Mon, Jan 6
Today was unique and something I will never forget. Today we got a tour of the garbage dump in Guatemala City. We had yoga at 6:20am (with 8 people again!) and then prayer at 7:20pm. Breakfast today was a quiche dish, black beans, plantains, juice and bread – scrumptious!
Morning reflection in the chapel
After breakfast we boarded the bus and went to the school where we will be working the rest of the week. It is the school that serves the dump population – about 300 children!
Courtyard area of the school
The school principal welcoming us
We got a tour of 2 of the homes of the families in the community. The first one was for 2 children and 2 adults that all sleep in one bed on a bare mattress. It was a dirt floor with a corrugated tins roof and walls. It was very small with no running water and divided into 2 rooms with a bedsheet as a divider. There was no running water, but they had a big giant container of purified water provided by an organization called HopeRenewed.
Views along the route in the community
Mural on the wall supporting the organization that provides clean water.
The first house was very messy with stuff everywhere. The owner told us that when it is the rainy season the water comes up to her knees in her house. The group was able to ask her a few questions about life living in the dump community. She said they have bad times and good times. She told us that her husband worked in the dump. Then the next house we visited was a little bit larger and housed 4 children and 2 adults, again all in the same bed. It was neat to hear her talk about her dreams for her children and to hear her daughter talk about wanting to become a doctor. This woman kept a very tidy house in spite of her circumstances. I felt grossed out and disgusted walking around the neighborhood near the dump and I got tears in my eyes as we walked around. There were flies all around, stray dogs everywhere and it smelled. We saw and almost walked right over a dead cat (not road kill, just dead) in the middle of the road and people just went about their own business like this was a common occurrence.
Stray dogs were a common site
Litter of puppies along the route
We saw lots of children and people along the way who greeted us with an “hola” and a smile, but I didn’t get the feeling that they were happy – at least not like the people in San Juan – the little town we were in last year. The people in San Juan were poor, but had what they needed and seemed happy, but I get the impression that these people are just poor. I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between the two populations – I guess the most obvious is that one is a small village and one is a large city. The other is that the people of San Juan had what they needed – lived off the land and were happy and really didn’t know what they didn’t have – no wifi, internet or tv. Whereas, it seems as if the people in the city know just enough to realize how much they don’t have. They wear modern clothes, some have phones and some have tv’s and radios, etc. These are just my impressions of the comparison/contrast of the two populations. Not worse or better – just different.
Next we went to the actual garbage dump. Now that was overwhelming. We viewed it from way on top of a hill behind a cemetery. The first thing I noticed was all of the turkey vultures swarming in the sky. There were tons of them – hundreds of them and they were huge!
The swarming of the birds was overwhelming in itself
We looked on as the trucks came in and people ran after them. The people who work in the dump search to find recyclables to make money for their livelihood. The most valuable is plastic (like from water bottles) and they sell it to the recycling trucks. A good day for them is making about $3.00. The dump is also where they get their food. While we were there we saw a big plume of smoke rise up from the dump and it smelled terrible. We found out that later that it was a rather large fire from a methane explosion. The smell of the dump was not as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, it was bad, but I know it is way worse in the rainy season and in the heat of their summer. Our guide told us that many of the workers in the dump have bad skin diseases and respiratory problems from exposure to the chemicals and other awful things in the air at the dump.
Birds’ eye view (literally)
Covering the garbage that has been picked through with sand
After the dump we went to the grocery store to buy groceries for lunch for the week and then ate lunch in a park. Lunch for the week was very simple – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, cookies and a drink. After lunch we toured a market in Guatemala city. I bought some gifts and finally found the painted tortuga I was looking for! The tortuga (turtle) held special significance for me as a reminder from last year’s trip.
We had dinner – more American food – fried chicken, french fries, soup and cole slaw. While I do appreciate being fed, I really miss the Guatemalan food that was prepared for us on our trip last year. I really do miss lots of things from last year – I miss interacting with more people from the country. Last year we had our awesome Guatemalan family and 3 other staff to interact and form relationships with. I feel like we are separate from the community we are serving and not a part of it. This experience just feels really big where the other one felt smaller. I can’t help but compare the two. Maybe it comes down to the fact that I’m probably more a country person rather than a city person. It does not feel like our group is a community like last year – at least not yet, and I’m not sure why.
Well tomorrow we finallly get to work so that will be good. Mary Ann was feeling better today so that is really good.
1. What are you feeling now after your day in the dump? Any surprises?
I felt a bit like a spectator at a zoo during the tour of the homes. Now I am angry and just wonder why people anywhere have to live in those conditions. It is barely survival. It is totally random why some are born with privilege (like me) and some are not.
2. Was there a moment when in spite of the overwhelming experience of the day you saw Christ’s light?
Honestly, my first answer is not really. After thinking a bit more, however, perhaps I did at the second house when the woman talked about her children’s future and also just seeing the pride she took in keeping her house to tidy and organized in spite of her circumstances.
3. Why do you think God wants you here?
I’m not sure yet. I know I sacrificed to be here and be away from my family at a difficult time this year so I know there is a reason, but I’m not sure what it is yet. I’m open to exploring that question more…