Report #3 from Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
Bahia is a decidedly urban place. Some people do not often leave the environment of a relatively small number of streets and city blocks, and some don’t ever go to truly wild areas which are extremely close by. In this regard they are nearly as citified as denizens of local neighborhoods in Paris, Tokyo or New York. Trappings of global monoculture such as cell phones, computers, television, and nearly everything else are handy to induce hypnosis. For part of the population, attitudes about nature are not unlike those of average city dwellers anywhere in the world.
Regardless of this seeming urbanity, there is a decided difference in the impact of natural forces on the eastern Pacific Rim near the equator. They are stronger than most urbanites feel elsewhere and more continuous than they have possibly ever felt. It’s the rainy season now and everyone is aware of and linked to it in powerful ways. In some years rainfall can be as persistent as a monsoon. Roads become sealed with mud and wearing high rubber boots is a necessity for everyone. Because it hasn’t rained much so far this year, Bahia is ironically out of water. Rain-catching cisterns are generally empty, and normal uses for toilets, showers, laundry, and so on are temporarily suspended in many households. The presence of rain is felt significantly whether it falls or not.
It is mosquito season because they breed in pools left behind when it does rain. It is also a hot season when the sky is clear of rain clouds and radiator-like sunlight from directly overhead empties the streets of people who retreat to the cool shade of their houses. It is the season for cheap queso fresco (fresh cheese) because with the initial return of rain cows got more feed and water, so they are producing more milk. It is the beach season for locals who spend weekends with their friends immersed in the ocean or catching whatever breezes are fanned inshore. Metallic yellows and shades of rose at sunset bring dozens to the Malecon every late afternoon to enjoy the cool onset of night.
Some of the same natural effects are felt in other places to be sure, but they are more evident here. That’s why the image of restoring and maintaining natural systems shouldn’t be a garden catering to peculiar human tastes. It should be Ecuador’s own wild Galapagos Islands that definitively prove the case for preserving wildness for its own sake.
In pace with other recently heightened levels of ecological activity in Bahia, Flor Maria Duenas has enlarged her “eco-kids club” vision considerably. A well planned compound-like structure for the use of over a hundred members of Club Ecologico is being erected in the formerly homeless and still notably poor barrio of Fanca. It contains a large building with rooms for meetings, classes and workshops such as recycled paper-making. There’s also an outdoor area covered by a ramada of thatch that is already in use for growing hundreds of seedlings, and another unwalled space for choral singing and other pursuits. This wide-spectrum effort is aimed toward broadening consciousness and teaching ecological values as well as producing immediate practical results. It is undeniably one of the most worthwhile eco-ciudad projects since its eight- to fourteen-years old participants are the upcoming generation who in less than a decade will build a bioregional and sustainable city.
It’s worth keeping those children in mind when dealing with cautionary recitations that flow regularly from even well-meaning adults. Although this week has been particularly productive for realizing the dream of an ecological city (details in the next report), it has been so despite friendly warnings from almost everyone involved. Both public agency chiefs and leaders of citizen groups list similar problems: there isn’t any money for projects, bureaucracies drag their feet, there aren’t enough skilled personnel, people have too many economic problems. They are without doubt concerned and being helpful to point out obstacles that make the transformation difficult. At this point, I’m not willing to modify the unique and hopeful vision that they also hold. There is always a potential for negativity simply because this is a relatively small community. Personal impressions and conflicts can quickly be magnified by a power of ten. But it’s necessary to see these flare ups for what they are because the benefits of sticking out differences are tangible and growing. Destino (fate) is casting a long shadow in Bahia at this time, and the city will benefit exponentially by any positive efforts that are made now.