It was a ramshackle world of corrugated tin, broken concrete, and tattered laundry. I'll not forget the piles of scrap metal, the ripped and shredded sofas, tire parts, and filthy plastic bowls I saw stacked neatly at one point. This was a store entirely stocked by junk scavenged from the city dump. Even the store's chairs, tables, walls, and roof were scavenged — made of battered tin.
Overlooking the shacks was a slap-in-your-face billboard from a local bank, advertising home loans for the wealthy. It read, "With every day that passes, your house is closer to being yours."
We passed through a "suburb" of tin shacks housing people who lived off the dump, passing yards where they sorted out saleable garbage, stacked broken glass, and pounded rusty metal barrels into cooking pots and pans. In a church there was a sandbox manger scene with two soldiers standing over a slashed and bloody campesino positioned next to the Wise Men and cows — the modern-day soldiers represented the government, while the poor people saw themselves as Christ figures, crucified for the truth.
The people had done what they could to make their slum livable. There was greenery, cute children bringing home huge jugs of water (two cents each), and lots of mud, bamboo, and corrugated tin buildings. As we approached the ridge overlooking the main dump, I started thinking that this really wasn't all that awful.
Then we entered a kind of living hell. We'd heard of the people living off garbage dumps, and now we were in for a firsthand look: huge bulldozers, circling black birds, and a literal mountain of garbage ten stories high with people picking through it. It was a vast urban fruit rind covered with human flies.
A policeman with a machine gun kept the people away from one half of the garbage mountain. That was where aid items that the government figured would cost them too much to disperse were being buried under the garbage. About thirty people gathered. Our guide said they were waiting for the guard to leave. I couldn't believe him. Then the guard left, and all thirty scavengers broke into a run and dashed into the best part of the dump. The smell was sweet and sickening.
About This Entry
You are reading "The City Built Upon a Garbage Dump", an entry posted on 14 October 2009 by Rick Steves.