I’m back in the hotel right now, and it is late. We just returned from the dump a short while ago. I got the kids snuggled in bed, talked with Mark, and then came out onto the deck to write. I can hear the waves crashing just down the way, the air is heavy and warm, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. I want to look back on tonight, and get it all down, before any of the images escape my brain.
We piled into the vans and headed out to meet the bread guy. He brought a bunch of sweet breads and donuts to feed to the people. We drove out towards the dump, and pretty soon Ramon, our driver started to honk the horn. Honkhonk….honkhonkhonk!!! Over and over and over again he honked for the kids and families to come and get fed. Pretty soon I saw one boy, and then another, take off running in front of us, trying to beat us to the spot where their bellies could have food. Mothers with smaller children came out and started walking after us.
In the meantime, right at that moment, my son suddenly had to go to the bathroom, and bad! So bad that he was almost crying, and holding himself just trying not to have an accident. Finally I went up to the front of the van and asked Veronica if there was somewhere he could go. I didn’t have any hope that there would be a bathroom nearby, but I at least hoped she would point us to a tree or something that would be acceptable. She spoke to Ramon, and then said to me that there was a sister from their church who lived right in this area, and they might be able to let him use their bathroom. Thankfully they were there, and answered the door, and let Jacob in. There was a small courtyard where a small SUV was crammed in, safe and sound for the night. We walked through the doorway (I won’t call it a door for I can’t even remember if there was anything more than a curtain) and into a very dark enclosure. I was walking into a house that represented all that was typical of the structures I had driven past for 3 days. The front room held an old couch, and nothing else. No carpet or tile was on the floor. There were no windows, and there was no light there. The nice lady led us to a curtained off area, and thankfully turned on a light. This was the bathroom. It was a triangular shaped room, with a toilet in one corner, a shower head in another corner, and storage in the third. The walls were the same concrete blocks on the inside of the house as the outside. The toilet had no flusher, and no tank. I have no idea how they clear the liquid or solids out of it. The toilet paper was put into the garbage next to the toilet. The shower was just a shower head in the corner. There was no curtain, and I think just a small drain. There is no way for the water to be contained and I get the impression that showers are not very common, which makes sense if water is scarce. Again, I was so thankful for the lights, for I have no idea how I would have figured out what to do and where to go without them in that place. As we were leaving, I chanced a peek further into the house, but really couldn’t see that far. I got the idea though that it was more of the same…..dark, virtually windowless concrete rooms with minimal furnishings for people to live on and in.
When we came out, a ton of kids were already lined up to get food. And by food, I mean that it was one donut per kid, and one cup of juice-water. We had the 3 little kids of our group handing out the food, and I think there were over 50-60 kids that came. One thing I noticed was the lack of shoes. I know that many little boys hate wearing shoes, but some of these kids’ feet were so white from all the dust that I wonder if they ever had any shoes. I didn’t take too many pictures here, because it felt like I would have just been an obnoxious American taking pictures to show off to my friends back home. I can’t imagine that many of these people feel good about the way they live, but I didn’t need to make it worse by getting it on film. I did manage a few pictures though, for which I’m glad. After the kids got food the adults lined up for a bag of bread, which contained 3 sweet breads. There was only one bag per adult, along with a cup of juice-water. Everyone knew the drill, and it all went very smoothly. Pretty soon I didn’t know what to do, and I spied 3 girls standing off a ways. I didn’t want anyone to miss out, so I asked if they wanted any “pan” (bread) and they said they already had some. Then this one little 11 year-old starts talking to me in flawless English! I asked her where she came from and she said PV, and then California, and Oregon, and then back and forth to PV. She is the second child I’ve met who has come from America back to these parts of PV. I desperately want to ask how they adjust to the difference, but feel that there is no way I can do this. How do you ask someone if they like where they are living compared to where they came from? The girls and I had a good little chat though, and in the end I got their picture. I asked the girl who spoke English about this feeding program. I asked specifically if this is the only food that some of these kids get each day, if they don’t go to school, and she answered yes. She said that for her family, no, because they are not as poor as a lot of these people. But yes, for most of them, this is their only food.
A donut and some watery juice as your only meal? Again, wow…..
A few other kids came up for their food, and I discovered that they all wanted their picture taken. This opened up the entire rest of the night for me to take many more pictures.
From this location, where we fed over 100 people total, we went to a second location. This place was directly by the dump, probably less than 200 feet from the wall, and as we turned down the dirt road we passed the dump where we could see the piles of trash and people walking through collecting things to sell. When we came out of the vans the stench of garbage hung in the air, but it was manageable. I kept looking back at the hill with its lights and the people going to work to earn a few dollars worth for the night.
At this second location our kids again handed out food, and then started to blow some bubbles with the children. I’m not sure if the Mexican kids really got into it, but our kids had a great time blowing bubbles at them! Pretty soon I saw my son going up to two little kids sitting on the side, and began blowing bubbles directly at them. I think these kids were too young to really grasp that this could be fun, and they didn’t react much. One little boy had no clothes on at all, and just sat there without engaging any of us.
There were a few moms there with babies, and pretty soon we were “talking.” One mom had a one year old boy, I think, who was very cute. I wasn’t able to talk much with her, but did tell her that my son likes to make faces at and play with the little kids! She smiled and understood. The other mom had a 2 month old girl. Rachel ended up holding this girl for a time. When she gave her back to mom she asked for the little girl’s name. The mom said in halting English that she doesn’t have a name yet. Oh……….that just breaks my heart. As a mom myself…..I can’t imagine what one must go through for you to not be able to give your child a name. Sigh……
The third place we went was the dump itself. When our guide Veronica told us this was where we were headed, the mood turned somber in the van. Many of us had never been there before, but we had driven around it enough to know to be shocked. And yet, what we experienced was nothing compared to what it was 13 years ago when Linda started coming……
We drove in through the gate and parked the vans, and immediately noticed the large pile of trash sitting in the middle of whatever space this was. It was night, and so it was hard to determine all that was going on. There were probably 30 or so people all working in this same area. Many of them had bags tied around their waist so that they could put the things they found in it. Most had dirty clothes. The smell of rotting garbage was intense. These people are fed like this every night, so pretty quickly a line had formed. Two of our little ones (my son included) gave out bags which held 3 sweet breads. Many people thanked us, and many just walked on after getting their food. Each person or family had an area set aside where they could sort their trash, and many went to those areas to rest. Or they just sat down where they could. It didn’t matter, because they were all waiting for the next truck to arrive.
Towards the beginning I saw a man who struck me as different, and I went right up to him to say hello. The world would have told me to be afraid and to stay away. He wasn’t anything much….maybe 5’8”, 150 pounds, and looked to be in his mid 50’s, though it is hard to tell how old someone is here. His clothes were dirty and stained, and when I went to shake his hand his fingers curled in the early stages of arthritis and the calluses were so rough that his hand felt like sandpaper. Still, my heart told me that there was something special about this man, and I wanted to meet him. We said hello, and his smile was bright, along with his eyes. He said something to me that I couldn’t make out, so I asked him to repeat it. He did, and then raised one hand towards heaven. I smiled, and nodded, and think I said, “Dios.” He smiled, and nodded as well. I understood that he was saying God is good. Even with no common language, we have the same heart and Lord. I patted him on the shoulder as he walked away and said “God bless you.”
Later, that same man came through the line. I don’t know where he gets his faith, or what his story is. Maybe he just believes God to take care of his every need, when most of his need is feeding his family. Maybe he sees the power of God at work in the little things each and every day. He doesn’t need to wonder if God really cares because he KNOWS that there is a God who loves him. Regardless, there was something real and deep about his heart, and I was honored to meet him here in the dump, when he took a break from sifting through the garbage.
We continued to give out the bread and water, and I was so proud of my kids. My son, the timid one on this trip, stepped right up to hand out the bread without any fear at all. Common sense would say to stay away from these dirty, stinky men and women who you cannot talk to. But something took a hold of my son, and he bravely served the needs of those he came to serve. I am so proud of him.
It was almost time for us to leave when a garbage truck pulled in. My husband called me over to witness what was about to happen. As soon as the truck stopped, the people around us dropped whatever they were doing and ran over to it. Even those who were eating or still waiting to get food, left us to go dig through garbage. This was a “fresh” truck that had untold money stashed inside in the way of cardboard and plastic. This is where the real money is made, and before the truck was even done dumping there were probably 20 or more people digging through this pile. My husband said that these people can get six pesos, or 50 cents, per bag of cardboard or other recyclables, and that they try to get 12-15 bags a night. A bag worth 5 pesos is almost as tall as a small man, and probably is 30 gallons in size. Think of the huge black garbage bags that people use to put their leaves in, and you get the picture of how big a bag they needed to fill for 50 cents.
They work the whole night in this smelly place for only 6-8 dollars, if they are lucky.
We watched them for a while, and then piled into the vans to leave. I asked Veronica about the dump, and found out that the big hill of dirt behind us was the original place of the dump, where Linda had come all those years before. That it was here that she saw a young child fight off a buzzard for a half-eaten sandwich, and it broke her heart. Now, it is much cleaner, if you can say that. I think the garbage is sorted by the people here, and then dumped in the big pile, and then covered with dirt so it doesn’t smell so bad. Still, each of these main players in this drama had their own “place” there in the dump where they can go and rest and eat during the night, and take the things that they collected and sorted before they go to sell them. Do they live IN the dump anymore? No, but seeing the houses that they call home, it doesn’t seem like there is much of a difference.
There were a few bags of bread left so we went to one more location. At this place no adults came out, and I wondered if it was because they were all working in the dump. We had 15-20 kids show up, and we gave out all the rest of the bread that we had. All total tonight we fed over 250 meals to the people who live around the dump. And this happens with this church each and every night.
Back at the hotel we did a quick wrap-up, and found out we can go out again on Saturday and do the same thing. My first reaction was a selfish one, as I wanted to rest, but I quickly pushed that thought aside. Then my son raised his hand and said that he wanted to go. I was floored, shocked, flummoxed, and amazed. How many American boys, 6 years old, would volunteer to go back to the dusty streets, and back into the garbage, to feed kids they don’t know AND can’t talk to? Not many. My heart aches for those children, but it aches in appreciation and pride for my boy.
I think this trip is making a difference in his life.
As I sit here on my deck writing all these things, God has been giving me a show in the sky. I can see the night sky light up with huge bolts of lightning in the clouds every minute or so, and hear the big boom of the big kettle drums of heaven.
It just reminds me that He is in control, and all power and glory belong to Him.
I stand up to go in, and ask, “Okay God, send one more big one, just for me.” I wait there holding my breath, a smile playing on my lips. Before one minute has passed, a huge lightning bolt reaches down from heaven and touches the earth.
My smile gets as big as it can as I hear the thunder roll over me.
I am at peace.