I saw a garbage truck in Apuela. My first thought was that it was not real. My second thought held such certainty that I almost could not believe that it was not true. I thought that the world had ended. I physically had to walk around the truck and touch it, both to confirm the fact that it was real and to confirm the fact that I was not lifeless.
One of the first things that I noticed about Apuela was that people would throw their garbage on the ground. At first I could justify their actions: why throw a peel or seeds in the garbage when you can throw it in on the soil in your farm as a biodegradable fertilizer? I too began to throw my banana and guava peels on the ground to enrich our farm’s soil. But that’s where I stopped. Whereas I did not throw plastic wrappers, bottles and other non-biodegradable trash around me, most of the other denizens of Apuela did. There was no consideration for the garbage can; people would throw the trash right where they stood.
This annoyed me for a couple of different reasons. It made where we stood dirty; it left the area dirty for later people; it was harmful to the environment; and the trash can was so close, it would not have taken much effort to walk three steps over and just save everyone the unpleasantness of trash on the ground. Then I found out where the trash went (if it was indeed collected). People either burned the trash or dumped it into the river. After assessing all this information and deciding that I could not change the mentality of the people here, (“Just throw it on the floor; it will end up in the river anyway.”) I decided to say nothing and just stick to throwing my personal garbage in public trash cans.
Therefore, it was incredibly exciting for me when my host mother told me that Apuela was planning on implementing a trash collection system. The local government was providing garbage trucks and the people of Apuela along with the government were buying land for waste and were even intending on separating the trash into organic, plastics and paper. She told me that the system would hopefully be in place by January.
It is really incredibly to me how heavily involved the provincial government is in an individual’s life in Intag. It is equally as amazing to me the desire of the people here to improve their lives and their willingness to get governmental aid and assistance. I know many people who work for the provincial government, one of them being my host father. There are constantly new projects being developed and organized. Signs are up everywhere that say, “This was done with governmental assistance!” and every day at least one official governmental trucks passes through Apuela, if not more. Government officials have stayed at my house and are my co-workers. The government is actively giving aid to everything from ensuring clean drinking water to financially assisting the building of local schools. My host mother recently went to a meeting (she is constantly talking to governmental officials) where the provincial government presented spending, projects and the budget of 2010.
My relationship with my mother has gotten to the point where she knows I want to hear about her meetings so that by the time I came home, she already had all her notes laid out for me to read. We spent the whole evening talking about the government and governmental projects that are happening in Intag. Coming from a place where the government is constantly criticized, ridiculed or just seen in such a negative light, it is nice to see a government actively caring for the people and the people appreciating it. A few weeks ago, my host mother went to a series of meetings led by the provincial government where they asked the people of Apuela what was a good life to them and how could those objectives be achieved. The government was looking for projects that the people needed and wanted so that the money could really assist the people. They took the time to ask and listen to what the people said. Nationally, it might be called 21st century Socialism but provincially, at least in Apuela, whatever it’s called, it seems to work.
So we got the garbage trucks a month later than was expected. Factoring in government bureaucracy and Ecuadorian time, I think this is pretty good. When I saw the garbage trucks, my third thought was how I had no idea how lucky I was to have a functioning trash collection system already in place back in the States. And really, it’s not a thought that would have normally occurred to me-to be grateful for garbage trucks- had I not been without it.
Who knew that I missed seeing a truck full of trash?