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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Don’t cry for me Argentina? Sometimes I want to.

Looking at what’s been difficult so far in Buenos Aires. Part 1.

Today I went for a run. Cool. Thanks for sharing. What’s new?

Well, I’ve been running in the park every day, and the grass and the trees make it so I don’t succumb to wilderness deficit disorder. This morning I thought I’d run along the river. I ran up Pampas (that’s a street), and got to the river. Floating trash was what I found.

Buenos Aires at first glace is a cosmopolitan, South American headlight with rich European roots. At second glance, it’s covered in dog poop and trash. That is not an exaggeration. Because Argentina has changed governments so many times, there is a complete lack of structure. People litter because there are no laws against it, and no one says anything if you let your dog poop on your neighbor’s doorstep. A common response to the lack of a litter law is “How would it be enforced?”

Trash is taken by garbage trucks to large landfills outside the city, and left to forget about.

As far left as anyone says Argentina may be, they don’t do a whole lot to stifle the free-market. Though the free market doesn’t stop people from littering, it’s done something else that’s pretty interesting.

Buenos Aires has no government-sponsored recycling program. Private enterprises fulfill said roll. They offer a monetary incentive for bringing them reusable materials, such as cardboard, plastic, metal, and paper. Some people get it, and separate their trash. Others do not. “Cartoneros,” who are made up of the poor and homeless, go digging through everyone’s trash to reclaim recyclable materials. They take them in their giant carts to the private companies in order to have money for food.

Though I perceive this to be a pseudo-bastardized version of a private welfare-system, it extremely interesting from an economics perspective. I just wish the city would also offer an incentive for cleaning up the streets of the city as well.

On my run today, I passed a rainforest-charity organization in the park that was collecting plastic bottles in order to recycle them. It helped me realize that even though Buenos Aires is dirty, and only cleaned by the rain that falls from the sky,
“Hay gente maja por todo sitios,” which means that there are cool people everywhere. People are inherently good, and when I see the opposite of apathy manifested throughout the world, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel at home, and it makes me feel like I’m not the only one who wants to at least try to create a better future.

Living in my apartment for the first two weeks, I assumed that to the Argentines, recycling was a nuisance, and that I was going to have to get used to throwing cardboard away. I’m happy that I was wrong.

95% of my trash is either recyclable or compostable. The other 5% is made up of the bags the store owners give me before I can say “I don’t need a *silent expletive* bag.” I figured out the recycling deal, but what do I do with my banana peels? In a landfill they turn into methane, which is a greenhouse gas WAY worse than carbon dioxide, and I can’t just throw them in the woods like I do at home when I’m too lazy to bury them in the garden.

The railroad tracks in Buenos Aires are lined with broken bottles, plastic, and other sorts of trash. Since “littering” is legal, I figure I’ll make my own compost pile, which will just turn into soil. No one will think twice about it. All of my waste is now sorted out. Strange, huh?

I’m fully aware that I can’t change the Argentines. They have to realize for themselves that living in a landfill with dog poop everywhere is disgusting. They have to realize that leaving diapers on the beach is absolutely foul, and that when you throw your bag of chips out the window of your car, no one is going to pick it up, and if karma is real, your child has a good chance of choking on it. That being said, getting used to all of this for these first two weeks has made me have to step back a few times and tell myself, “This is why you’re here.” Going out of your comfort zone is how to mature as a person, not because you’re making yourself do things you don’t like, but because you force yourself to adjust to what you have, and make something new a part of you.

I won’t cry for you, Occupy Wall Street: Part 2.

Remember the cartoneros? The people that dig through the trash in order to eat? Some of them are older guys with scraggly beards. Others are families. Some look just like the kids I take kayaking at summer camp…the ones that I sing songs with? Yeah, they’re digging through the trash so they can have dinner.

There are social problems in the United States. Everyone should have healthcare. The rich take advantage of the poor. Our financial sector is corrupt. I’m a yellow-dog democrat, and I fully understand the cause of Occupy Wall Street, even if those who are protesting have no idea what they’re marching for. What I’d love for them to realize is how good they have it compared to these kids, and how much opportunity they’ve been given just for living in the United States. Would their time be better spent helping those who are even less fortunate, instead of protesting income inequality? The thing about income inequality in the United States is that the only thing you need to make it is knowledge, common sense, and desire. Humans are capable of so much more than we think we are, and seeing those who are leagues poorer work twice as hard for a quarter of what we make might make us reconsider asking for help from our government when we don’t necessarily need it. Occupy Wall Street makes people think; I think that is its biggest achievement. Beyond that, I think some of the squatters might do better to vote and support the American left, and go find a job as opposed to complaining about not having one.

Was that last paragraph insensitive? Yes. Unemployment is very real, and I’m someone who has always had enough good food to eat, good clothing, a good education, and a loving family. You have the right to tell me to shut my mouth because you and other people have it way harder than I do. What I’m saying here is that some people, not the hard-working, yet unfortunate populace, don’t believe in themselves and look to and blame Uncle Sam for everything. My point is that that isn’t how it works. While I firmly believe in wealth re-distribution programs, pulling ones own weight is something people need to start doing more of; somewhere there’s someone who has it three times as worse, but works three times as hard to get one third of the benefit.

More commentary on Argentina's current and past political predicaments to come. I don’t know enough about it to pass judgement right now.

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