The man giving us information got on the bus because his office is too small. He told us that 900 people live in the dump. It’s 160 acres of garbage collected from all of Managua. A total of 2,000 people work there, and by work I mean sift through the trash and organize it to sell to plastic, metal, and other companies. He told us that a health clinic is in the dump… IN the dump. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a health clinic? There is also an elementary school IN the dump.
The road leading into the entrance was lined with garbage. I probably would have thought we were already in the dump if he hadn’t told us. There were men piling entire trucks full of pieces of computers. I wondered if any of them have ever even used a computer before. We have six in my house.
Entering the dump with us were garbage trucks full of “new” garbage to drop off. I sat on our pretty white bus with air conditioning looking out of tinted windows at the piles of trash everywhere. There were at least 20 cows “grazing” on mounds of filth. Hundreds of emaciated dogs filled the streets… some laying on the ground, probably breathing their last few breaths. There was a pile of trash on fire, which the man told us helps destroy the paper waste products so that the “valuable” things are more easily retrievable. We passed by a small lake, in which he told us hold highly contaminated water, poisonous to any human or animal that consumes it. We kept driving.
Small children in nothing but underwear were playing in the dirt paths. That’s when I saw him. A young boy, probably around 10 or 12, climbed the ladder on the back of the bus and stared through the back window. There were holes in his oversized red t-shirt and green shorts. I looked at his face. There was a sore the size of my thumb on his lower right cheek. I thought of how the man told us that the most prevalent disease within the dump is AIDS. The boy climbed to the rood and sat with his feet resting on a rung of the ladder. His dusty feet had cracks, probably deeper than one centimeter, lining his skin. We kept driving.
The boy was still on the roof as we were driving. The man said he’s a glue sniffer and looked pretty drugged up… I just thought he looked sad. We turned around to head back and I saw a boy in his underwear sitting in a mop bucket, pretending it was a toy car. I used to have a toy car that I sat in. We began retracing our route through the dump, passing by hundreds of people sifting through garbage. When we passed the contaminated lake, I saw 3 children swimming in it. We kept driving.
The man told us that the slaughter house in the area also uses this dump to get rid of all the cow parts that aren’t used. He said that every time they come and dump, the smell is enough to give you a headache for a week. He also told us that people sift through the bloody waste to collect the bones to sell. Medical waste is also dumped here. We kept driving.
The boy was back on the ladder now, peering through the back window into the bus. I saw him staring into Natalie’s eyes. I saw her write “hola” on a piece of paper and show it to him—he smiled. He pointed at the sore on his face. They stared at each other for awhile. He looked at me, into my eyes for what seemed like days. I couldn’t look away. It’s as if I tried with all I had to speak with him through my eyes. I felt for a second the pain in his heart. It became the pain in mine. He stayed on the ladder of the bus—the bus with tinted windows and a safe interior, so that nothing can get in or out. The very real barrier between “us” and “them.” Even as we were driving towards the exit, the boy stayed on the bus. He stayed on the bus as we left the dump, drove through the streets, and parked back at the man’s office. The man told us that this wasn’t normally like these kids—they don’t leave the dump because the people on the streets around the dump do not like the people who live in it. It’s really dangerous for them to ever leave the dump. Hiro, our bus driver, asked the boy if he was afraid to go back…he said yes, he’d have to wait for another ride. He was standing right outside my window. I put my face to the glass and my hand up to the window. Maybe I was trying to send him some sort of hope. Even though I was in the bus and he was outside, I felt like he was the one in a cage. Left to be looked at by visitors, to be pitied, left to die. He left the side of the bus and went to sit on the street. We drove away.
Will he make it back okay? Will he get killed on his walk back to the dump? Was that sore on his face from AIDS? How long does he have to live? Does he have parents? A sister? Is he a good brother? Is he angry? Or has he never known anything else?
I have always been the one to say that people are good- they just get caught up in bad things. Seeing what I saw today, I can’t help but question my faith in the human race. How can we treat each other this way? How do we sit back while others are suffering? What are we doing to this earth? Is it too late?