Sunday, 16 December 2007

One Man's Garbage ...

When visitors first come to our house, deep in a Mexican barrio, they usually exclaim how surprised they are at the beauty of the place. Part of it is that the house is indeed delightful and surrounded by a tropical abundance. When we walk into town with the visitors, however, a different picture sometimes emerges. “How can you live in the middle of this … mess?” they protest, pointing at piles of building refuse on an unused lot, and dog-disturbed bags of food waste by the side of the road.

I have to admit that it is not aesthetically pleasing, to my North American / English sensibilities. If you care to dig below the surface of the garbage, however, the picture is not so clear.

Firstly, it really is garbage. It is only material that is of no use, because anything that can be reused, is. We learned early on in Mexico that, to be courteous, you separate what might conceivably be of use to someone from real trash, to save them the unpleasantness of plowing through garbage to get at “treasure”.

It fascinates me to see how fast the recycling process takes. My personal record is under 5 seconds, when I dragged the very old, non-functional range into the street. My neighbor suddenly appeared from behind his wall and asked if he could have it. I agreed, and it disappeared again behind his wall.

Even when there appears to be no-one around, things that I would have thought were of limited value disappear mysteriously. It’s almost as if there is an instant secret network in town that is on the look-out for any material.

Most importantly, though, the streetscape that you and I might perceive as somewhat of a mess really doesn’t matter to my neighbors. If it did, they’d do something about it. Their families and their home life are more important to them than a pristine external environment. What a novel thought!

The sacrosanct North American principle of not littering simply isn’t inculcated here. Before you denigrate Mexicans, however, think back 35 years in the States. It was not uncommon then, I gather, to throw cans and candy wrappers out of cars.

There are signs of change. People tell me that the Todos Santos garbage dump now gets some things of value (being a “townie”, I get garbage collection and therefore can’t report on this first hand!). If you look at the middle class subdivisions springing up all over Cabo, you’ll see that they are just as pernickety about their streets as any American or Canadian.

Maybe these changes are for the better. I just hope the positive aspects of the Mexican value system will survive this "Americanization".

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