We stop at a house and enter the room. I feel stupid because we wear our shoes inside and we are covered in dirt and they leave their tsinelas (sandals) at the door. They bring us broken dirty chairs to sit in and I sit by the couch, my mind is numb from the situation.
They tell us the story of their lives.
They pay 3000 pesos (roughly $66.00) for a whole truckload of garbage from which they sift through for things to resell and also PASAN, leftover food they pick up and they shake free of dirt and then re-cook to eat. They scour for plastic utensils, metal, soda bottles, plastic bags, and anything edible.
The prices change depending on where the garbage comes come. If it comes from condos, the price is high. If it comes from a construction site, it’s even higher because you will find good wood and metal, which can be sold at a junk yard. The least expensive garbage is from chain fast food stores and restaurants which throw out perishable foods and unused ingredients.
We survive off the garbage, they tell us.
And they pay for the scraps.
I turn my head in disbelief.
I look into her face, the woman who is talking with us, and smile even though I don’t understand her words until they are translated after she is finished speaking. My eyes gloss her home and become fixated with the staircase. Uneven wooden blocks. The last step is incredibly steep. The stairs look like something for a tree house. Some of the climbing ladders in US children’s playgrounds are sturdier and better built than this house.
We navigate a narrow pathway and find ourselves at the base of the basura (garbage) mountain. The heat is bearing down on my skin. The smell comes in waves, my nausea as well.
An unfamiliar man begins asking if we are students. Someone explains we are from the US taking an immersion trip. He explains their community.
Many of them were displaced from the homes and placed here by the government. Now that foreign development companies want to develop the land, they are trying to move them out of their homes. Some of the families take the small amount of money they offer because they do not know what else to do and the government moves them again with promises of stable homes and better conditions. Instead, they are put in flooding areas with tents. No water, no electricity. Their promise of a better life is unfulfilled.
Not too long ago, one of the garbage mountains grew too high and collapsed from the weight. Three hundred people were buried alive in the garbage and left there to die. Many of them were husbands and fathers looking through the trash for survival. When the story broke, billions were raised and donated to the families for aid. The families have not yet seen one peso of that money. Strangely, any money that passes through the government never sees its intended destination.
The government of the Philippines, the man said, asks for assistance of other countries for arms. The government uses the language that the US military will understand: “terrorists” and foreign countries donate arms for the military to use against the civilians.
So they ask other countries for arms to use against its own people? Yes.
The military is used against the people here. The weak, the small, the helpless communities are threatened, harassed, and bullied with arms when they do not want to move, refuse the development companies, or voice their concerns over their living conditions. Their organizing for rights is considered “terrorism.”
His voice becomes louder, “I am not a terrorist!” He is nearly screaming.
Friday, July 11, 2008
This account is one of the single most heart wrenching things I have ever read. And therefore I must encourage you to read it as well. Wow... A taste: