Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reconsidering Canada's prostitution laws: An opportunity to do so much better

We have until March 17 to give the federal government our opinion on laws around sex work, as the 3 major laws affecting adult, consenting sex workers were struck down in December as unconstitutional. 
Here are my answers, and I urge you to submit your own responses here,

Please don't make the mistake of thinking you don't know enough to respond. Just imagine that it's your sister, your mom, your little brother who is working in the industry, making a free choice as an adult (because nobody's talking about changing any laws that prevent violence, coercion, human trafficking or child exploitation - this consultation is strictly about the sale of sex between consenting adults). What would you want for them if this was their work? 

A group of sex workers and supporters have put together some guidelines for responding. I'd be happy to forward them to anyone who's interested. The group would also love to have copies of people's responses. But with or without guidelines, just give these questions to your head and heart to mull over and see what comes out. 

Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

I support decriminalizing the purchase of sexual services from a consenting adult. I am a committed 57-year-old Canadian feminist and journalist who has come to this conclusion after many years of working with and getting to know adult sex workers, whose life experiences with Canada’s criminalized system have shown me that such laws not only do not reduce the demand for sexual services, but inadvertently make the work considerably more dangerous for the people that the law is supposedly trying to protect.

Better minds than mine could write a treatise on the nature of the human sex drive, but after so many failed efforts in so many countries over so many generations to stop sex work through criminalization, it ought to be clear that criminalization does not work as a deterrent to stop the buying of sexual services. What it does is push this work even deeper into the shadows – into the dark places where no one goes, into a stigmatized, misunderstood world that is practically custom-made to cover up the crimes of the predators who end up there in search of victims.

I have learned from my sex-work acquaintances that the majority of the people who buy sex are not horrible,sick predators looking to cause harm. But because they have to work in shadowy isolation, the conditions are perfect for predators who do hunt among the workers not for sexual services, but for vulnerable, stigmatized people to rape, beat and murder.

Were the purchase and sale of adult,consensual sexual services decriminalized, workers would finally be protected by all the systems Canada has in place to keep us safe from predators: Well-lit work areas; police support; the safety of having other people working nearby; the right to report crimes or suspicious behaviour without being judged, mistreated, ignored and shunned. Decriminalization need not mean that we condone the purchase of sex, just that Canadians accept the reality that criminal measures merely increase risk and misery for those who work in the industry. Even among those who are exploited, victimized and coerced into sex work, the criminalization of this work just adds more suffering. It fixes nothing while causing immense harm. That is bad law.

Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult shouldbe a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

I support decriminalizing the sale of sexual services between consenting adults. In Canada we seem to want to view sex workers as both victims and criminals, putting them forward in the public eye as vulnerable, desperate people who need our help to flee the horrors of the industry (whether they want to or not), while at the same time targeting them for criminal charges should they dare to resist our need to “save” them.

Many of the same comments I made in the previous question apply to this one as well. Criminalizing the sale of sexual services increases the danger and the stigma for those who work in the industry. It pushes workers into dark places to avoid being criminally charged.They avoid calling police when they do encounter predatory clients, because police might just as easily decide to charge the worker once they arrive at the scene. It lends a strong air of “well, they deserved it” in the event that violence is committed against them, a moral attitude that dramatically affects sex workers when they seek help at the hospital, try to find housing, look for mainstream work. Society sits in severe judgment of sex workers, and I strongly believe that criminalization feeds this judgment while at the same time doingnothing to improve the situation for anybody – the sex workers, theneighbourhoods where outdoor sex takes place, the exploited children who desperately need targeted, wise services to turn their lives in a different direction.

For me, this is also an issue of workers’ rights. The sale of sex is legal in Canada. It’s the marketing, location and income from sex work that is illegal. This criminalization shuts a whole class of Canadian workers out of all the normal workplace protections. They are denied the same level of police protection (or would at least perceive it that way); they cannot access our court system for a dispute over a contract or to bring a case for sexual harassment. There are no employment standards that apply to them. Decriminalization will not fix every problem in the sexindustry, but it will at least open the door for people to pursue the same courses for legal action and seek the same level of rights protection that other Canadian workers enjoy.

If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitationsshould there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.

I support the creation of legal workplaces for consenting adult sex workers. These sites should be treated like any other business and regulated municipally through zoning bylaws in terms of location, and subject to the same employment standards that any Canadian workplace is subject to. For the safety of the workers, these sites should not be banished to industrial parks or “red light districts” where they are out of sight of mainstream society, but rather mixed in to commercial areas and regulated in ways that ensure low public profile. This is the way that many of Canada’s brothels operate now, in truth, as the clients of this business also prefer a low profile.

Canada’s bawdyhouse laws and related court rulings over the years have basically defined “bawdyhouse” to be any location where sex is bought and sold. They have been a failure by any definition, asthey have not curbed the sale of sex and have created a very dangerous work situation for those in the industry. The only achievement of the country’s bawdyhouse laws was to deny sex workers even the most basic protections of a typical workplace: A clean and pleasant place to work; shelter from the weather, the company of co-workers, people around you to respond in the event of something bad happening.

The issue of outdoor sex work is more complicated, as some people working outdoors are there because their profound personal problems – addictions, mental health issues, disabilities – prevent them from being able to work in an indoor venue. They also work outdoors because there are customers who want to be able to buy sex that way; curbing that desire will require an entirely different strategy than anything Canada has ever tried. The percentage of sex workers who work outdoors is small –estimates are around 10 per cent – but the outdoor stroll is definitely the“face” of sex work that people react most strongly to.

Outdoor work is definitely much more of a pressure point for a community, and is almost always where the violence happens for sex workers as municipalities try to push the “stroll” out of sight. While I sincerely hope legal, safe workplaces are coming for consenting adult sex workers, I fear pressure might increase to criminalize all outdoor work, a development that would put the most vulnerable outdoor workers at even greater risk. As Canada moves forward into what I hope will be enlightened policy around adult sex work, I think the issues of outdoor sex work should be separated out for further exploration and understanding, as my experience has been that the issues for the small minority of sex workers who work outdoors are completely different than those of the large majority who work indoors. This exploration must include study into the psychology of clients who prefer to buy from outdoor workers, because there will always be sellers if there continues to be buyers.

Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult?

I believe that a law that makes it a criminal offence to benefit economically from prostitution is far too broad to be effective, and has a negative impact on people who in no way are acting in a predatory manner by taking money from a sex worker. Canada does need a carefully considered law that prevents predators from forcing people into sex work in order to benefit from their earnings, but criminalizing the income of sex workers is not the way to achieve that.

While rarely used in Canada, the former law around “living off the avails” put people at risk of criminal charges just for accepting payment of any kind from a sex worker. Not only does that unfairly affect all the people a sex worker might choose to employ – a driver, for instance – but also relegates anyone who lives with or loves a sex worker to the category of  “pimp” under the law just by splitting the rent, food costs or other expenses with the sex worker. To criminalize the income from legal work is both fundamentally wrong and totally ineffective as a means of curbing the sex trade.

As noted, the law has not been used much in Canada. But its existence alone opens the door for harassment of sex workers and the people in their lives, as even a private romantic relationship is now open to police scrutiny. It is also an impossible law to administer fairly. With what is likely tens of thousands of Canadians working in the sex trade in Canada – making mortgage payments, buying groceries, paying car loans, payingfor daycare services for their children, eating at restaurants, hiringrenovation crews to redo the kitchen – the sheer volume of people benefiting economically from prostitution is enormous. And yet the impact of the law is only ever felt by those closest to the sex worker. Once more, that is bad law.

Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform thegovernment’s response to the Bedford decision?

Please do not let the high emotion of the debatearound this issue affect your decisions when considering new laws for thebuying and selling of sex among consenting adults. So many people havesuffered, even lost their lives, because of Canada’s former laws aroundprostitution. Please do not let this become an issue of agreeing or disagreeingwith the idea of selling sexual services.

The sale of sex is not inherently violent. It is our laws that have actually created much of the risks in this work. Yes, the fight must continue to prosecute those who are violent, predatory, exploitive and coercive, and to protect underage children from exploitation. But we must stop this senseless application of law as a tool of morality - an approach that has caused great harm to many, many good people and virtually guarantees a continuation of the damaging stigma that shuts sex workers out of mainstream society.

The reality is that rightly or wrongly, thisindustry exists. I don’t know if its existence is inevitable, but I do know that 147 years of trying to stop it through criminalization has not worked – not in Canada, not in any country.  Canadahas a chance to do itself proud yet again and create a regulatory framework that is thoughtful, realistic and humane. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

In my room, and not that happy about it

  I know that after I've said a sad goodbye to the Comision de Accion Social Menonita and have returned to Canada, I will talk fondly to my friends about having had the amazing opportunity to travel around so much of Honduras through my work in all seven regions of CASM.
    But tonight I’m in a down-market hotel room in teeny La Campa, sitting under a hideous fluorescent doughnut light while dining on weird little coconut sticks I packed in my bag knowing that I’d be dead bored by Day 3 with the limited food selection here. There’s absolutely zilch on the 13-inch TV. I’m a very long bus ride away from home and am marking my 14th day of out-of-town work in the last three and a half weeks.
    And I am not feeling the love.
    A job that involves travel sounds great until you actually have one. I remember having that same revelation as a newsroom manager in Victoria, when the excitement I felt at my first company trip to Toronto died quickly once I realized just how many hours are lost in transit, and how even a nice hotel room is a poor substitute for your own bed back home.
    At any rate, my Honduras travels don’t come with the option of a nice hotel room – partly because the little towns where CASM works simply don’t have such things, and partly because when you’re making $10,000 a year and paying much of the travel expenses out of your own pocket, you make very different choices.
    The rooms are never dirty, but they’re certainly basic. Some have hot showers; others have a cold-water pipe coming out of the wall. A few of the rooms have been unnerving, like the one in the Moskitia with its flimsy little push-button door lock and no one but me in the entire building most nights. There’s a place in Tocoa that I treasure because it has a small pool, a lot of TV channels and better internet than we’ve got at home, all for $22 a night. But that’s a rare thing.
    Then there’s the restaurant food. It gets tiresome pretty fast for a business traveller even when there are lots of places to choose from. But small-town Honduran food – well, just imagine eating the same meal three times a day for a week and you’ll get the picture. That’s why I packed the coconut sticks, along with 6 mandarin oranges and a small bag of apples. Bless those who can eat simply, but the tipico plate of beans, tortillas and spot of protein that a lot of Hondurans are completely content with as a steady diet just doesn’t do it for me this long into the gig.
    And even when I’m prepared to eat a plate of tipico, there are times when I have no idea where to find one. People who live in La Campa know that you walk down the dirt road to an unmarked house on the right and the woman there will serve you something, but I had no idea the first time I was here and basically lived on chips from the corner store. In the strange little town where I stay when in the Moskitia, nobody sells fruit or vegetables (that’s the case in La Campa, too), and access to a meal totally depends on whether Doña Doris is back from visiting her kids in La Ceiba and Doña Rosa isn’t too busy with her teaching.
    Then there are the bus rides. The shortest is four hours to San Pedro Sula, but most trips are closer to six hours. The monster trip is to Tocoa, where I’ll be going in another week – 10 hours. I’ve become a master at zoning out, and sometimes I even sleep if my knees aren’t jammed into the seat in front of me and the person next to me isn’t talking loudly on their cellphone, trying to soothe their baby while balancing an 8-year-old on their knee, or throwing up (surprising amount of motion sickness among Honduran bus riders).
    Yeah, yeah, I’m whining. Blame it on the coconut sticks. But as soon as I finish this post, I’m going to look at the video clips I got today of a solemn little group of La Campa Catholics enacting a ritual in honour of the patron saint of the town, Matthias, and I’ll probably feel all warm and fuzzy again thinking about all the things I’ve had the chance to see these past two years due to travelling the country for work.
    And then I’ll crawl into my plain but not uncomfortable bed, dim the fluorescent doughnut, and be one more day closer to going home.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why does the schlub always get the pretty girl?

At least this frog turns into a handsome prince
I found an old Stephen King book in a hotel book exchange a couple weeks ago. I usually enjoy his books, but this one’s got a secondary plot line of a widower over 40 falling in love with an enchanting 19-year-old girl, and I just can’t bear that May-September thing even one more time.
     I mean, think about how many times you have read a book, seen a movie or watched a TV series  in which some aspect of the plot involved a man who was either much older or much homelier (and often both) than the woman who loved him. If books and movies were real life, we would have to conclude that young, beautiful women overwhelmingly prefer schlubby, unattractive and aging men.
     Don’t get me wrong, I embrace the concept of gorgeous young woman seeing past the superficiality of physical beauty to the cool, sensitive dude inside the aging bald guy that the rest of the world sees. But how often have you ever seen that plot line in reverse? On the rare occasion that a good-looking male character finds himself drawn to the homely girl, there will always be a scene toward the end in which she undergoes a makeover and is suddenly ravishing. When does the schlubby, old-enough-to-be-Mom woman EVER get the young, handsome dude, other than in movies whose whole premise is to throw something “weird” like that at us as a kind of satire, or in teen comedies in which boys sleep with their best friend's mom? 
     I saw the best/worst example of this overdone plot line in an episode of Criminal Minds, a popular American TV drama about FBI agents hunting serial killers that plays endlessly here in Honduras. I’ve come to despise the show because it’s such a thinly veiled excuse to show women being mutilated, raped and tortured on TV. But we’ll leave all that for some future blog post.
     Anyway, there’s a quirky female character in the show, Penelope, who plays the classic stereotype of the brilliant but never-chosen woman – buddy to everyone, girlfriend to none. Nonetheless, there was a small plot line that played out over two or three episodes one season (yeah, I know, if I hate the show so much why have I seen all these episodes? But sometimes you just want to watch something in English) in which Penelope got wooed by a Handsome Man.
     She’s overweight and wears glasses – a funky dresser and amazing computer whiz, absolutely, but a long way off the TV norm for women. Handsome Man, on the other hand, is steel-jawed and fit, with a full head of hair and yearning eyes. But there he is, crazy about Penelope. A more naive viewer might conclude that the less-hot chick might actually be poised to get the dream guy. 
     Not a chance. Penelope’s FBI buddy Derek, who ought to be slapped upside the head for all the times he calls her Baby Doll, gives us our first clue with his reaction to Handsome Man. He is very, very suspicious of Handsome Man right from the get-go. And who can blame him? A good-looking guy picking a less attractive woman - well, that’s just messed up.
     How messed up? Murderous-killer messed up. Penelope and Handsome Man are outside her house after a romantic dinner date, she leans in close for that first wonderful kiss - and blammo, the guy shoots her. Shoots her. Could there be a more pointed message about what happens to women who go looking outside their league? Honey, when a Handsome Man is flirting with a Plain Jane, it just has to mean that he’s either going to steal your money or try to kill you!
     As much as that plot development stunk, the clincher was still to come. Returning to work after her shooting injuries have healed, broken-hearted Penelope lifts her gaze one day and connects with the bespectacled gaze of a dumpy computer nerd character who has been inserted in the story line, one who deeply admires Penelope for her adept computer work. She looks deeply into his non-luminous eyes  and by the end of the episode is falling for the guy, who is most definitely less attractive than she is. All is right with the world again.
     I suspect the main reason why pretty-young-girl-meets-homely-old-man is such a popular plot line is because men make most of the movies. They make shows from a male perspective - that being that dewy young women like nothing better than aging, funny-looking men like themselves (“Don’t they?” joked my spouse. At least I think he was joking.) 
     And so we get very odd romantic combos like Scarlett Johannson and Bill Murray, Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Ed O'Neill, Woody Allen and…well, all his leading ladies. Back at home watching our televisions and movie screens, never seeing any variation on that story line, who could blame us if we conclude that women must strive to be young and beautiful in the search for love, while men can look and act however they choose and still get the prettiest girl?
     I would, of course, be completely delighted if TV shows and movies started shifting away from the young and beautiful and giving roles to those who look more like the rest of us. But it’s only the men’s roles that seem to come with that option. So few female actors continue to be successful after the last blush of youthful beauty fades that I think I could probably name them all. (Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Dianne Wiest….uh, are there any more?)
     As for the Stephen King book, I’m just going to give up on it. I can’t concentrate on the ghost story when I’m thinking the whole time, “Oh, come ON!” as Sad Rich Widower moons over Sweet Conflicted Child from the Wrong Side of the Tracks. 
     Gee, what a surprising twist. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Nothing simple about building volunteerism in Honduras

    After many years as both a volunteer and an employer working with volunteers, I am well familiar with the highs and lows of the volunteer experience from both sides of the fence. So I'm watching with much interest as the organization that placed me here in Honduras, Cuso International, reshapes itself in the country as the lead hand in the development and management of a national volunteer program.
    It's a wonderful vision. Honduras has a considerable amount of informal volunteering going on - through the church, neighbour-to-neighbour, a handful of service clubs - but could really use structure and support around identifying opportunities, needs and processes. The small NGOs that Cuso works with in Honduras are always run on a shoestring, and stand to benefit significantly from access to skilled volunteers from their own country.
    Several Hondurans have told me that the culture generally doesn't attach much value to volunteering, so Cuso's work could also help change that. And who better than Cuso to take on this work, with a vision centred on building volunteerism?
    But that's not to say it will be easy. Having technically been working as a volunteer these past two years (in truth, we get a stipend and to me it feels more like consulting work), I see much work, frustration and challenge ahead on all fronts to develop a successful volunteering program for Hondurans.
    Consider my personal experience, for instance. If I hadn't been a comparatively well-off Canadian arriving in the country with my own laptop, good camera, collection of software programs and extra money for travelling around to the various regions to help them with their communications, I'd have been hooped. I even had to scrounge up my own desk, and at this moment am sitting in a broken office chair with no back and a propensity to sink slowly toward the floor.
    My job description was "communications and knowledge management facilitator," a title that fits with my work experience in Canada. But the organization I was placed with mostly just saw me as another pair of hands - someone who could perhaps write English-language funding proposals from time to time (not actually in the job description), but otherwise nothing special.
    I am happy to say that has changed over these two years, but only because I learned how to tap into the most persistent, demonstrative, pushy, relentless, show-up-uninvited-and-get-the-job-done version of myself. I got on many buses and travelled many hours to the regions where my NGO works, almost all of it on my own initiative and using my own money because there was no budget for my work. I just showed up and did useful things until they slowly started valuing me.
    Now, let's imagine a Honduran volunteer in that same situation. Most people don't have their own computers or cameras here, especially the young ones that Cuso will be focusing on. They couldn't possibly cover their own transport costs, or food costs if volunteering away from home. Nor would a young Honduran be likely to have the forceful personality needed to find their place in organizations that have no culture of volunteers or experience with managing them.
    What I've seen happen to the handful of Honduran volunteers who have tried to attach themselves to my organization is that they generally spend an inordinate amount of time just sitting in the office staring into space. Even the poor practicum students here tend to have that same experience, and those ones actually have a work plan.
    If someone needs a poster to hang on the door for Independence Day, sometimes the volunteers will get enlisted for that. The last batch was very good at twisting crepe paper in just the right way to trim a doorway. But mostly what I see are enthusiastic young people being made to feel welcome but otherwise largely ignored.
    That's a grand mistake that not only makes it impossible for volunteers to put their skills and abilities to work, but also leaves the organization feeling like there's no real benefits to having volunteers. Worse still, it fritters away all that young enthusiasm and makes people less likely to want to volunteer the next time around.
   What's the problem? My organization has no idea how to use volunteers. If there are any work plans at all, they're a haphazard mish-mosh of ideas tossed in by the employees under orders from the boss to come up with something for the volunteer to do. There is no process for establishing the skills and interests of a volunteer, or determining how they fit with an organization's needs. There are no formalized work expectations or clear lines of authority.
    Nor are there mechanisms for identifying potential volunteers, beyond the usual Honduran method of inviting somebody's family member to give it a try. So an organization that specializes in agricultural development  - and really needs someone to build vegetable gardens, dig holes in the mud and talk to campesinos in the countryside - ends up with a young volunteer whose speciality is computation and who shows up every day dressed in office-style clothes and shoes with three-inch heels.
    That's a problem that could be corrected with a work plan and a some honest talk about appropriate clothes and expectations, of course. But as noted, there IS no work plan, and Hondurans tend to be loathe to engage in any conversations that are potentially conflictual. An organization may not have even thought through how they want to use the volunteer. So everybody just muddles through unhappily, neither party getting what they want and both concluding that volunteering really doesn't work for them.
    The Cuso plan also calls for volunteers to be placed in unpaid work positions that let them develop experience for the paid workforce. Such positions give small employers a chance to test new initiatives without financial risk, or create short-term capacity  to expand their business and create more jobs. Cuso has a great program in Ghana that uses volunteer teachers for chronically hard-to-fill teaching positions in regional areas, later providing them with scholarships that the volunteers to get their formal teaching credentials. Win-win: The volunteers learn a profession; the kids get an education; the country gets more certified teachers.
    But in Honduras, an exploitive work culture with poor worker protection is standard, and any program that matches young volunteers with unpaid work in the private sector has to put those kinds of practices top of mind when developing the plan. I suspect there's also a potential PR problem when the many, many Hondurans desperate for work get wind of a plan to place unpaid volunteers in jobs that they might think should have been available to them.
     And as mentioned earlier, unless employers begin to attach value to volunteer work experience and not just paid work experience, these volunteer employees won't find it any easier to land a paid job. As the Ghana experience demonstrates, partnerships to ease labour problems through volunteer use are definitely possible, but much care must be taken not to end up with a program that looks more like it's providing slave labour for favoured companies.
    I am, of course, hoping for the best for Cuso Honduras. But we're talking about a program that is not just starting from scratch, but looking to change a culture. And we all know how hard that is.
    Take care, guys. Nothing about this transition is going to be a snap. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Where dreams come to die

Family home at Dixie
    The stink is what hits you first, a fetid blend of sewage, rot, musty laundry washed in a contaminated river, and poisonous-looking water spewing into the river from the giant factory across the road.
    Dixie, they call this place. It’s one of San Pedro Sula’s notorious bordos, the riverfront slums where an estimated 8,000 families from all over Honduras have ended up putting their dreams for a better life behind them to live as squatters in rickety shacks built out of scrounged materials. Squeezed onto a tiny strip of land between the factory and the filthy river, Dixie is one of the most impoverished of the bordos.
    The Comision de Accion Social Menonita (CASM) has been working in the bordos for a decade now, helping the makeshift communities organize themselves for better services; providing school supplies and educational support to children and teens; giving lifeskills workshops and job training to young people in hopes of getting them out of the bordos.
    Young lives have been changed by the work, says one of my CASM co-workers. But the bordos just keep getting bigger and more complicated, she adds. Gangs have now taken control, divvying up the power and even rotating supervisory positions within the various bordos. Nobody comes in and out of the bordos without the gangs knowing; boys take their first step toward gang initiation as banderos, the sentinels who report back to gang leaders if anyone new enters the territory.
Waste from the Dixie factory
    To the outside eye, a bordo looks like a place where a person hits bottom and makes a plan to get out as soon as possible, a place where you linger only for as long as it takes to find a real home – someplace where you don’t have to steal electricity from nearby streets or endure the stink of you and all your neighbours flushing toilets straight into the garbage-filled river just outside your back door. If you even have a door.
    But it turns out that there are perks to living in the makeshift communities. There are no bills to pay, no place worse than where you are to worry about falling into. Yes, bordos are where dreams come to die, populated by citizens of a struggling nation who moved to the big city looking for work only to discover that they can’t afford to pay rent. But that’s not to say that everything about them is bad.
    Without housing costs to worry about, a person can get by on the proceeds of collecting and washing plastic, tin cans and other castoffs for resale, a common job in the bordos. They can find a horse and cobble together a cart, and make a living hauling fruit and vegetables to market. A significant number of men in the bordos work as security guards – dangerous, underpaid work that no one else wants, so there’s always someone hiring.
    And over time, it seems that a sense of community develops even in the bleakest of places. In Rio Blanco, a bordo with a 25-year history, there are barber shops and beauty salons, corner stores, tortillerias and even a new private school run by a Chinese couple, albeit without any of the required state permissions. Many of the shacks have satellite dishes on the roof and big TVs inside, and motorcycles parked out front.
Hair salon in Bordo Gavion
    The community leaders in Rio Blanco now collect and distribute river water for the 800 families living there, and with the small profits that have accrued from the paid service are constructing a health centre – the first ever in a bordo. On the wall of one house we pass, someone has painted, “I will die to stay here.”
    That’s not the sentiment in Dixie, however. Named for the factory whose shadow (and contamination) dominates the neighbourhood, Dixie has a death wish. All the residents want out. CASM is working with them to plan a relocation, and hopes to win support from the owners of the factory – a snack-food manufacturing plant owned by one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the country, the Facussés in swaying the government on the idea of relocation. Another government-supported relocation is already underway in a neighbouring bordo, although in that case it’s because the land is needed for a new highway.
    But until a new day dawns, life goes on in Dixie. Children bounce past as we walk along the dusty strip of road between the factory and the shacks, showing off their new school uniforms to the CASM worker who helped their families buy them. A horse-drawn cart passes by, looking strangely out of time with the smoke stacks of the factory rising up behind it.
    As we pass by a garbage-strewn area, I ask a family working there if I can take a picture of the group sorting recyclables. The dad smiles broadly after I take the shot and show him the little image in my camera of his family hard at work. “Que bonita!” he declares. “How nice! Look at all of us together.”

Three generations of a bordo family that works in recycling