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Reports from Claire Dibble

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October to December, 2000

Goodbye to the Tropics, Dec. 10, 2000

El Bosque en Las Ruinas (The Forest in the Ruins), Oct. 24, 2000


Goodbye to the Tropics

Report II
December 10, 2000
By Claire Dibble

Only 48 hours until I have to kiss this beautiful city goodbye. Trying to tie up loose ends and enjoy my last moments. A crazy week, super full, as they say around here. Planned a minga (barrio clean-up), a mural with an ecological theme, and the inauguration of the Bosque en las Ruinas park. 

The minga was a success last weekend; 12 kids from one of the high schools in town showed up on a Saturday morning to clean up the park in preparation for the inauguration. We ate mini-mangos during a break. A few girls from the Maria Auxiliadora Ecology Club came to lend a hand as well. Spent several afternoons with that club in the past few weeks. 

Thursday we didn't talk too much about ecology, just played soccer. The agreement was that if my team won they were all obligated to go to the inauguration on Saturday. We put up a good fight, but victory slipped from our grasp in the end. Pleased to see almost all of them at the inauguration anyway. Two of them had a few words to say about the new park, and another, Ariel, played the bongos (quite well, I might add) for the crowd that gathered. He was one of two kids that stayed up painting the mural at the bottom of the hill until 5AM that morning. Talk about dedication. 

Two long nights have gone into the painting of the mural thus far. One more long haul and it'll be complete, fully vibrant and visible from 3 blocks away. Encouraging to see the reactions of the many people that are passing by and can't help but stop and stare for a while. It actually provided us with an excellent opportunity to promote the inauguration to the community as we explained what we're doing and invited them to get involved. We've received a lot of support from local hardware and paint stores that have given generous donations of paint and brushes, despite the fact that every penny counts here right now. The overall impression seems to be that the mural is chevere (cool), and I can't help but agree. It covers a large retaining wall on one side of the Miguel Valverde school where Miguelito, the huge Galapagos tortoise lives. 

The mural starts at one end with mangroves and the estuary and comes all the way along the length of the city (with key landmarks highlighted, like Marcelo's house in Bella Vista) and out to the lighthouse at the end of the point, finishing with sea creatures underwater and a huge setting sun. It's no wonder people stop to watch us work under the street lights and madrugada mist. The other night the power went out around 2am but the moon illuminated the mural . . . even under moonlight it's breathtaking. 

And at last, the new city park, El Bosque en Las Ruinas, has officially been inaugurated, after a lot of hard work and sweating. Had hoped to see more adult faces there after all the promotion we worked on (including radio interviews, articles in local newspapers, and posters), but maybe having all the kids come is more important anyway. They're the ones that are going to play there, and grow up there, they are the ones that have time to enjoy it and protect it. I was glad to see them all come trooping up the hill to participate in the ceremony. Luckily, some of the most important adults came, like the Priest, and representatives from the Centro de Educacion Ambiental Eco-Bahia, the city, and the media. 

Support was expressed from all these groups, and also from Jaime Perkins, a resource analyst from the East Bay Regional Park District in northern California. After juice and some pan de coco (chocolate bread), a few of us headed out to assess potential problem areas with Jaime. It was good to get some professional advice. 

Brazilian water expert Augusto Bravo and I, the only remaining members of the Planet Drum "volleyball team" (as we called ourselves when 5 staffers were here at once), celebrated the inauguration with dinner from the new pizza place in town and a lot of laughs. Went with him the next day to have one last look at his project in the neighborhood of Fanca. They're almost ready to put a in a drainage canal, just in time to prevent recurrent flooding during the rainy season. The sky is getting heavier every day, won't be long now until rain falls with full force. 

Feeling good about the work that has gotten done in the past few months. I'm not entirely ready to leave the "ciudad sin copia" (city without equal). Seems as though some of the things I was working on are just starting to happen, results are just now becoming visible, not only to me but to the community. Hard to leave that momentum behind. (Won't miss the rooster that crows day in and day out behind the apartment though.) 

Speaking of chicken . . . Culinary notes: Thanksgiving came and went without much fanfare. I did my best to find a turkey and had no luck (they were all getting plumped up for Christmas), so we had Bahia-style BBQ roasted chicken, and some yummy mashed potatoes. Fun to share the concept of over-consumption with friends that had only heard about the Dia de Gracias. The most amusing aspect of the dinner was dessert, a sweet potato pie, an understudy for the pumpkin pie that couldn't make it due to the lack of pumpkins. The sweet potato here (camote) turns purple when cooked, so we had a lovely purple 'pumpkin' pie that was enjoyed by some more than others (Augusto would like to add that it was horrible). 

Correction: It has been brought to my attention that Coca Cola should not be given too much credit for being ecologically aware. Although they do re-use a good amount of glass bottles daily, they also produce plastic bottles of a type that are not recyclable and aren't returnable, and they apparently have no plans to change their production (even after being pressured by concerned consumers like Nicola Mears).


El Bosque en Las Ruinas (The Forest in the Ruins)

Report I
October 24, 2000
By Claire Dibble

Roosters crowing, a dog barking in the distance, tropical birds chirping overhead, it's a quiet morning in Bahia de Caraquez. Good day to go up 'killer hill' (as Tony and I have fondly named the climb up to the new park site in Maria Auxiliadora), and move dirt. Exciting to see progress on the paths that are being cleared and widened to provide access to the revegetation project, and the ruins that lie among the young plants.

Seems like more than a month has gone by since that first time that I walked through the site with Peter and Marcelo, getting a grasp of where the work needed to be done. Those roughly visible paths seemed so vague then, and now I could tell you each bend, each rise, each trash pile, and most importantly, exactly how far you are from the huge nest of abispas, aggressive wasps that swarm an enemy. Our first days of work on the trails in the site, we were ready to run at the drop of a hat, if more than two insects of the same species showed interest in what we were doing. Finding yourself in an entirely different eco-system, in a different bioregion, it takes a little while to settle in, and get comfortable with the insects that hover next to your face as you work, not biting, not stinging, just buzzing.

But now, after a month or so of spending nearly every morning up on the hillsides, in amongst the growing algorrobo shrubs and the amazingly successful frutillo trees, I feel at home looking out over Bahia from the site. Amazing progress has been made in the last few weeks, and much of it can be credited to the hard work of Manuel Quinones, and his son Ricardo, who have put many long days into building more than 100 steps into the steep hillsides. These new paths and steps make the native vegetation and the ruins more accessible to the community, and eventually, to visitors. The work seems solid, and carefully done, but I can't help but be concerned about the heavy rains that are expected this year. The steps are meant to help hold the hillside, but there's no guarantee against the natural process of erosion. I look at the small dormant plants scattered across the hill every day; they're waiting patiently for the rains to come, and I just pray that the rains don't hit too hard. I don't think I'm alone in this prayer.

Memories of the slide two years ago are still vivid, people can recall exactly where they were, what they did, and how they felt. Marcelo recounted his experience of helping out when the hill first slid, before the sun had even come up, telling how when the first light of day showed the whole picture of fallen houses and everything covered in mud, his knees nearly shook him to the ground. It seems that these lingering visions of 1998 are part of why we have received so much support from the community. They see our efforts as a tribute to the families who lost loved ones, not so much as an attempt to prevent the same thing from happening again. Perhaps that will change with more community meetings, and more explanations of what we are doing. But for now, it is encouraging to have people telling us what a good job we're doing behind their houses, in their barrio.

Since our small meeting with some community members a few weeks ago, there have been several people taking the time to climb up through their backyards to check out the work that we're doing. And the kids from the neighborhood have adopted the area as their playground. Stopped a crowd of them the other day to tell the littlest boy not to kick the dirt off the hillside. Asked them if they remembered what had happened in '98, they nodded yes slowly. We tried to explain that the plants are supposed to hold the dirt, but if it all gets kicked off, there won't be any left for the plants. They all responded positively when asked if they'd help with the planting in December, hopefully they'll round up some others to participate as well.

Eco-city revelation. Never really thought of soft drink companies including Coca Cola as particularly green, but I've just recently noticed that there is an unexpectedly high element of waste reduction as a result of Coca Cola's bottling process here. Each day I walk by the huge truck of sodas being unloaded, and all the empty bottles being loaded to replace them. The bottles are sent back to the distributor to be cleaned and re-used. So important is this exchange of an empty bottle for a full one, that if you go into a store without an empty bottle to trade in, you can expect to have to drink your soda on the spot, or have it poured into a plastic bag to carry along with you. (Dealing with the mass amounts of plastic bags that get used and thrown away in this city is another issue altogether.)