Friday, February 27, 2009

Garbage and flowers

For gringos, maybe especially for those of us from the west coast where clean streets are the norm, the amount of garbage found on the streets and sidewalks and by-ways of El Salvador and Latin America is an initial shock. When you've been here a while, even a little while, you begin to see a little more. First of all, you see that Salvadorans must be just about the cleanest people in the world when it comes to their persons and their homes. Clothes are washed and hung out to dry daily; people present themselves in the very best attire they can manage for an occasion. Houses are swept and mopped and picked up daily. People may be very poor and have only torn clothes, but those clothes will be clean.

So why all the garbage in the streets? Here's what I've noticed -
  • There are almost no public garbage containers.
  • Garbage, like graffiti, piles up in areas that don't seem to "belong" to anyone.
  • The structure of houses, with walls enclosing all the private space, makes it easy to ignore the sidewalk and planting strip outside, which can easily begin to collect throw-aways.
  • Almost everything anyone buys - including soft drinks - comes wrapped in plastic.
  • I'm guessing there's an attitude among some that the public spaces, streets and sidewalks, are fair game for dumping rubbish.
Garbage collection now is much better than it was in 20o1, when I first visited El Salvador, and you do now see men collecting rubbish from the streets and public places. El Centro is much cleaner than it used to be - that's not to say it's clean!

But if there's more garbage to be seen here (particularly in the dry season - in the wet months, the rain does a great job of street sweeping) than in Seattle, there are also the flowers, amazing flowers. Just down the block from me on the other side of the street are two trees and a vine - yellow and lavender and fuschia flowers. And in the other direction, just a few houses away from ours, this house with its gorgeous clusters of vines: what could be more beautiful?

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