can find a ride or there'll be a straggling microbus that passes later than 7:00 p.m. i would just leave, but with everyone arriving between 6:00 and 6:30, things start to get really interesting and what-not around 7:00 and i never want to leave. anyway, we didn't get out of this meeting until like 9:00 p.m.! i walked with antonio, geovany, diego and don chepe up through san jorge and i stopped by niña domy's and she was like "what are you doing in san jorge this late!?" i told her about the meeting and i said i was headed down to antonio's family's house and if they didn't have a place for me to sleep, i'd hit her up for a space somewhere in her house. so i went with antonio down to his house and his mom and sister were all ready for bed and i felt like an ass! i just wanted to go back up to niña domy's, but they were like "no, no.....stay here!" but it was like – where?? finally, a solution was found in that they dragged one of their beds into the kitchen.....i'm totally serious. i spent that night sleeping on a bed in the kitchen of antonio's house. hee hee. i felt like such an idiot when his dad and brother were hauling the bed into the kitchen....and then i shut the wooden door after his mom gave me sheets and a towel and all that and was like "buenas noches." i was officially locked in the kitchen. good times!

we went to the mayor's office in apaneca on thursday morning. it was kind of the same drill, wait outside the mayor's office until he came in. he greeted us as he was coming into the office and was really very nice and met with us first thing. so the mayor of apaneca's name is osmín guzmán, and i've written about him before. i can't remember if i told you that his nickname is "el tigre." he always wears a cowboy hat and vest and looks like some famous ranchero singer – francisco – or fernando - vicente. everybody always talks about el tigre and his likeness to francisco/fernando vicente. anyway, so we go into his office and he's got all these fake tigers all over the place – stuffed tigers, keychains, etc. then he's got this big tiger statue – like something that would be on a merry-go-round or something. like not with a seat or anything, but like this life-sized orange tiger. so he offers us seats and we sit down and he goes behind his desk and goes to sit down in his chair behind the desk, then stops and goes "i think i'll sit on the tiger." so he proceeds to sit down on this tiger and is like "ok, what's up...." and antonio goes about explaining our whole project, and the whole while don osmín is sitting there on that tiger with his cowboy hat. i'm thinking "where am i???" i felt like i was on candid camera or something. can you imagine?

i have to tell you though, el tigre was much more receptive to us than el capitán was. he listened to us and even admitted that it is partly his fault that san jorge is so dirty because he hasn't really tried to emphasize the need for trash pickup there. so he said what we were doing was great and we gave him our letter. he said we could use apaneca's botadero but then said that he'd really like to have the trash truck from the pueblo pass through san jorge (meaning the community would have to pay a tax to the mayor). specifically because apparently he and some other mayors in the northern part of ahuachapán are going to buy some land near the border with guatemala for a botadero that will serve this whole northern area and they'll close the one in apaneca (as well as in ataco). and when that happens, obviously, we won't be able to use that botadero anymore and if we want trash pickup it'll have to come from the mayor's office and a tax will then be charged. he gave us a list of how much each person would have to pay if a tax were implemented – and let me tell you folks, it's not that much. something like 35 cents a week. thing is...everybody would have to pay it, not just the people who want to....

but anyway, that's further down the road. right now, we just wanted to find out if we could use the botadero and he said yes, by all means. then we invited him to another meeting in san jorge on saturday and he said he'd try to make it. so that was that....a humungous success.

i couldn't make it to the meeting on saturday because i had already planned to go visit my host family in molineros (it had been 6 months since i'd last seen them!). but el tigre did show up and told our committee that he'd donate 5 barrels for trash (like for around the football cancha and near the main tienda, etc.) to the community. antonio told me at the beginning of the meeting that don wilfredo (who's not ARENA) told el tigre (who is ARENA) that for 15-20 years, he's never done anything about the trash in san jorge, or helped the community get cleaned up. antonio said that he said "don toñito of the ministerio de salud and la señorita laura of cuerpo de paz are the ones that are working to help us." i was like "no way did he say that!" but i guess don wilfredo was just like "come on, we need some help here...." and the mayor agreed and said that we should work with the ADESCO and antonio told the mayor that we've invited the ADESCO to the meetings (the first two we had) and only a couple members came. anyway, that meeting was a huge success as well.

then on sunday morning the members of the committee went door to door and collected money from people who were willing to pay for trash pickup. we are now in the process of making a list of who will pay for it – they are asking for $1 a month right now. yes, there are people who refuse to pay it....but that's life i suppose. the main thing is, this committee is taking things seriously and taking action....not just sitting around talking about the problem and waiting for someone else to fix it. dudes, i'm sooooo proud of them. seriously, i'll be sitting in one of these meetings and i'll start looking around the room at them and my heart just swells up. most of them have next to nothing, but they're hosting the meeting at their house, providing pan dulce and coffee for everyone there, and working hard to find a solution. i just feel like in this huge environmental crisis we have in the world right now, what could possibly be better than having an entire community clean up it's trash? you know – getting them to make abono orgánico with their green trash, and getting the other stuff off the ground and the streets and into its place (well, the best place it can be until a better solution comes along).

but nothing's official in el salvador without a rubber stamp. i'm totally serious.....just another one of those quirky salvadoran things. they are big on appearances, i've already written ad nauseum on this matter. so on sunday antonio are going to pick up the specially-ordered rubber stamp. and let me tell you this, i'm gonna stamp everything i can with that thing....that's how proud i am of these people.