Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Southern Sensibility - Part 2

In my previous post, I wrote about my struggle with certain aspects of our new Guatemala culture. There are several things that don't sit well with my Southern sense of right and wrong.

Let me ask you a question....do you believe that our government can and does brainwash the American people? (before you think I have become a conspiracy theorist - just hang with me) If your answer is no, I have a little experiment for you to try. Run down to the Quiktrip and get yourself a Coke and a candy bar. I want you to go stand outside and enjoy your snack. When you are finished, I want you to throw the bottle and the wrapper on the ground. Don't try be sneaky about it - do it in plain sight of everyone. Go ahead, I'll wait right here.

Could you do it? NO - you cannot! Why can't you do it? I'll tell you why - because you give a HOOT and you Don't Pollute, right? Just like me, you have been brainwashed by the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign. Since the early 50's, we have been taught through Public Service Announcements that we can't throw our trash anywhere we want. Who remembers the Crying Indian commercial from the 70's? This organization coined the phrase "litterbug." It worked, they have succeeded. We cannot in good conscience throw our trash on the ground in plain view of God and man. It has been ingrained in us, it has become part of our culture to care for our surroundings. Those who litter can and will be punished - because pollution hurts all of us, right?


Well, no one has ever heard of a "Keep Guatemala Beautiful" campaign. It is common to see people throw trash and litter on the ground. They have no shame or conscience for disposing of their waste wherever it happens to fall. In Antigua, we have seen a garbage collection truck picking up trash from local businesses and the wealthier residential homes. Antigua is unique - they believe in preserving the city for it's historical value as well as it's tourism value. Most parts of Guatemala have one of two methods for disposing of their waste. They burn it or they throw it down the hill. Of course, this is very unsanitary, since the rain also washes down the hill and picks up all manner of bacteria and disease before it joins a creek or river which in turn becomes bathing, washing and drinking water.

Trash and debris around town.

Speaking of unsanitary - it's not just the trash that bothers me. At least once or twice a week, I see someone (usually creepy men) peeing in the street. Sometimes it's on a tree, a bus tire, or just in the corner of a wall. Really?? I know there is a shortage of public restrooms, but somehow I manage to live without peeing in public. (So do all the males in my household.) I kinda understand if you're in the middle of nowhere, but not in the middle of town!

My thoughts are very conflicted as I try to reconcile myself to these cultural habits. The American in me is of course, disgusted and repulsed by such behavior. I find it uncivilized and barbaric. I know, I know - it's very arrogant and pretentious of me to look down from the mount of self-actualization and take such notice of others. I recognize that most Guatemalans are consumed with surviving their daily life - they can't be concerned with pollution and waste management. It is the luxury of proud and conceited Americans to concern ourselves with writing tickets to litterbugs.

Vegetables and garbage in the market.

Somehow, I don't think God's heart is crushed because they have a litter control problem in Guatemala. I think His heart is crushed by their hopelessness. I see this problem as symptomatic of their hopelessness. Why does it matter what they do with their trash when life is so uncertain? Can I find work today? Can I feed my family today? Can I pay the rent? Will the crops fail? Are we safe?

I am asking the Lord to give me compassion for the lives of these people. Kill in me all, that wants to look down on these people. May I see them as He sees them - a people in need of hope for their future.

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