Friday, July 25, 2008


Salvador is full of all kinds of pollution, similar to any large city in the world. Air, water, noise, light, and garbage pollution are abundant and unavoidable. While all forms of pollution bother me, I think the pollution that most irritates and confuses me is the garbage/littering situation.

I took this photo outside of my building to illustrate one part of the garbage problem, which is the street cleaning guys. These guys are everywhere with brooms and garbage cans, cleaning up the litter. There is even an ad on TV here that tries to show the city government´s pride in these cleaning guys. The ad shows this cleaning guy who is like the neighborhood savior. In addition to sweeping (with a huge smile on his face), this guy helps old ladies across the road, gets a kid´s ball so the kid doesn´t have to run in front of a bus, and other good deeds. In reality these guys make minimum wage (R$400 per month) to kind of half heartedly sweep up the trash and leave it in bags, such as this one, for the garbage truck to pick up (garbage pick up is paid for with city taxes here, residents don´t pay anything, which I also think adds to the problem). This is Salvador´s solution to the littering/garbage problem.

The problem with this solution is that it actually encourages littering, and believe me, there is no need for any encouragement in this matter. I have heard more than one Brazilian say to me, "But when I litter, I am giving the cleaning guy a job!". The lack of education in this country, coupled with this false notion that littering is OK, makes the streets here full of trash and dog poop (don´t even get me started about the lack of a scoop law here!!). My emotions around this issue have cycled through surprise, anger, motivation to make change, and finally a resigned acceptance that this is how it is here. The only real change I have managed to effect in regard to this problem is that I have finally managed to break Vilma of the littering habit. After repeatedly saying "The world is not your garbage can" and giving dagger-like dirty looks each time she littered, I would say that she is about 90% cured of this habit and now agrees with me that it is not our job to give the cleaning guys work to do.

The confusing part of this issue for me is that in all other areas of life, Brazilians are uber-clean. Like they think that Americans and other foreigners are slobs. 3-4 showers per day, and houses that are spotless and cleaned daily are the norm here. When you pick up appetizers at a party, you always use a napkin and don´t touch the food with your hands, otherwise you are looked at like your hands are dripping with bacteria.

So with ultra-cleanliness being the accepted way to live here, why are they so carefree about throwing trash everywhere?! I can´t tell you the number of times I have seen people just throw stuff out of bus windows! It really drives me crazy! But I guess if I had a good answer to why these two totally opposite ways of being co-exist, there would not be the garbage problem here and all of the cleaning guys would be unemployed. And by the way, these pictures are nothing compared with some of the trash piles I have seen here. I just took these pics quickly outside of my building and these were the only examples I could find on short notice!

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