I’m leaving Muisne today. That’s weird. Even though I spent two months here, it felt both like an eternity and yet it feels like I got here just yesterday. But before I start reeling off more clichés, let me tell you what I really think of this place.
The people in Muisne are warm and welcoming. They give the town a strong sense of stability, the feeling that you will wake up tomorrow morning and things will be no different from the way they were the day before. There’s a British immigrant who’s lived here for 30 years, and when I asked him how the island had changed since he’d moved here, he said it hadn’t. The most popular job is still fishing. The streets still flood every time it rains. You still have to take a ferry to get there. The people still blame the municipal government for their problems.
There’s a beauty to this stability. It’s relaxing, reassuring, and simple. People are generally satisfied with their lives and don’t feel they have to change much.
But this stability is also very dangerous. People are quick to avoid responsibility for how the town has failed to build a functioning sewer system, a better potable water system, and a bridge. It’s the municipal government’s fault, the people say— they won’t do anything to create any of these three things the town so clearly desperately needs. But shifting all blame and responsibility onto the municipal government relieves Muisneños from feeling any kind of power to solve these problems and allows them to fall into unchanging routines. Not that the municipal government isn’t to blame—it surely should be doing much, much more to solve these three problems—but the locals feel completely helpless. I asked a few teenagers for one thing they would do to improve the potable water situation in Muisne yesterday, and they said, “botar al alcalde.” Get rid of the mayor.
Maybe getting rid of the mayor would change things, but if the locals don’t take responsibility for part of the problem, only then are they truly at the mercy of the municipal government.
The thing Water Ecuador does most impressively is empower the locals; the Muisne water center is in excellent hands with Heriberto Napa at the helm. We understand the problem and that the locals have to be the ones to fix it. But is there more we can be doing to empower the locals? Are there more programs that we can create and hand to locals to fix these problems? I don’t know what these would entail, but it seems like the source of Muisne’s problems is a diffusion of responsibility amongst its people.
It’s pretty remarkable how resilient these people are. No matter the magnitude of the problems in Muisne, they unfailingly respond to greetings from a foreign stranger with a wide smile and a clap on the back. I had an amazing time in Muisne; I got to know the Napa family, schooled some teenagers on how to play defense in basketball, and ate more mangoes than I ever thought I’d wanted to. Muisne isn’t without its problems, but it has a beautiful beach fresh fish, and kind people. It’s pretty difficult to describe Muisne’s dynamic in a blog, but that just means you’ll just have to come see it yourself.
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