Monday, July 09, 2007

why it´s so difficult sometimes

in contrast to my livin´the dream entry a few months back, let me tell you why it´s difficult to be a peace corps volunteer.  it´s not the bucket baths, or insects or being called gorda.  it´s not being separated from friends and family or eating beans and tortillas for more than half your meals here. it has more to do with this little experience i had over the weekend.

we finally found an opportune time to plant some of the 200 trees that we had solicited for my reforestation project. we coincided it with a big painting job that the comité wanted to do at the school. we were given another gift of paint from some other guy in apaneca and it was this drab gray, so instead of giving it to the people in san jorge to paint their houses, the comité decided to paint the fence surrounding the school as it had been eight years since it was installed and was just about all rusted and ugly. so sunday morning we all met at the, the comité, antonio, the teachers and padres of the kids at the school to paint and plant.

i started off with the padres, a few members of the comité on the painting. everyone did a great job with the collaboration and about halfway through the job, i decided to go and help the rest of the comité and antonio plant the trees. i found them along the main road and continued with them down past san jorge on the other end of the caserio. they had already planted some 30 trees along the road towards apaneca and were gonna plant about 20-30 more along the road towards ataco. we dug holes, planted the trees, and staked them in hopes that they´d be somewhat protected from the foot traffic that passes on the road on a daily basis.

at some point niña mercedes and her daughter came with fresco and cookies for us, which was great because it was so damned hot. while we´re eating cookies, two of the comité members proceed to throw their cookie wrappers on the ground. i kept staring at the wrappers on the ground, just completely pissed off and i could think of nothing else while we planted the rest of the trees. at one point, i went up and down the line of trees we had planted and picked up the plastic bags that the trees had been in and put them in the wheelbarrow that we had used to transport the trees. then when we were done planting, don wilfredo (the pres) says to take the plastic bags over to the side of the road and burn them. and antonio´s like ¨no, let´s just carry them and throw them away when we get back.¨ and don wil´s like ¨no, we´re just gonna burn them.¨ so he and a couple others make this little fire out of burning plastic bags. nice, huh?

so then, when we were completely done, the rest of the guys take the tools and wheelbarrow back to whoever lent them to us and antonio and i walk up to the school to retrieve my bag. nobody was at the school, the fence had all been painted, and all the paint cans and plastic 2 liter bottles we´d been using as paint containers were laying all over the road in front of the fence and inside the fence. antonio was pissed and was like ¨look at this!¨ he picked up a couple of the containers that were on the other side of the street and put them with the others. i was just like ¨what the hell???¨

then if that wasn´t enough, when i finally returned to apaneca, the bus passed the area where they had planted the trees before i got there and all the plastic bags were just laying by the trees. nobody had decided to pick up the plastic bags because they were trash. they just left them there where they had taken the trees out. i was so mad.

i mean, these activities were coordinated by the comité saneamiento ambiental (which translates, not literally, to environmental and cleanup committee). but instead of cleaning anything up, they left more trash in their wake. i mean, i know i´ve said it before, that changing people´s minds is a process. a difficult process. it doesn´t happen overnight, or in months, or even a year. it´s an educational thing and you don´t learn everything in a year. but i can´t help but feel depressed about it, you know?

when we were digging some of the holes for the second round of trees, there were layers of trash in the dirt. i mean, that is excellent proof of what happens when people throw their inorganic trash on the ground. it becomes part of the ground. and it doesn´t go away. after years and years, what you have is a basic chart of the levels of trash. you know how geologists study huge rocks and can tell you what activity was going on during each different level of the rock based on the color change and texture and geoligic makeup? well, basically that´s what they´re gonna be doing, only with trash in the future.

i just don´t understand salvadorans and their understanding of what trash is. they talk about cleaning up the community, but they don´t see these churro bags all over the ground as something that is making the community look like a dump. they want to paint the houses, have trash pickup every day, plant trees. these are all great things, but the truth of the matter is, if they continue to just throw their trash on the ground (outside of their homes), the community is going to continue to look like a dump.

so here´s my next strategy. i have pretty good confianza with the comité. they respect me, not because of my theories on trash or reforestation or whatever, but simply because i´m a licenciada. titles are key here. it´s not like in the states where you can have a college degree but still be dumb as a box of rocks and people will eventually figure that out. here, you can be a complete imbecil, but if you´re a licenciado or a doctor, then you´ll forever be known as one of the smartest people around. so at the next meeting, i´m going to yell at them. i´m going to use my best skills as an interrogator and ask them what the hell they were thinking. i´m going to shame them. and i don´t care. they are supposed to be a cleanup committee and what i see them as right now is a committee of hypocrites.

it´s not just here, it´s like this all over el salvador. my friend nathan has a horrible story about his earth day celebration last year. he works in a pueblo so he organized this huge earth day thing, parades, speakers, contests, etc. the mayor of the town was there as well as other important people. there came a point during the celebration where the important people and nate were all up on stage talking about the importance of the environment and not throwing trash on the ground and whatever, in front of the whole pueblo. then some dude that was up on stage, part of this whole ¨take care of the earth¨ thing, gets out a piece of candy, unwraps it and throws the wrapper on the ground, in front of everyone.

to us environmentally-educated folks of the united states, this just makes absolutely no sense. but it´s like you can´t even play the common sense card here because salvadorans generally just look at you like you are explaining the theory of physics to them. they say they get it, but they don´t. will they ever? i´m not so sure. i´d like to think so, but honestly, in my opinion, the only way they´ll get it is if the cafetales start drying up because the whole ground above and underneath is covered in fucking churro bags.

meanwhile i´ll keep trying.....