Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Garbage Dump (AKA... hell on earth)

(Disclaimer: Let me just say that as I read back over what I have written below I realize that I can't begin to adequately describe this place.  Several times while writing this I wanted to just delete the whole post because my attempts felt so futile. How do you find words for a place that has completely broken your heart? I don't think I can...so just know that as you read there is so much more behind each word.)

Oh the stench.  I kept myself from gagging as we hiked up the steep, slippery mud trail and crested the top of the hill.  It was almost as cruel on the eyesight as it was on my sense of smell.  But, I guess that's what it was supposed to be.  I was, after all, walking through the city garbage dump in the capital city of Ethiopia.  I scanned the surroundings.  There were vultures everywhere.  Gigantic, nasty birds just waiting.

This wretched garbage dump is tied to many of the people who I got to meet a few weeks ago in Ethiopia.  It's important to understand what the dump means to the people of Korah...how their lives are connected to it.  I heard so many people talk about "the dump" as they would share about their daily lives.  I had to experience it for myself.  Here in the States, probably the only way that someone would go into a garbage dump is if they were driving a truck or bulldozer of some sort.  At first glance, it appeared that there were only bulldozers and trucks at the dump.  But then I looked closer.  What I thought were actually garbage piles were people. There are at least 11 people in the picture below that would be easy to miss at first glance. 

The people in Korah are so poor that often their only source of food is from the garbage dump.  The dump also provides them a way to earn money.  They spend all day collecting plastics and metals that they then sell so they can survive.  You can see in the picture above that a garbage truck had just arrived and dumped "fresh" garbage.  Typically, the garbage dump is covered with people scavenging, but this day was a Holiday so there weren't as many people there.  The "best" trucks to watch for are the ones from the Sheraton and Hilton Hotels as well as the one that comes from the airport.  These trucks have the leftover food that is thrown out.  Anything and everything is fair game.  The dump is frequented by people who have no other options.  I mean, really...would you even go to this god-forsaken place if you didn't have to?  The stench alone is enough to keep you away.  But all kinds of people come here trying to find ways to survive...

Teenagers scavenging for metals and plastics...

Elderly women trying to find plastics to sell to earn some money...

Men looking for food...

We had just come from a woman's house down the hill in Korah.  She was house bound because she had lost her leg.  She had stepped on something sharp in the dump while she was scavenging and didn't have the money to get her foot treated for the wound.  That foot wound infected her leg and eventually turned into gangrene.  She became very ill and had to have her leg amputated as a result.  It is maddening that such a simple thing like a cut foot ends up taking someone's leg and ultimately, their livelihood.  That would never happen here in America, yet it happens every day in Ethiopia.  My friend Abbey, who is a nurse, was with me on this trip and EVERY wound she cared for was a foot wound.  Every single one.  You can't imagine the types of plastic shoes that people walk through the dump in - they are completely unprotected.  People contract HIV by stepping on needles that have been used to treat an infected person.  People wear bloody clothes that they find in the dump from hospitals.  They walk through all sorts of feces and bacteria.  This garbage dump is so much more than a place that holds trash.  It is a place where the people who come start to believe that they are the very garbage they are there to collect. It is oppressive, dark and hopeless.  These are people without choices - because of their poverty, because others who could help have chosen not to care about their plight and because people just don't know it even exists.  We don't know this kind of life is what many people wake up to day after day after day.

Walking through this dump was like watching a nightmare unfold.  And just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, Yemamu pointed out the two small structures across the way in the garbage dump.  

The people in those structures (I can't bring myself to call it a house) were the reason why we had come to the dump in the first place.  We wanted to bring them food on New Year's Day...food that they wouldn't have to scavenge for.  They walked across the dump to greet us.

They were boys.  Some of them orphaned.  Some of them there because their family in Korah couldn't provide for them. My mama's heart started to explode at what I was seeing. The boy in the tan leather jacket lived with his father at the dump...you'll hear more about him later.  We greeted the boys and they took us down the path to their "house".  This short video clip will give you a glimpse into what it consisted of on the inside.  As I stood there filming the inside of their house (which they had welcomed me to do), the tears started sliding down my cheeks. I kept thinking about the inside of my own house.  I kept thinking about the lifestyle that my own children live.  I kept thinking that the boys standing in front of me at that trash dump were God's children. I kept thinking that this couldn't be real.  And my heart literally ached.  I wanted to scream.  It was all so wrong.  This was never how things were meant to be.  Children weren't made to live in garbage dumps.  Seeing it all was so painful.  I can't imagine how living it must be. 

But seeing is crucial for us.  We MUST choose to see.  Honestly, there is a part of me that wishes I had never walked through that garbage dump, because now I know.  And it hurts to know.  Some days it eats me up to know.  Some nights I lay my head on my pillow in my warm, comfortable bed and all I can think of is that nasty, filthy, fly-infested tarp where those boys lay their heads.  But I would do it again and again because becoming aware of other people's realities is what leads to compassion and ultimately, change.  I know not everyone can go to Ethiopia and see what I saw first hand.  But my prayer is that you will choose to see through stories and pictures, the people in this small corner of the world...  that you will come to know the boys who live in this dump not just as statistics but as precious human beings who are important and valuable. I hope that you will start to see the kind of difference that people like you and me can make for these boys and others like them.  I pray that we can shake our comfort off long enough to take a look at the situations our brothers and sisters find themselves in and be compelled to do something about it.

Proverbs 24:12 says: "Once our eyes are opened we cannot pretend we do not know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act."

My prayer is that our eyes become opened.  And that Proverb is right because I couldn't pretend I didn't know what to do if I wanted to.  I KNOW now.  And knowing other people's pain and situations is actually a gift, because along with the pain of knowing, there is great joy in being part of the solution...in embracing what we see and throwing our arms wide around it - dirt and pain and all.  Transformation happens and let me tell you, it is pure joy to be a part of.  Wait til you hear what happened next for these boys...it's a story I can't wait to tell. :)


  1. Thank you for sharing and for giving these people a voice. My husband and I went to Korah back in March, and we will never be the same. Can't wait to hear the rest of your story! =)

  2. Ecc 1:18
    With much wisdom comes much disappointment;
    the person who gains more knowledge also gains more sorrow.

    Because we know...

  3. Using your blog posts on this in our homeschool Bible time. Love you, girl! <3

  4. My name is Deanna, and my family and I worked in Korah for 2 years, as I was scrolling through Google pictures your picture of the boys came up... And 2 of those boys happen to now be in our sponsorship program... If you would like an update on them or hear about our program please feel free to contact me at wade.deanna2013@gmail.com