A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Trash Collection – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
When our cleaning lady decided to take a week off after Christmas, I and the fourteen other people living it the house from which I currently rent a room ran into a problem: the trash was piling up. For some of my house mates, that doesn’t seem to matter. For me, however, this was a problem. I wanted to take the trash out, but the problem was that I didn’t know how.
(Note the lovely collection of garbage and recyclables in the garbage can. Separating recyclables and garbage was not a thing in any of the buildings where I lived or in any of the schools where I worked or volunteered.)
In Bogota, there are no universal trash or recycling binds that are distributed throughout the city. In fact, there is almost no such thing as recycling bins. Recycling is a very new concept and it tends not to turn out so well when only a small fraction of the city is aware of what recycling is. I’ve seen students quietly deliberating as they stare at the recycling bins at my university before quickly dumping all of the leftover food into the recycling bin, leaving the paper plate and plastic cup in the trash.
(In Leticia (the Amazon region of Colombia), trash collection seemed to be a bit more universal in the small city. There were also many more campaigns advertising recycling and the proper disposal of trash.)
Instead of a universal system for trash removal, the system seems to be as follows: trash bags are left outside of houses, on the side of the road, on street corners–so long as they are all placed in a somewhat central pile, it seems–and are then collected by trucks or individual sanitation workers who lug around a small cart to collect trash.
(In Salento, all of the trash in the city is collected and deposited nearby the public baseball field.)
This works to a fault. There are a few elements of Bogota that make this process more complicated.
There are many homeless people on the streets of Bogota. For many of these homeless people, the one readily available source of food can be found in the flimsy plastic bags of trash that are left out on street corners throughout the week. While the plastic trash bags may be set out in a neat pile, within a matter of hours they will be shredded to piece, sorted through, and discarded.
(Note the single lone trash bag sitting out at the edge of the park outside of the house where I live.)
Those that choose to sort through the plastic bags are in search of two things: leftover food and recyclables. The food is very obvious. Entire plates of food, half eaten fruits, and only slightly rotting produce is discarded every day, and the homeless are able to take advantage of it. The recyclables are collected for money. Near garbage collection days, the streets will be full of people lugging carts packed high with cardboard, wood, plastic, and papers.
About our special correspondent and senior editor Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
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