We strapped on our boots, and it’s a good thing Noam Angrist and I brought them from the states. Our hostess Ana Ojeda laughed at the idea of me finding size 12 boots in Bluefields. After a brisk 2 mile walk up the stone and mud path to el sitio where the trucks dump the garbage they collect. The four of us myself, Noam, Camila Caballero, and Malika Flanagan got our first glimpse of the working conditions of the women in the collaborative, Luz del Futuro.
Ten women carrying poles with makeshift hooks divide themselves into groups of five around two piles of garbage. They stand on a slurry of mud and garbage about a foot off the ground stabbing and pulling at the piles with their palos. They spread out the pile looking for aluminum cans and plastic bottles that they can get clean. A woman sees a beer can, she picks it up, taps it against the palo to knock off some of the sticky mixture of paper, mud and who knows what else, that covers everything in the piles, then she throws it into the bag for aluminum and scrap metal. Organic waste, tin cans, and glass bottles are ignored or shoved out of the way. On the surrounding hills is an audience of zopilotes (vultures) silently watching the women, or picking at mortizos in the tracks that the garbage trucks have made in the muddy ground. The dogs on the other hand join the women in digging through the trash as they look for a meal. Every once in a while nature’s silence is broken by small black birds calling to each other.
When we arrived we stood around awkwardly for a bit wondering how to start. Noam and Camila moved towards the near pile, and I walked around to join the second group of women. Malika had cut her toe earlier, and so she became the designated videographer for the day. Margarita (president of Luz del Futuro) told me to use the Bernarda’s palo. Bernarda motioned to me. I took the tool and asked her what I was looking for. She pointed to a couple things that I should pick up, and I began to imitate the dragging motion of the other women. The women began to laugh a little as I struggled at first with the palo and asked Bernarda many questions about what should go into each bag. I began to get the hang of it and it would be quiet for a minute before a women would notice something in the trash and make a comment. The others would laugh and respond in kind. After we had been working for half an hour or so, Bernarda got my attention and told me the names of each of the women. Going around the circle, I repeated everyone’s name 3 or 4 times until I was sure that they would stick, which the women found amusing. Then, I commented that this was good I’d probably remember their names for the next 15 minutes or so eliciting another chuckle from the group. Feeling reasonably comfortable at this point, I asked if the women always laughed this much or it was just me. Bernarda answered, “Bromeamos duro.” I was floored, as I translated in my head, “We joke hard.” Through my laughter, I responded that my goal for the end of the trip would be to understand a few of their jokes.
To be continued later…
Anthony McHugh from Bluefields, Nicaragua on the events of 6/12/13