Memorializing a Week in Crisis, October 21, 2011
Two days ago mudslides severely damaged master pipes delivering potable water from processing plants (aqueducts) to the beautiful Andean city of Manizales. Almost half a million people are left without access to water. The city had redundancy in its water supplies with two separate treatment facilities but a similar calamity almost a year ago rendered one of them inoperative and the combination of bureaucratic inefficiency and plutocratic greed has served to keep it that way. Now what? Interestingly, gubernatorial, mayoral and municipal council elections are less than ten days away and one party has controlled the national presidency, the governorship, the mayoralty and the municipal councils in this region for quite a while. I wonder what its candidates are thinking. More importantly, I wonder what the somewhat conservative electorate is thinking.
The crisis is strange on a personal level; it must be, instead of action being my first reaction I sit here writing about it. I have a lot of time though; my university and all other educational institutions have closed. We have small reserves of water in my apartment building, normally enough for two days, perhaps more if we take care and no one hoards, but it’s already been two days and the supply must be just about exhausted. Most of the city’s residents are not so fortunate and have been in crisis for a while.
Despite not yet having personally run out of water it’s nerve racking wondering when the trickle will disappear. I have an active sense of crisis that has modified my normally wasteful behavior; hypocritical in that I believe myself to be environmentally conscious except where it come to personal cleanliness (long hot showers are the rule, albeit not right now, … I stink). My fist concern is for my two adult sons currently living with me (as a result of the US economic crisis) and with disposal of waste. The thought of no showers disturbs me but the thought of overflowing, malodorous toilets is what has drawn my attention. My sons are currently with a friend in a nearby town but don’t think they can stay there long. Then what?
I’m angry at the inept and corrupt politicians who dared defy Murphy and his laws, at the divinity that ignores us so, if it exists at all, and at a citizenry who always seems so oblivious to nature and to what needs to be done on a long term basis to coexist with her (kind of like way too many marriages and families sort-of-exist). Of course, much as I pride myself on being socially aware and conscientious I am too much like my fellow men in too many ways and too disinclined to actually change (unlike my friend Stephen Quinto and his lovely wife who’ve left the civilized world to found a naturalist commune in the South Pacific).
But what to do, what to actually do? I don’t think I’ll really be able to write the crisis away? The government, including the quasi-public water company (defined by me as a public utility more open to graft than normal), assure the public that tankers will be available in designated areas permitting residents to wait on long lines and transport the little water they can carry (not potable) home to boil and drink or pour down stuffed toilets. The wealthier residents are gone for which I’m grateful rather than envious, less people diminishes the extent of the crisis, and the reality is that I need my anger for the elected and appointed officials who are responsible for so much misery, but that’s not new, sadly, it’s traditional, – here and everywhere. What does it say about us as a species that we are always so tolerant of such misconduct? Perhaps the adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln concerning fooling the people needs to be modified. As I recall, it states that you can “fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Unfortunately, you don’t have to fool all of the people in “representative” democracies, just enough to carry the vote. And we seem to do a pretty good job at fooling ourselves.
So, what am I doing? Well, first of all, after worrying a lot, I’m memorializing the crisis, I want to be able to accurately remember what I’m feeling when the crisis is but a memory. That seems a strange priority. I wonder what it says about my competency as a leader?
 © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2011; all rights reserved