Day 5, Leave No Plastic Behind, Merida, Mexico

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by Cheryl Lohrmann

Just returned from the countryside surrounding Merida, Mexico. A rave party rages on a few blocks away this Friday evening. One dog barks, and others follow suit, adding their voices to the movement. Ah, back in the modern city.

We scurried to leave Wednesday morning to catch the 10:30 am bus. It rolled comfortably through several small towns with concrete fences painted with Coca-Cola product logos (Cristal seems to be all the rage) and political campaign slogans. So many buildings seem to be unabashedly crumbling, while larger, seemingly newer buildings tower in the distance.

Along the coastline are luxury rentals for the oh-too-short vacation to sunny Mexico. Two story buildings with landscaped yards stand several yards away from the road. On the opposite side of the road, what do we see? A tourism-initiated landfill, baby blue and pink plastic bags filled with vacation detritus, shocks the senses. There is no trash service here, I’m told, and since the visitors are instructed to leave the rooms as they found them, it ends up in the nearest ditch. In the United States, throwing something away is exactly that: it is a ways away from our sight. To see so much in one place, out of “place”, is a shock to the senses.

A little further down the road, there is the small fishing town where we are doing our project. Everyone here depends on the sea for their sustenance. It’s a big part of what they eat and what they sell to the city. For what money they need, there is that which they have raised or can harvest from their land. It recalls an older time. For an oh-too-short period of time prior to the industrial age of mass production, the countryside provided the sustenance for any nearby city. Money and organic waste would return to the countryside to enrich the laborers and the soil in cycles of production.

It feels like camping since we are preparing and eating all of our meals outdoors. Our hammocks are hung in a palapa a few minutes walk from downtown, where Mariachi, a playful dog donning a holey Spiderman t-shirt, is eager to have company again. Because of the Nortes, the cool winter winds blowing from the Northeastern United States, the waves are too high for the fisherman, so we don’t get our omega-3 fatty acids until the lunch before our bus ride back, the third day.

In these first few days in the gulf town I experienced some new things indicative of a vacation to the tropics: drinking coconut juice directly from the source, treasure seeking on the beach front, chasing baby chickens into their protective cardboard box for the evening, taking an overdue bath from water heated over a wood fire, and snacking on freshly harvested tamarind, that mysterious fruit found in imported drinks and pinata candy in the U.S. I finally had a good night sleep in a hammock, and celebrated the brief unrehearsed conversations I could carry on in Spanish.

Our project is a curiosity in the town. On Thursday the plan was to begin the project, as advertised at the Palacio, which serves as a community meeting place or town hall of sorts. A little bit before 3 pm, we headed over and found it bustling. Two pick-up trucks were parked in front and men were lining the walls of the courtyard. Were they waiting for us? An audience of grown, weathered men is not something that this kind of project enjoys very often. They did know about us and were curious, but they were there for their windbreaker, a benefit as part of a program for fisherman to clean up the litter around town when the winds kept them from fishing.

The kids arrived slowly, all bathed and combed to meet the curiosity with their best foot forward. The tables and chairs arrived at about the same time, we set them up, along with our computer and demonstration table and began. We have this project divided into five workshops, the first was an introduction of the three of us, Morgan, Rey and myself (as best as I could in my second language), and an invitation to return next week with the plastic that they used, and collected. We also asked that they bring examples of thing they had made by hand, out of any material. That was it, we didn’t want to give too much away. Seventeen kids, an even smattering of girls and boys, showed up. We were hoping it would be the entire town, adults included, all nodding their heads in agreement that they would become the first town in Mexico to go completely plastic-free. We’d win the Nobel Peace Prize and take our work to the next town. We’d give sought after, sold out speeches as part of our book tour and enlighten and enrich the masses with self-sufficiency. People would finally get how it’s all connected. Rock stars and famous actors would endorse Create Plenty and the International Plastic Quilt Project…

Well starting with where we are, the next day we were heartened to hear that the older kids in the secondaria, or junior high, are also curious about what the two gringas are doing in town. Our sweet little palapa is across the street from the school, so as we were gathering ourselves together to head to tio and tia’s place for breakfast, a maestra from the school came to ask if we would also do the project there. As is true in the U.S., it’s best to attend to different learning levels separately. Luckily most of the kids are connected to adults. We’ll get them yet.

And thanks to our strong artist contacts here in Merida, we’ve been invited to contribute a paragraph and a few photographs from our work to an national interior design magazine called Ambientes. As a result, the website needs to be translated into Spanish by the end of April. Thankfully we have a capable and willing volunteer!

We will take the trek to the Gulf coast three more times. Morgan and I have spent the weekend recuperating, touring the city of Merida with Rey’s brother Checo (Rey has been commissioned to paint a mural in a small chapel this weekend), gathering some supplies, crafting and solidifying the lesson plans for the few weeks ahead to start this work here in beautiful Mexico.

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