Now This Is Poor!

March 2, 2012

Every morning you see people sweeping their storefronts or apartment entryways, at least sweeping the dirt, leaves or rubbish into the street, but it’s a huge, bustling city and sadly pretty dirty. Also we’ve noticed a lot of dogs but only once have I ever witnessed a pet owner clean up after the dog (see No Doubt About It, You’re Gonna Step in Dog Poop). I jokingly suggested to Mick we may need to visit Singapore next to experience the other side of this coin. Needless to say, we don’t wear our comfortable Hawaii slippahs when we venture out!

But we we’re both taken aback the other day when we witnessed a young boy and what looked like his grandparents heartily tearing into these curbside dumpsters.
Apparently the trash pickers (Las Cartoneras ) have always been there, a part of any big city in a less developed country. But as a result of the 2001 Argentine sovereign debt crises when the peso was devalued by 50% or more, millions of the middle class were instantly thrown into poverty (Greece today, America tomorrow?) leaving people suddenly unemployed, homeless, dirt poor and having to fend for themselves on the street.

The following short YouTube video gives you a window to their world. Please watch it.

Now the government, recognizing the vital function the Cartonaras perform has more or less legitimized them, promising them protection and sanctioning the vital recycling job they perform. Specialized trains (which accommodate their carts) are provided to transport the pickers into the city every day as most Cartoneras live on the fringes coming out in the wee hours of early morning or late at night when the traffic and activity has subsided and every street corner is heaped with the refuse of the day. Once the city-provided dumpsters are filled to capacity, people then just toss the garbage in the vicinity of the dumpsters which by days end are over-flowing onto the sidewalk and street.

The Cartoneras specialize. Some pick only cardboard or metal or plastic. They get paid by the kilo and sell to brokers who then resell to other recyclers, and sadly many live off the food and other waste they pick through.

These Cartoneras and their way of life provides one an opportunity for comparison when we in developed countries talk about the poor along with all the hand-wringing from our politicians who continually seek the disadvantaged or disenfranchized, to use a more current label, who can’t seem to survive without the growing government give-aways.

Aloha, Mikie . . . . . . turned travel blog direct from Buenos Aires through early March.

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