I had no choice but to put my foot down and allow the green mush to ooze inside the gaps of my sandal. A strange statement to make, but wholly true. We had just finished visiting a family whilst they were working on the rubbish dump and there was no other exit. Our only option was to walk through the rubbish and hope that there wasn’t anything too disturbing underfoot. I know it could have been worse, but freshly deposited avocados seemed pretty grim at the time. Of course, my poor footwear choice was my own fault. I had not gone into work that day thinking I would be going into ‘la terminal’ never mind onto the dump.
However, my footwear and avocado covered feet are insignificant in comparison to what I saw and learned that day.
I have walked close to the entrance of the dump many times; I have smelt the stench from a safe distance, and I have seen the filth. I knew that some of the families we work with earn a living from the dump, collecting and sorting through rubbish. Yet for some reason I had not yet ventured into or should that be onto the dump. I guess I was in it and on top of it.
I was not prepared, physically, mentally or emotionally. Not only were my shoes impractical rendering me physically unprepared, but my heart and soul were also not ready for what the dump had for me.
It is not an experience I can easily describe. The stench as strong as the sight. Piles of rubbish and filth. Huge plastic tote bags full of recycling, evidence of the hours of manual labour, done by men, women and children. This should not have shocked me, after all we were there to visit one of the families we support. One of our boys had not done very well in his school exams and we needed to meet with his mother, but she works long hours and so it was easier for us to go to her.
There he was, little Jesús sat on an old, rusting upended wheelbarrow, he looked upset and perhaps embarrassed, he had probably guessed the reason for our visit. His name alone a stark reminder to us of our Saviour. We all know that this is exactly the kind of place where we would find Jesus. With the poor, the deprived, the needy, the outcast, the immoral, the lost and broken.
There are few places worse than a rubbish dump where people slave away to earn a living but try a rubbish dump located in the heart of one of the poorest and most deprived parts of Guatemala City.
Well, I saw Jesus there, in more ways than one, and my heart broke.
I love all the children we work with and try my best not to have favourites. However, I have a special place in my heart for our youth, my boys. As we stood in the middle of the dump I looked around and there in the corner I saw Dan. He was sat among the rubbish taking a break from his work and my heart broke all over again. I knew that Dan had to help his mum on the dump, I knew that sometimes he had to work until 1am, but seeing it is different. It hit my heart with as much intensity as the stench had hit my nostrils. No one, man woman but especially child, should have to live and work in these conditions.
As we stood chatting with Jesús’ mum I observed my surroundings. Men carrying massive loads of cardboard, women sifting through rubbish in search of plastic. Children playing, puppies by our feet, and then in our arms. Not a wise decision but I couldn’t resist. How could there even be life in a place like this? Yet, there is always life, always beauty, always hope.
If I decided to try and forget this place I imagine it would take a lifetime. The intensity of the smell and sight is enough to make your eyes water and turn your stomach but the stark reality of people’s lives there makes your heart weep.
Now perhaps you can see why my impractical footwear was the least of my worries and squishing my foot into freshly deposited avocado scraps is insignificant, it pales in comparison in light of what my eyes saw and my heart felt that day.