Hanging around at the Día Internacional del Árbol
Last Saturday 11th July was the International Day of the Tree – I think this sounds and reads better in Spanish – el Día Internacional del Árbol. The Patronato del Nevado – which is a civil society organization that shares the management of the National Park of the Volcano Nevado de Colima with SEDER (the Secretary for Rural Development in the state of Jalisco) – organized an event high up in the National Park to celebrate this day, as they have done every year for the past five years.
I have written about the National Park before on this blog. Once with an emphasis on the conservation work that is being done there, and another time with a focus on the challenges of the management of the park, created by having a dual management structure.
This time, I want to write about the event organized to celebrate the International Day of the Tree, with some observations about cultural differences relating to time and my reflections on them.
The National Park has an area about 3500 meters above sea level called La Joya, which functions as the entrance to the National Park, and where there are cabins, areas to camp, a residential building where the workers in the park stay overnight and an environmental education center. Nearby is also a center for developing high performance in the training of athletes, run by CODE, a organization charged with the management and promotion of sport in the state of Jalisco.
La Joya is about an hour away from the center of Ciudad Guzmán. The Patronato had organized a coach to take people to La Joya and we were instructed to meet just outside the offices of the Patronato at 10am sharp. I arrived a little after 10am, sceptical that ‘sharp’ would carry much weight in Mexico, and that the coach would leave on time. As I approached the meeting point, I saw that the coach was already there, which surprised me. Additionally, it was full of children and a local Scout group. This meant that another coach had to be ordered to take the remaining people who could not fit in the first coach.
So a group of about twenty of us hung around waiting for the next coach to arrive.
As I waited, I reflected on one cultural difference I had observed before. Westerners at this point would typically be getting agitated, asking when the coach would arrive and wanting to know all the details about what was happening. Mexicans, by contrast, wait with good humour, and spend the time amiably chatting together. The coach could arrive in 5 minutes or two hours, and it does not seem to matter too much.
After about thirty minutes the second coach turned up. This rapidly filled up and took off, nearly leaving behind the person and his helpers who were to perform a puppet show as part of the event.
As we climbed the slopes of the volcano to La Joya the weather became foggy because of the cloud cover. It was not possible to appreciate the wonderful views afforded by this path when the visibility is clear. On arrival at la Joya we walked to the area where the event was due to begin. It was wet and very misty.
The event followed a typical protocol, which always seems important in Mexico. Key people and organizations have to be acknowledged. First the former president of the Patronato spoke, acting as a Master of Ceremonies, followed by the head of SEMARNAT (the National Department of the Environment) for this region and then the current president of the Patronato.
The head of SEMARNAT spoke in a sincere manner about the importance of trees and of this event to commemorate the International Day of the Tree. It was heartening to hear someone in a high level Government position speak passionately about conservation.
Within the crowd, amongst the people I knew, I met two young men who work as certified guides to take people to the peak of the volcano of the Nevado. They are Gerardo (email: email@example.com) and Santiago (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). I would recommend either of them to anyone reading this who wants to make the ascent. Both are experienced and reliable, and Gerardo speaks good English .
After the speeches, the event moved on to the central activity of the day which was to acknowledge and unveil a plaque to one of the older members of a species of the trees in the park. This year it was the species ‘Alie’.
The children were encouraged to gather around the tree, sing it ‘Las Mañanitas’ (the Mexican song for ‘Happy Birthday’), hug the tree, and a large birthday cake was produced. There were then various photo opportunities by the plaque for the tree before the children moved on to do a small project of reforestation, using saplings that have been cultivated at a nursery in the National Park.
Next on the agenda was a puppet performance in the auditorium of the high performance athletes’ center by Nacho ‘La Cucaracha’. I have seen performances by Nacho’s group before and have been completely captivated. They are some of the most powerful, absorbing, entertaining, and witty forms of environmental education that I have witnessed.
Actually, this was the first time I have seen one of Nacho’s performance with so many young children present. Nacho encourages the young children to go to the front so they are away from their parents. As the performance unfolds, the children get more and more involved, taking the side of the many animals that appear in the show to defend them against hunters and other human predators.
Like much good art, the performance works by suspending reality and evoking imagination. Against a dark backcloth, figures, animals and objects appear and stories unfold. At times it is possible to see the puppeteers’ hands or body outline but it does not destroy the magic.
The climax of the performance is a hilarious version of the lucha libre in which a ‘gringo’ fights another wrestler from the local community. The odds are heavily stacked in favour of the ‘gringo’, mirroring the inequality of the world economic system, but finally a kind of justice prevails.
After the performance, the President of the Patronato asked me if I wanted to go and participate in the inauguration of a cabin that had just been constructed to provide more accommodation for the park’s workforce. By now it was 3pm, and I was keen to return to Ciudad Guzmán, so I asked how long it would take. About 40 minutes, was the response. OK, I thought. That is not too long.
So a group of about 20 of us got into three pick-up trucks and went to the new cabin, a journey of about 20 minutes along the tracks of the park. By now, the mist was clearing a little and there were some spectacular views. The new cabin was impressive, like a Mexican version of a Swiss chalet.
Again, due ceremony was required. The President and the representative from SEDER cut the tape to formally open the building. There was some more hanging around and then we drove back to La Joya. By now both coaches had left to go back to Ciudad Guzmán. I was informed we would be returning in one of the pick-up trucks.
But first, it transpired that the overall Director of the Park and his Operations Director had to be given interviews by someone making a film about the park. So I, along with two other people wanting to return to Ciudad Guzmán, waited whilst this happened. When I asked how long the interviews would be, I was given that most typical Mexican gesture of the thumb and forefinger about an inch apart with the rest of the fingers clenched and told the dreaded words ‘ahorita’. This can mean anything from two minutes to two hours to even two days. Whilst I waited, I spoke to Jimmy, the Peace Corps volunteer who works on natural management resource issues in the Park. He told me: “I spend a lot of time waiting for these guys. Normally I bring a book.”
I think the interviews lasted about 45 minutes. OK, I thought now we can finally go. As we went along the track to the entrance to the National Park, an eagle was spotted. The pick-up truck stopped and everyone took photos. OK, I told myself, I’m not really in a huge hurry and should be able to appreciate seeing this bird.
Then on the way out of La Joya, the pick-up truck turned off the main track back to the city and we went to the building where the workers stay. Here it seemed that the Operations Director needed to have a meeting with the workers. Again, I was told it would be “five minutes”. “Five English minutes or five Mexican minutes?” I asked, trying to remain good-natured.
Another thirty or so minutes later, we started our descent back to the city. I was in the cabin of the pick-up with the Director of the Park. This did give me the opportunity to talk more with him and get to know him better. As we descended the volcano on the track, he stopped in a few places to better see the view, and spoke with enthusiasm about the splendour and beauty of the park.
Finally we arrived in Ciudad Guzman about 8.15pm. This was about five hours after the point when I had ingenuously asked how long it would take to inaugurate the new cabin and was told 40 minutes. When I had mentioned this earlier to the President of the Patronato, he told me that 40 minutes had of course only been an estimate.
This story reflects, of course, different attitudes to time. I was left wondering………
Why are some (not all) Mexicans not more bothered about leaving others waiting for them? Is this a status issue? In other situations I have experienced in Mexico making people wait for you is definitely a sign of your relative power and status. Do they think my time is not important and I can just wait for them? Why do the people wanting to do other activities not even apologise to me for the fact that I am being kept waiting? It seems they just assume I will wait. Is this a way (and usually a masculine way) of just not being sensitive to other peoples’ needs? Or is my discomfort and chafing at the bit to pursue my own needs just a reflection of my individualistic western culture and attitudes to time management? Even the phrase ‘time management’ which has gained so much currency in western organizational thinking has a hubristic sense that the individual can manage and dominate somerthing so enormous and subtle such as time. Why cannot I be more accepting of the situation of waiting and hanging around as most Mexicans seem to be?