Worries/Assets

How do people make sense of life in a context of extractive industries? Paying closer attention to the worries, concerns, and assets that people in Esmeraldas describe, our goal is to better understand how they “make sense” of life-with-oil, and how they become attuned to the regularities of contaminated places.

We focused on perception through the bodily senses of participants, the visual field, and the risks and assets that people discussed in interviews.

What are your main concerns?

Some of the biggest concerns are health (“salud”) of individuals and family; lack of or insecure access to paying jobs (“trabajo”); the state of home ownership (“casa”), in terms of securing ownership, maintaining or fixing (“arreglar”) their own house; the future of children. Often, these concerns intersect, such as in the case of “Pilar.”

“Modernity in waiting.” One of our field ethnographers wrote: “This is the house of Pilar’s mom. It has two rooms. Her mom, stepdad, Pilar and her three adolescent children live there. She cannot finish the second floor because she is undergoing chemotherapy to fight cancer.” (Field Notes February 2014)
“Modernity in waiting.” One of our field ethnographers wrote: “This is the house of Pilar’s mom. It has two rooms. Her mom, stepdad, Pilar and her three adolescent children live there. She cannot finish the second floor because she is undergoing chemotherapy to fight cancer.” (Field Notes February 2014)

 

Check out this documentary by Artikulación Esporádika conducted in the neighborhood of 50 Casas, where people speak about their will to improve, their ability to find ways to make ends meet as they use and create assets to minimize risks (e.g., “actividades” or activities/cachuelos).

What are your main assets?

In terms of assets, people focused on their will to improve (“ganas”); their talents (e.g., “cocinar bien” or being a good cook) and creativity in designing or creating sources of income (“actividades” and “cachuelos” or intermittent activities that supplement household income); and their faith, as the most important assets to help them get through difficult times. Access to a secure house and materials to expand and/or maintain a home were also listed as important assets that help people sustain a life in Esmeraldas.

"Actividades" and "cachuelos in the city center. Preparing and selling street food is one of the most commonly-cited "actividades" mentioned in interviews. In this case, roasting chontaduro (Bactris gasipaes).
“Actividades” and “cachuelos in the city center. Preparing and selling street food is one of the most commonly-cited “actividades” mentioned in interviews. In this case, roasting chontaduro (Bactris gasipaes).

 

The chontaduro comes from a species of palm native to the tropical forests of South and Central America, and believed to be the most important crops of pre-Columbian America. It is also widely consumed in northern Esmeraldas.

Check out this example of how community solidarity (“solidaridad”) became an asset for coping with concerns such as crime and insecurity in Esmeraldas.