Monday, June 29, 2015

taking out the trash

Garbage collection fascinates me.

Of course, it is a necessity.  Modern civilizations could not exist without it.  Otherwise, our living areas would be buried in trash.

In Pátzcuaro, several times a week, the garbage truck arrives to the sound of a bell that any colonial town crier would have envied.  At the sound, residents run from their houses carrying bags of garbage -- along with a tip of pesos for the garbage guys.  Mexicans cannot stand garbage accumulating in their houses.

I suspect that is why our local garbage men show up early almost every morning to pick up the neighborhood trash.  That was one of the rhythms I needed to learn at the new house.  I usually put out my trash twice a week after Dora pays her visits tidying up my life.

In Villa Obregon, most houses have a very interesting apparatus on the sidewalk -- similar to this one in my new neighborhood.

It is a clever device.  It keeps the dogs and other scavengers from ripping through the garbage bags in search of scraps.  I do not have one at the new house.

Instead, I bought a garbage can to comply with the notice at the top of this piece.  It is painted on the wall of our local football pitch. 

The message is very clear.  I understand the residents of my neighborhood traditionally would gather up their garbage, put it in the type of plastic bags you would receive at a convenience store, and then deposit it on the street corner for the garbage men to collect on their regular rounds.

But custom is a hard thing to break.  Even though the garbage is supposed to be left in front of each house, my neighbors still drop their bags on the street corner.

And because no one on my street has one of those raised garbage containers, the dogs treat the bags as the equivalent of a Sirloin Stockade buffet.  The result is that the contents of the bags are strewn in the street.  The mornings do not paint a pretty street scene.

The garbage men will pick up any undisturbed bag on the corner, but any of the torn bags in the street are on their own.  That is why I bought a heavy garbage can.  I tote it to the curb twice a week.  The next morning the contents are gone, and I roll the can back into its resting place.

And what about the trash in the street?  It will sit there until the rains come and sweep most of it into the sewage system -- where it will damage the pumps.

Or it will sit there until either my neighbor, Mary, or I get tired of the eyesore.  It usually takes only about a half hour to gather everything up and prepare it for the next pickup day.

For some reason, it does not seem to bother the neighbors who put it out.  I have seen them watch me cleaning up the street.  Their looks are something between bemusement and comedy.

Mexicans are quite fastidious in the hygiene of their homes, their clothes, their vehicles, and themselves.  Getting the garbage outside of the house is just one example.  For some reason that attitude just does not square with the garbage issue.

A Mexican friend once told me, when we were discussing litter: "Once a piece of paper leaves a Mexican's hand, it s no longer his concern."  I do not know how valid that statement is, but the empirical evidence on my street would support the postulate.

Things are changing, though.  Local students regularly hold litter cleanups in the villages, as well as promoting more litter barrels in public places.

Maybe that is the answer.  Perhaps in another generation, when I am getting around with my walker, my Mexican neighbors will join me in cleaning up the street.

I had written an entirely different ending to this piece.  I decided I would play litter patrol on the street last evening.  As I worked my way to the corner, I noticed my neighbor, Israel, who I met when I first moved in, was also cleaning up the mess on the corner.

We re-introduced ourselves and chatted a bit.  He has a store in Melaque, where I have seen him numerous times.  Both of us laughed at how we had failed to make the connection that we are neighbors.

We commiserated over the dog problem and the number of times trash barrels have been stolen from the corner.  But, most of all, he undercut the entire premise of this piece.  Mexicans do care about trash.  At least, Israel does.

And, even if he is the exception, it is nice to put a neighborly face on a shop owner I see almost every day.


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