One step forward, two steps back
category: Jims Guatemala

After another tiring day of helping Marcos work on his sanitary latrine, I shuffled the half-mile or so home. Tools in hand, I climbed the muddy trail through the cornfield that leads to my shack, and spied a curious sight. Some of my neighbors were digging a big hole in the ground next to my house.

Tzet che yunej?” I asked. (What are you doing?)IMG_5904.jpg

“We’re building a latrine!” They gleefuly responded. Oh god, no.

“Um… are you just going to dig a hole?” I asked. They said yes, but they were just discussing it with another neighbor who said they should make it deeper so it would last longer. One of the workers was Lucas, who is generally a pretty smart guy. Only a few weeks ago, we talked for two hours about what makes a sanitary latrine.

“Don Nas doesn’t want to hassle with a composting latrine,” he told me. “I already suggested it to him.”

“But what about the other kind? The one with the concrete seal that we talked about, to keep the flies from making all the neighbors (like me) sick?” I asked.

“I’m telling you, he wasn’t interested,” Lucas shrugged.

IMG_5905.jpgIn a few minutes, Nas Extub (the owner) came by carrying a scrap of rusty of sheetmetal for the roof. His Spanish isn’t as good as the younger adults, but I tried to talk to him nonetheless about how he could make the latrine better, safer, healthier. How I’d even help him with the work. His bearing changed from friendly (which is how they all start out here) to ignoring me in annoyance. I was as accomodating and sensitive as I can be, but it did no good. As Lucas said, he just wasn’t interested.

So, now I have a cesspit about 20 yards upwind from my house. Joy.

The thing is, it’s just so anecdotal if how life is. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. We can teach people how to better their lives, but only they can make the change. If they don’t want to, even with full knowledge of the consequences, then too bad for them. What do I care if they get sick and die? But it’s not even that simple, because the decisions they make affect their neigbors as well. That’s what being a part of society is all about. So it’s more complicated than that.

kitchen.jpgIt’s kindof sad, how priorities work here. This old guy has the second biggest concrete house in town, yet he lives as a ghetto pauper because of his priorities. You saw his bathroom. But his kitchen is like that too: they just built it a few weeks ago, here’s a picture. It’s a wooden shack out back of the house (that’s his house in the picture) because no one thought to put these things INSIDE the house when they constructed it. And since they spend all of their time in the kitchen, they basically live in the shack, huddeld around their open fire, brating the smoke. Their big ugly house even blocks their nice view of the valley. It’s a Guatemalan version of those crappy McMansions that are springing up in suburbs of Chicago. All big and flashy, built to impress the neighbors, but dead and hollow and cheap inside.

Why didn’t they build a house three-quarters of the size, and include a kitchen, a bathroom, and maybe even have enough money left over to afford a BED? Only god knows. And the crazy thing? This old fool is the BROTHER of the coolest, wisest guy in town: Nas Palas. I can’t think of two brothers more different.

Posted by: jfanjoy