A colleague and I were walking out of a meeting yesterday morning and talking about the problems that garbage and litter cause for Granada’s tourism image. As we walked through Central Park, we noticed how exceptionally dumpy it looked, with trash thrown everywhere, converting each tree planter into a mini landfill of plastic bags, Styrofoam cups and other rubbish.
Disgusted with the filthy scene before us, we hastened across the park to the Mayor’s Office to find out who we could talk to address the disgusting atmosphere right under their noses. With the help of a cleaning woman, who conspiratorially unlocked the office door of the secretary of the mayor and let us in, we got a face-to-face audience with a high-ranking municipal employee. Unfortunately, it was no help.
We told the city’s secretary that we were there because we are concerned about all the garbage strewn about town. We told her it’s not only an atheistic eyesore, but it’s also a public-health issue. She told us that she was aware of the problem and that other people were also complaining about it. But then she passed the buck and said we should go to the other mayor’s office building behind the old hospital and complain there.
Like everyone else, we had a million things to do yesterday during our lunch break, not including going to the other mayor’s office to complain about a problem that officials apparently already know about but aren’t doing anything to resolve. We decided it would be a waste of time to go talk to another “public servant.”
But as we left the Mayor’s Office and started to tread through the garbage in the Central Park again, it became too much to bear. We stopped and began to take photos of the scene. We talked to a nearby vendor to inquire how long the garbage problem had been piling up. He said it had been several days and that the problem was always the same. The mayor’s office just doesn’t seem to care or can’t seem to fix the problem, he said. We agreed with his political analysis, but said that we, as citizens of Granada, have the obligation to not litter and now allow others to throw their garbage on the street. After all, it is to our own benefit to not live in such squalor.
I told the vendor, “When you see someone throwing garbage on the ground in front of you, you have to tell them that is wrong. Be a part of the solution!” He told me that if he tells anyone not to litter, they could beat him up. Plus, he said, he doesn’t care if people litter in Granada because he’s from out of town.
To see how indifferent people are about the garbage issue is irritating and sad. At that moment, I was reminded once again that the problems of our country are related to lack of education. It is pointless to put garbage cans on the street if we don’t first educate people about putting their garbage into the garbage cans. Yes, the situation here is that serious and that basic!
Surveying the sad landscape of garbage and indifference in the park, my friend and I felt trapped; we felt we couldn’t walk away without doing something about the problem that no one else seemed concerned about. So we called a friend of ours who has a hotel nearby and told him about the situation. In five minutes, he sent five workers from his hotel to the park with shovels and brooms and garbage bags. Together, we all got to the neglected task of cleaning up the mounds of mess.
Most people who work in the park peddling one thing or another—those very people who spend their days shuffling around in garbage—looked at us with expressions of mild surprise. One of them approached us and asked, “Why are you picking up garbage if that’s the municipality’s job?” Others added the mess, by throwing garbage on the ground as we cleaned around their feet.
But others, upon hearing us insist that cleanliness is the responsibility of all, generously pitched in to help. So we know that of the dozens of people in the park yesterday, a few of them started to realize the importance of not littering, and that is probably the biggest accomplishment of the afternoon.
Though trash is a recurring problem in Nicaragua, this particular trash heap was caused by striking garbage workers who haven’t been paid by the Mayor’s Office. This is an issue that has also been recurring in Granada for the past decade. These are city workers who depend on their salaries to feed their families, and many of them have not been paid by the city in more than six weeks, which is disgraceful.
The trash problem may be the most visible in the Central Park, but garbage is everywhere throughout all the streets and arroyos of the historic city—and just in time for high season! Just imagine how pretty our city must look to those who have traveled here from faraway countries to see our colonial jewel but can’t manage to take any pictures without trash heaps appearing in background, or tripping over garbage as they try to walk around the city.
How can we continue to market and promote Nicaragua as a sustainable tourism destination when we can’t even get our main tourism destinations to function on a basic level? We can’t claim to be a “developing country” if we can’t maintain minimum hygiene standards. The garbage problem is shameful and pathetic, and all corresponding government offices—the mayor’s office, the health ministry and the tourism board—should all be held responsible for the ineffective response to the problem.
We need to rethink our growth as a country and change tack to ensure that our development is truly sustainable.
Xiomara Díaz is a co-owner of Garden Café and a member of CANATUR Granada