Thursday, January 29, 2009

poverty under my nose

many people have written about the poverty in buenos aires. i haven't read in detail about the situation, but i'd like to believe that i've read more than the regular tourist or expat living here.

i mentioned 'villa 31' in my blog post about coming home from the beach. my good friend jenna sent me an article that answered my questions (who built the housing, do people own their houses? it's so unsafe looking, is it regulated?) read more>>

(photo below: the photo i took when leaving the bus station. if you were to stand in front of these houses and turn around you'd see the buenos aires skyline with all the corporate logos on the skyscrapers; microsoft, nextel, sun, ibm... they're all within walking distance)

before moving to b.a. i also read about the 'cartoneros' or a ruff translation is 'the cardboard collectors'. 'cartoneros' are scavengers / trash pickers. a government supplied train brings families and some children into the city in the evenings. even though i read about these people and i was aware of them, i was still scared to see them and so many of them (scared of them and for them)(i'm no longer scared, but i'm still cautious).

about twice a week they board a train for the city. once the arrive they open the trash bags and go through them before the garbage trucks come around. they look for cardboard to sell, and glass and plastic bottles. They also look for things they can take back to their communities.

since living in my current apartment (about 6 weeks) i've seen the same cartoneros each week on the street i live on, 1/2 way down on my block and also at the corner. they use a huge cloth bag (looks like a huge potato sack that 5 people could stand in) it sits on a cart (like a garden cart) that they have to pull. i see the same young girl every week on the corner 3 buildings down from me and the same young boy of 15 that sets up his cloth bag next to my apartment building.

(photo below: taken from this is a very common sight)

tonight when i left work in the center of the city / business district, the cartoneros were there on each corner pulling open all the garbage bags.

i'm sad to write about this and i'm sad that it took me this long to write about this especially after i write how wonderful buenos aires is. it's wonderful for me that is.

yes we have poverty in the states, but i've never seen anything like this. i've never seen such unsafe housing such as 'villa 31' (behind the train station) and i couldn't imagine our government supporting trash pickers rather than trying to help them out of poverty.

short article about the cartoneros

short video (with english subtitles) about the cartoneros

some cartonero facts


Anonymous said...

I read about this before we moved here a couple of weeks ago, but nothing quite as attention-getting as seeing it. What can be done?

We lived for two years in South Africa, and there are places there (townships) that, frankly, make the Villa Miseria you photographed by the bus station look like an upscale, middle class neighborhood by comparison. There, it wasn't uncommon to see families of 6 or 8 or more making their home in tacked together trash bags; there was no running water, no sewer, no toilets. Near Johannesburg there is one of these townships with more than 2 million people in it.

Describing a worse situation does not mitigate the horrors of this one, but rather to wonder what one can do when faced with world poverty of such a scale? Not hundreds, not thousands, not hundreds of thousands, not even simply millions, but hundreds of millions of people live in places like Villa 31, and far, far worse. What can you do about hundreds of millions of people?

It it humbling to realize that these differences are purely accidents of fate. As the saying those, there but fortune go you and I ... an accident of birth.

As a by the way, I think from the photos you take (which I love and have appropriated a couple for my own webblog) and your descriptions, we live quite close. We are near the intersection of Godoy Cruz and Cervino.

I often work in a nearby cafe. Shouldn't we meet one of these days?

krebiz said...

I have a lot of similar thoughts when I pass through north philly every day on my way to work, or when i have occasion to pass through neighborhoods of the city that are in similar disrepair.
the feds don't support a program like the carteneros have, but all the same, they *did* support mainstreaming all the mental hospitals in the 60's and 70's and you can trace a lot of problems with homelessness and related problems back to that.

By the same token, the local government indirectly supports that poverty- those neighborhoods have fewer urban amenities right down to public transit. urban planning has made it so that's it's more difficult to get out, even for the purposes of getting to and maintaining a job.

Like Donigan says, in many instances, they are probably a product of fate. I find it maddening when people who've enjoyed a cushy background similar to my own say things like, "well, I worked HARD for MY money and opportunities!" And I'm sure they did, as I know I have. All the same, I came by those opportunities much more easily than somebody who came a piece of society that commonly knows decay, poverty and violence.

I wish I even knew where to start, when it came to "doing my part" as they say... because aside from staying abreast of city council decisions, making informed votes, giving money to organizations whose causes I value, and pitching in a bit of time here and there with food banks and such, I'm really not sure how an individual can begin to address poverty.