Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Making Things Happen

I went for a ride in the countryside today, which was really pretty.

I also got a chance to learn about the way my municipality handles infrastructure projects out in the rural parts of San Marcos (that’s the department I live in; consider it Guatemala’s equivalent of a U.S. state).

A update about my municipality – I previously mentioned that its employees are due some significant back pay. This could be due to a number of factors that I won’t elaborate on, but I want to note that our treasury cut checks for a month’s pay last Thursday. However, it’s incredible to note that the recent payments have brought the municipality up to just two months of back wages due to its employees, not three. Staff dissatisfaction has quieted down a bit, although many had to use their entire check to repay debts that have been accruing since August.

At any rate, this brings me to the municipality’s self-proclaimed lack of funding, which clashes with the very real need for infrastructure projects within its associated villages and remote settlements. For many citizens, the most visible problem is road conditions. There are some really poor roads here – this is probably the best picture/worst road combination I got from today:

This picture doesn’t do justice; be assured that you wouldn’t want to go much more than 5 mph on most country roads here.

Good news is, the men in the picture are busy with repairs. The guy with the baseball cap, who I’d never met, is a local villager who’s been resurfacing the road during the past few months, contracted by the Municipality to repair particular spots at $1.50 a square meter. Materials are provided by the Muni and delivered by truck; the villager does the dirt work manually and positions each stone by hand.

Meanwhile, the two guys on the right are my counterparts at the Municipality, and they’re evaluating his work, calculating the area of his repair patches and tallying up the measurements. Here’s another picture:

That’s me, walking over what the villager claimed to be a new patch; unfortunately, the whole inspection turned mildly ridiculous when it became clear that no one could prove what had actually been repaired. Neither party had thought to take pictures or mark the spots needing work beforehand. Now, after the job was finished, billing evolved into a confrontation between the villager’s word and municipal skepticism. The three of them bickered while I took pictures and listened to a monkey screeching in the trees above us. We spent an hour in an walking dispute about the quality, length, width and actual existence of the villager’s work. Overheard:

“Here’s another new spot I worked on”
“That spot’s not new. There’s grass growing there.”
“That grass just grew in the last three months!”

Anyway, so it’s unclear how much the villager will get paid or whether he should get paid at all. I just wish that roads out here looked like this:

Unfortunately, mudslides, a lack of road construction equipment (plate compactors, backhoes, etc.) torrential rains, and an absence of expertise make sturdy roads in the countryside somewhat rare (many roads out here are “planned” by people who have no formal training).

But yeah, it’s gorgeous, obviously. Here’s a waterfall we saw today; these kids were fishing in the pool below.

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