We Can. We Will.

To say that Guaymas and San Carlos have a little trash problem would, sadly, be a gross understatement.  For the majority of the population it is not for lack of trying.  Each morning, I see shopkeepers take to the streets and sidewalks in front of their stores, sweeping up debris and gathering trash that has accumulated overnight.  Hoses are turned on and drives and walkways are sprayed down in an attempt to keep blowing dust in its proper place.  Garbage is bagged and set in or near cans, barrels, and dumpsters.

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Photo Credit: David Pozos

Unfortunately, those cans are not always emptied in a timely fashion.  As I understand it, a former mayor decided that once he took office, garbage collection would be contracted out to a private firm.  City trucks were repurposed or sold.  And when a new mayor was elected, and money for private trash collection ran out, Guaymas experienced a bit of a crisis.  Realizing they were not going to be paid, Promotora Ambiental S.A. (PASA) stopped collecting trash.  While citizens continued to responsibly clean up their messes, the trash piled up and became an easy target for animals and nature.

Citizens persisted and found creative ways to deal with the problem.  Bags were tied to IMG_7461 2fences, out of the reach of animals, and garbage was delivered to the front steps of the municipal government building.  Neighbors worked together to keep their blocks as neat as possible, rebagging daily after dogs, cats, and strong winds did their best to undermine their efforts.  Yes, there is a landfill; however, dumping can only be paid for with a credit card.  Many families in our area do not have a car or truck for hauling, never mind a credit card.

Slowly, the mayor is rebuilding the city’s fleet of garbage trucks. In the meantime, winds continue to blow and animals continue to forage.  And the PASA strike certainly does not explain the piles of beer cans left on the beach each weekend or the snack wrappers and plastic Coke bottles floating in the Sea of Cortez.  It does not answer for the groups who leave their cookout messes on the patios of their vacation rentals.  It does not excuse the carload of kids, who drop an Oxxo bag full of trash out the window of their car, as they speed down the highway.  Fortunately, there are concerned citizens attacking these areas too.

Clean Up San Carlos, a volunteer group of Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans, meet each week and pick up trash in a designated area:  on the beach, the main thoroughfare, or in the desert.  Bandidos de Basura brings educational programs about littering, recycling, and responsibility into the local schools.  Universities, high schools, middle and elementary students join Clean Up San Carlos or sponsor their own clean ups.  Aqua y Más, an orphanage, participates in local beach cleans.  There have even been international efforts between students in Arizona and Guaymas.

IMG_7146 2This past Saturday, BAE Systems, a global aerospace company located in the Rocafuerte Industrial Park in Guaymas, was proud to contribute to the efforts to keep our community clean as well.  In a belated Earth Day celebration, our small but mighty group of employees, spouses, girlfriends, and children met at 8:00 in the morning.  After the obligatory selfies, we donned our gloves and masks and set out to clean the highway in front of the park, or as much of it as we could before a) we ran out of bags b) we ran out of dumpster space c) the heat did us in or d) all of the above. 

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Umm, I suppose that all depends on your definition.  Little Alonso was thrilled when he found a golfball.  I was more startled when I discovered the man sleeping in the culvert.  It also seemed odd that I found so many Q-tips.  Like is it really a thing to clean your ears while driving down the road?  And let me add  that plastic bags truly are the devil- -anywhere, but especially in the desert.  They attach themselves to the spiky, sharp trees and plants.  Trying to remove them makes an even bigger mess.  (Shameless but necessary PSA:  Please strongly consider toting your snacks, beer, soft drinks, and Q-tips in a canvas bag from here forward.)

And actually, the more we found, the more obvious it became that this was not necessarily litter.  (As in “No, Amy.  No one cleans his ears while driving down the road.”)  It was trash that had been blown from trucks or garbage receptacles.  And as gross as it was to have to touch some of it, even with gloves on, I was  happy to see that not much of it was recent.  Slowly but surely, the message of caring for the environment is spreading.

During our crawl down the main drag, our group was joined by five city employees and 409f3f74-1a55-44a9-b052-a3e683125a4aone random citizen, who just wanted to help.  We were honked at a lot by people who were happy with our efforts.  Of course, they could have been appreciating the view of 20+ people bent over along the road.  In spite of the heat, the dust, and, yes, the trash, I loved working side by side with such a great group of people.  I am a tad jealous that my husband gets to spend his days with them.

Change in behavior and attitude does not happen overnight.  BAE Systems is just a small cog in the wheel of the community service and pride taking place in our communities daily.  One chip bag, one bottle, one Q-tip, one new garbage truck at a time. 

The Hostess with the Mostess (Anxiety)

The snowbird season in San Carlos is in full swing.  Besides an influx of folks from north of the border, the winter months also bring numerous opportunities to support many of the wonderful causes near and dear to the hearts of the people who call San Carlos home.  Wednesday was no exception, as the Sociedad Benefactora y Protectora de Animales de San Carlos held their annual Luncheon and Fashion Show at the San Carlos Plaza Hotel.

thumbnailI was in charge of ordering tickets for my group of friends this year.  Not a problem, until I received a “Hostess Guide” in my ticket envelope explaining my responsibilities.  (Note to self:  Lauren is calling for tickets next year.)  Many women “buy” a table and invite their friends for the afternoon of furry friends and fashion.  They then create an incredible theme and decorate their tables and design costumes.  Our group did not fill a table, therefore I assumed we would be seated with another smaller group, not realizing that hostess duties would still be required.  Okay, actually I was hoping that the other smaller group would be in charge of this part.  I can plan a Halloween Party for 27 students in 30 minutes, but for some reason I found the task of organizing a table for the luncheon somewhat overwhelming.

Overwhelming because the one thing I am incredibly OCD about is themes.  (Well, in addition to how the bed is made, towels are folded, and bathmats are laid out on the floor.)  I think it must be a teacher thing that has carried over from my classroom to birthdays, Christmas and other holidays, and now apparently, tables at a charity fundraiser.

The hostess was required to provide a centerpiece for the table, plates, napkins, cutlery, thumbnail
and glassware.  Placements and chair decor were optional.  I decided on a traditional Mexican theme, and matched the colors of the paper flowers in the centerpiece to the colors of my Fiestaware dishes.  But…the day before the event, I spent the afternoon in Guaymas trying desperately to find clay plates and mugs.  (In the true spirit of my theme, you know?)  My go-to-store had apparently decided that clay was out and Tupperware was  in.  Another shop had plates, but the design did not match the one on the pieces I already owned.  (Oops, another item for the OCD list!)  I was stuck with the Fiestaware.

Glassware was another issue.  We have coffee mugs and milk glasses, none of which are very fancy or traditionally Mexican.  A friend loaned me some colorful wine glasses.  Interestingly, I could have skipped this part entirely.  It was listed no where in my “Hostess Guide” that I would need to bring beverages.  Come to find out, the hotel only provided drinks for sale.  Ha!  Before I knew this,  I blew my money on raffle tickets.  And my poor mother lost her coin purse as soon as we arrived that morning.  I may have been the first hostess in the history of the event to dehydrate her guests!  I asked two different waiters if we could have a pitcher of water in my most polite, grammatically correct Spanish.   Tap water even!  I was not going to be picky at this point.  But, both shook their heads sadly.  At any rate the glasses looked great with the plates and flowers, and we had one less thing to wash when it was all over.

thumbnail-1There was not much I could do regarding silverware.  It would have been entirely inappropriate to expect my guests to use corn tortillas, which would have made the most sense authentically speaking.  I did have a tortilla warmer sitting on the table.  One hopeful guest kept looking inside it, as if by magic wine or water would appear.

Throughout the show, ideas kept popping into my head of what I could have done or added.  It did not help that some of the tables and costumes were so elaborately done.  There was obviously a lot of planning involved that took much longer than a week to work out.  I started making a mental list so I was better prepared the next time.  Water, headwear, water…   And then I remembered.  I am not calling for the tickets next year.  Lauren is.

(Part 1/3)

Blanketed By Love

There is a website for San Carlos residents that provides all sorts of information.  Through conversation boards, readers learn about local events, weather, and news.  Sometimes silly questions are asked and answered.  Other times frustration and criticism run rampant.  And every once in a while there is a posting that creates the potential for something incredibly beautiful to unfold.

I came across one such post a couple of weeks ago.  Cobijo San José, a senior home, needed items for its pantry.  I have lived in San Carlos for a year and a half.  I had heard of Cobijo only once before, during Christmastime last year.  I had no idea where it was located or how it operated.  I figured it was past time to find out.

A friend and I drove to a small, rural community on the outskirts of Guaymas.  San José de Guaymas has a population of just a little more than 1,000 people.  There is a school, a church, a police station, and several small, independently owned grocery stores.  There is bus service from San José to other parts of the city.  We followed the signs that led us to Cobijo, a large, impeccably kept home with flowering gardens.

Irene, the managing caregiver, met us at the door and led us through the foyer into the kitchen.  As I emptied my bags of rice, beans, and meat, Irene told us that there were 21 residents living at Cobijo.  After documenting everything I had brought with me, she gave us a tour.  We also met many of the residents, who were eagerly waiting for Mass to begin.  We chatted with several before promising to return.

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I am a curious person.  My brain is constantly full of questions; I often ask them at the least inopportune times (like during the movie).  I believe the whole point of having a cellular data plan is to look things up on road trips.  Before the Internet, there was my dad.  So as soon as I got home from my trip, I emailed the original poster on the San Carlos Board, and asked if he would be willing to meet and provide more information about Cobijo.  Like any volunteer, who cares deeply for his charges, he eagerly agreed.

Our conversation jumped all over the place.  I know I am still missing key parts.  After two hours together, I have just the very beginnings of an understanding of how the system works, kind of.  It seems that the state government of Sonora provides the home for elderly who are indigent or without family caregivers.  They also provide a staff of two guards, four daytime caregivers, and one nighttime caregiver.  They do not provide regular pay, however.  Paychecks come infrequently- -maybe every five months, maybe not.  The government has created a Board that runs the day to day operation, with no annual budget.  So when the pantry is bare, it is truly bare.

The home has water about four hours per day, due to leaks in the system bringing the water from Guaymas.  Imagine trying to wash clothing and dishes for 21 residents in that amount of time.  Propane companies donate the propane to heat the water so residents may take warm showers during the winter months.  This propane also makes cooking on the stovetop possible; there is no oven.  We did not get around to discussing medical care.  Residents have a small store where they sell clothing and other donated items to raise money for food and other essentials.  Outside of this, they are entirely dependent on the community for making sure they have what they need.  This includes home repairs, upkeep of the home, and maintaining the grounds.

Before the meeting was over, I had another list of needed items.  I had also made the commitment to serve as “Activities Facilitator” or “Volunteer Who Brings Games, Crafts, Books, Magazines, and Chats”.  Sadly, so much time and energy are spent securing resources for the residents that enrichment opportunities and social interaction often go by the wayside.  I am not a good fundraiser, but I can plan the heck out of fun activities!  And anyone who knows me also knows that I LOVE to talk.  After making a return visit (this time dragging my husband along) I knew this was something I really wanted to do.

In Spanish, the verb “cubrir” means to cover.  The word “la cubija” means blanket.  Cobijo is a play on both of those words.  It is a safe place, providing cover for or covering its residents with care.  Despite the lack of government support, a truly dedicated, selfless staff and tenacious volunteers work tirelessly to provide for the residents of the home.  I am excited and energized to be joining forces with such a dynamic group of people.  And as “Little Miss Curious”, I am even more thrilled by the opportunity to learn from 21 new teachers.

No Todos Los Héroes Usan Capas

Given the recent earthquakes that have affected Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico City, and many smaller communities in southern Mexico, there has been much attention focused on the heroic dogs who are assisting the Navy and other rescue groups in the search for survivors.  Frida, Eco, and Evil have become household names.  Piñatas, coloring books, and stuffed animals created in their likeness aim to celebrate and honor these dogs for their hard work.  It has even been suggested that Frida’s likeness would look terrific on a 500 peso bill.

Their presence also serves to remind citizens not to forget pets and the stray animal population during this chaotic time.  Donations of dog and cat food are pouring into collection centers.  Notices of missing animals and those needing homes appear daily on social media sites.

It is not easy being a dog or cat in Mexico on a normal day, never mind after a devastating natural disaster.  There is a stray pet problem in Guaymas/San Carlos, exacerbated by lack of affordable veterinary care or lack of access to such care.  La Sociedad Benefactura y Protección Animal, a non-profit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, works hard in the community to change that by offering spay/neuter clinics and vaccinations, not only for family pets, but also for stray and/or feral animals.  Recently, the SBPA has added mobile clinics, extending their outreach.

The SBPA depends on volunteers to assist with the operation of the clinics and the various annual fundraisers.  Volunteers transport animals, man tables during the clinics, and translate (Spanish to English and English to Spanish, not barking).  Many members also choose to foster puppies or adopt abandoned animals themselves.

One of the most popular fundraisers each year is the SBPA Fashion Show.  Rescued dogs parade up and down the catwalk wearing hand knitted sweaters.  (Sweaters become very popular for dogs during the “winter months”.  You know, when temperatures reach about 75 degrees.)  Human fashions are also on display, as local businesspeople model clothing from area thrift stores (non-profits for rescue services and scholarships for local students).  Attendees can buy raffle tickets for items donated by local businesses.  There are usually pets available for adoption as well.

Altered Tails Bookstore is open daily on the malecón in Marina San Carlos.  Residents thumbnaildonate their gently used books, which are then resold to eager readers.  We were provided very limited space in a moving truck for personal items when our family transferred to San Carlos.  This meant I had to leave my personal library behind. I discovered Altered Tails within our first week and began volunteering a few months later.  It is the perfect place for anyone who loves books and animals!  Every third Saturday, readers can buy a bag of books for a mere 50 pesos (approximately $2.75).  All money raised through fundraisers and book sales support the clinics and vaccinations.

Through much hard work and a genuine love of animals, stray and abandoned dogs and cats and family pets are given a chance for a much healthier life.  Dogs have demonstrated their ability to assist humans in Mexico City.  The SBPA in San Carlos shows animals that humans are willing to do the same for them.