Now that my time in Nicaragua is coming to an end, I’m starting to think of all the things I’ll miss. The proximity to beaches, the awesome ritmos latinos dance class at my gym, not having to do laundry, our terrace that’s big enough to fit a ping-pong table, cheap pedicures (ok, I’m a brat). But one thing I won’t miss is all the trash everywhere in Managua. The streets are lined with trash – plastic bags, empty plastic bottles, styrofoam carry-out boxes. It’s really sad. There just aren’t many trash cans around, and even in the places that have them, trash is rarely collected so people don’t have the habit to throw things away or hang on to them until they can.
A group of NGOs, Embassies including the US Embassy, and private organizations organized a huge cleanup of the nearby laguna Xiloa earlier this month. On Friday night there was a kick-off concert with three great bands. Saturday a group of scuba-divers cleaned out trash from one half of the lake, pulling up tires, plastic, and all sorts of things that didn’t belong. Then Sunday was the big cleanup day. There were over 1000 volunteers, and around 50 volunteers from the US Embassy community. Scuba-divers returned to clean the other half of the lake while teams spread out all along the shore and collected bags and bags of trash. The organizers worked with the community that lives right by the lake, involving them in the planning and follow-on activities.
It’s easy to get depressed though, because I’m sure it won’t take long for the laguna to get trashed again. Unfortunately, caring for the environment and not throwing trash is still mostly an elite concern. But hopefully the average Nicaraguan will start to care about it too. Nicaraguans are fiercely patriotic and have a lot of pride in their country – despite its obvious struggles. I think if people come to connect not throwing trash with being a ‘good’ Nicaraguan, things might actually change. For now, it’s totally unrelated for many. The other side of the coin is providing the infrastructure to pick up and dispose of trash so people don’t have to burn it. But as important as that is, I think the place to start is with activities like this one that work directly with citizens to get them thinking about this and wanting a cleaner country. If you create the citizen demand, the government will respond.