Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 in Banámichi

Water in the Rio Sonora
As we drove the last few miles of the road south into Banámichi, the Rio Sonora sparkled in the sunlight, more water in it than we have seen in years. Actually, this indicated a problem...the water was not being used for agricultural purposes as it had in the past, a long-lasting consequence of the toxic chemical spill by the Grupo Mexico mine in Cananea in early August, 2014 which polluted the river and the watershed.

Tinacos of all sorts have sprung up
In Banámichi, the roads, sidewalks and rooftops are punctuated with tinacos...large water cisterns. They come from many sources. Some are being distributed free by the trust set up as part of the remediation extracted from Grupo Mexico. Tanker trucks of water drive the streets daily, filling individual tinacos, and also filling the town cisterns. Then once a day for a couple of hours, the cisterns are opened, and water flows through the taps. It is essential to be home to catch the flow when it comes, or you will be without water until the trucks come by or water flows again.

Those fortunate enough to have tinacos on the roof or on a tower may have them hooked into the plumbing system of the house, while the owners of those on the ground are forced to carry water into the house in buckets. And this is only household water; it is not for drinking. Free 5 gallon jugs of drinking water are still available, but people are not confident even that is clean. Some are drinking it anyway; others who can afford it are buying drinking water at the local convenience store. We saw one elderly woman rolling a weighty 5 gallon jug of drinking water down the street on a hand cart. This is a tremendous hardship for the local people.

But...Banámichi is still beautiful
The scale of the tragedy is enormous. Our friend Beto, for example, has a herd of dairy cows. For almost 4 months now every day he has milked his cows and poured out the milk. No one will buy the local agricultural products that have been the life-blood of the area. Some people have received stipends for their losses; others have not. Some will undoubtedly lose their livelihoods as well as their rich cultural traditions. What the future holds for this formerly rich agricultural area, no one knows.

Our friend Tom has said: " When the spill happened there was the horror stage. Later came the adaptation stage. We have now entered the political stage, which is the scariest of them all."
Sunset in Banámichi, looking towards the river
He is right. The whole tragedy has been marked by confusion, lack of information, organizations working against each other, and governmental entities jockeying for access to the several million dollars in reparations extracted from Grupo Mexico. The result is absolute chaos. People who might be working together to make some progress are turning into enemies.The truth is out there, but no one is sure what it is.  Distrust is rampant.

At first the government said that the water was unsafe and closed the town wells. Now, 4 months later, nothing has changed and the government now says the wells are safe and wants to open them again. People have lost all faith in the government, and are blocking the opening of the wells through protests. Federal police have been brought in.

This state of chaos and confusion cannot persist. Sooner or later, the wells will be opened again and life will sort of return to normal. And then who knows? Five to 10 years down the road, will there be clusters of illnesses and deaths along the Rio Sonora? Will Grupo Mexico ever be held accountable for destroying a way of life for so many people?

For us, this has simply meant no vegetable or flower gardens this year, a small price to pay when stacked up against the daily suffering of the local people. There is an overwhelming sense of helplessness to it all. There is nothing to be done. It just is what it is.

It has really taught us profligate Americans about conserving water.  We spend our days waiting for the hour when the city water is turned on so we can  fill our tinaco. Then one of us inadvertently leaves the irrigation on and flushes out all our hard
Two Dans hard at work on our water system
earned water. Then we have a few gallons to last until the next day. When there is very little water, toilets get flushed less often, showers are short, dishes get washed in a quart of water and paper plates, which have a downside of their own, become the best alternative. Half a cup of water is enough for tooth-brushing. It is very much like camping out with 5 gallons of water for several people for a weekend. Upon our return to Tucson, it is hard to go back to normal water usage. I hesitate every time I open the tap. This could be an omen for all of us for the future. If nothing changes, in 10 years we could all be living like the Rio Sonorans are now.

What we have come to for now in Banámichi is to is to try to simply keep our fruit trees and some of our favorite plants alive with minimal water while we are not here. But, since we are up the hill near one of the town cisterns, counter-intuitively, there is not enough pressure (due to elevation) to pump water into our tinaco even when city water is available. Without that, nothing gets watered and everything dies. So first we bought a pump. Then we learned it would not shut off when there was no city water. It would burn itself out in no time. Now, the two Dans have installed a complicated system of switches to start and stop the pump at appropriate times and levels. ( Doing even this much would be beyond the means of most people here.) So far it appears to work. Time will tell.

Even in an imperfect world, there is still so much to be thankful for. Banámichi is still beautiful. The culture is warm and welcoming. The sunsets are gorgeous. The weather is perfect. Even amidst great challenges, life here is good.

Tom and the turkey
Once again, Thanksgiving has rolled around. Of course this is an American holiday that is not celebrated in Mexico. Still, friends Tom and Lynn have each year gathered an international group of folks for the traditional feast. And a splendid feast it was! It is a time to be thankful for friends old and new, for the opportunity to experience the best of Mexico and the worst of Mexico, and to hopefully to learn a cautionary lesson about how some events lead to irrevocable results that change life forever.
Friends of many countries


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  2. It's amusing how the town's elements are like gears that turn and chug along to make its daily functions reach as many of its residents as it can. Such as in water supply, for which the trucks are such a boon. There are lots of mechanisms that can be put in place, but nothing like the good old transportation that trucks can provide, right? Thanks for sharing!

    Kelly Hunt @ Triad Freightliner