Field Report # 1, 2001

Amy Jewel, Field Assistant
Planet Drum Foundation

We presented the official Spanish version of the Ecological Plan to Dr. Luis Mendoza, President of the Mayor’s Commission on Tourism and the Environment, on Tuesday, February 20th. This is the body that will take the plan to the City Council for discussion and eventual approval, or disapproval. “Nos vimos” (we shall see).

During our brief discussion of the plan, Dr. Mendoza stressed the importance of educating children about ecological subjects. We learned that he, like most persons in Bahia, has several other jobs. In addition to also serving as Vice Mayor, he is a teacher at the Inter-American School.

Luis expressed how crucial it was for the city to continue promoting awareness of composting and recycling with school children and adolescents. As a result, I am preparing a proposal for a pilot composting project at one of the local schools.

Although the ecological plan (see index for complete text) would be fairly ambitious for any city, we had changed the title and the scope of the plan to include all of Canton Sucre, not only Bahia de Caraquez. This step was taken due to the legislative structure within the Canton. We explained the situation to Dr. Mendoza, who understood the necessity for making this adjustment. He believes that the implementation of the plan will focus on Bahia de Caraquez anyway, with eventual expansion of most projects and activities to the rest of Canton Sucre.

The substance of the plan is partly real already, partly possible, and partly a dream. Some of the goals are certainly not fully attainable in the next three and a half years of Mayor Leo’s term, while some others have actually been realized already. The overall plan serves as a good blueprint of ideas for other municipalities that wish to commit to ecological goals, and it is a good source of information to allow the public to begin to understand and embrace ecological ideas. To this end, I continue to publicize the plan through the local radio stations and newspapers.

Other projects continue at a rapid pace. A local school teacher who helped prepare the plaques for “The Forest in the Middle of the Ruins” is assisting to complete clearing the pathways. We also surveyed tentative locations to hang the new educational plaques along the pathway. Major Medina, who is the commander of the National Police in Bahia, has promised that some of his men would visit the park at least once a week to check security. Ivan Aguirre, Director of the Hygiene Department, is considering future regular maintenance of the park and pathways.

Michelle Viteri, the mayor’s wife, provided me with a list of possible sources of funding for ecological projects. Together we had prepared two grant proposals for the British Embassy, and we are now planning to update those proposals and send them to various other NGOs, governmental agencies, and international agencies.

Peter Berg wrote a proposal to revegetate about 96 hectares of land from the edge of Bahia de Caraquez through the adjoining suburb named Leonidas Plaza, all the way to a point called Kilometro Ocho. Unlike the revegetation project in Maria Auxiliadora, this land is entirely held by private owners, and some type of negotiation needs to be undertaken for revegetation work to proceed. Several options are possible, and an open dialogue between the landowners and the municipality is needed. The Mayor has asked that Planet Drum spearhead such a dialogue, and this will be one of the tasks I’ll tackle … after Carnaval. (Stay tuned to the next report for further developments as well as observations about Carnaval.)

Cultural note on time. Most people here have a different conception of time than the inhabitants of the United States and other “developed” countries. For example, a meeting at 4 PM can mean that someone arrives anytime during the entire hour that follows. I have been left several times waiting for 30 minutes or more for an appointment, and a few times the person even failed to appear. Although this may be frustrating to those of us who were raised in a culture of strict punctuality, there are some surprisingly useful elements to this more relaxed conception of time. Due to their laid-back attitude, people don’t feel the need to divide their day into tiny organized fragments in order to complete their various tasks.

It is not uncommon for a person to have two or three different jobs or business enterprises, and people accomplish an extraordinary amount of work. However, the tasks are completed in a flexible manner. In this sense, the timing of some activities can actually be much more rapid than it would be in the United States. There is also a lack of bureaucracy that tends to speed up many processes.

A first-hand example: health care. Usually in the United States, I call a doctor’s office to make an appointment, and after navigating a confusing voice mail message, and after being on hold for at least 15 minutes, I may be told that no appointments are available for several weeks or even months!! At which point I hang up the telephone disgustedly and search for another doctor, but of course, only a doctor that may provide care under the terms of my insurance plan.

When I caught a sinus infection last week, I went to the doctor’s office at 1 PM to make an appointment, and was told to return that same day at five. The nurse did not even ask my name, much less my social security number. I returned at 5, and in roughly a half hour, I saw the doctor, explained my problem, and we immediately went to the lab for a blood test. By 6:30, we had the results of the test, and a prescription for the infection. By 7, I had visited a pharmacy and bought the needed medicines.

Other examples abound. Instead of needing about a week’s notice to schedule a meeting, as is common in the business world where I work in New York, you need only about a day’s notice, and sometimes less, to schedule a meeting. Urgent tasks tend to be prioritized and completed when necessary. Yet, the people do not rush around to their various jobs or duties, but take their time to work in a relaxed, refreshing manner. As a result, I have found the pace of life here overall to be calm and tranquil while sufficiently efficient and rapid, at the same time.