Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Sometimes it is in the little things:
-Making tribal sculptures across from a man with dreads while drinking strong tea and listening to the Civil Wars, conversing with random people in Wolof. 
-Holding a hold a 3 minute conversation with a stranger man before he asks about becoming your husband. 
-Feeling like I'm walking on a very sandy beach just walking down the street to the boutique to buy my breakfast baguette from my shop owner friend (the streets in my neighborhood are made of sand).
-Sitting next to a woman on a bus with a Catholic bracelet who pays a stranger's fare because he doesn't have change and then gives up her seat to an elderly woman who climbs aboard the bus.
-Stepping into a "car rapide" and getting to sit down by the next round-a-bout.
-Taking an extra 20 minutes to walk home because I run into "friends" who work or live along certain streets.
-Sharing dinner around the bowl with around 6 of my family members, all of us reaching in with our hands, trying to avoid dropping onion sauce or fish on the person next to us.

On the 21st of April I went on a field trip with my Environment & Development class to Mbeubeuss, the Dakar city dump. Each day about 130 trucks deliver garbage of every nature (including the illegal dumping of heavy metals and untreated toxic waste) to this growing "plateau" of trash, picked through by over a thousand workers. Many of those who work in this inevitably health-risk-filled environment live in a small slum right at the base of the plateau. The shelters in which they live are literally built on and of the garbage collected nearby. The suburb that hosts Mbeubeuss is home to the majority of those who work in Dakar. An enormous health and environmental risk, the toxins in the garbage that is dumped have contaminated 50km on either side of it through the air and through the underground rivers that run just meters below the ground underneath the dump. Vegetables grown with this water pass on the toxins to people in all parts of Dakar, and respiratory diseases, cancer, and birth defects are common in Mbeubeuss' proximity. The ocean is less than 2km away-- a distance that is closing with time.

Neighborhood of Mbeubeuss workers
The stench immediately hit our senses when we stepped out of our bus, following the sights we had seen driving into the dumpsite-- the smoldering fires, the heaps of sorted and unsorted trash, people walking around with pieces of curved rebar for picking through the garbage more easily. As we watched 2 more trucks of garbage drop off their contents, people swarmed through the haze to get first dibs on the new mounds left behind. When unemployment rates are high and money can be made by selling sorted garbage, the many who work there strongly oppose the closure of Mbeubeuss, dangerous as it may be to them and their country. People need to eat. They need jobs. And yet, there was something about watching a little girl with smudges all over herself and a dirt-crusted dress play with a headless doll as she sat on garbage, next to a woman sorting garbage, next to a woman selling coffee to those who were taking breaks from sorting garbage. We were not allowed to take pictures of the people there or I would have captured that moment in more than just my mind's eye. To grow up like that! For that to be your life. And how wasteful we truly are. How little we think about what we throw away. How different it felt to step on the air-con bus after that, pull out a sandwich made from uncontaminated (possibly, insh'alla) meat, and drive away from the reality that swallows thousands of people each day. To be able to shower when I got home and wash away the black dirt and grime that was coating my skin and clothing. Not everyone can escape like that. How blessed I truly am! To wake up each morning in a clean bed, with birds singing outside instead of dump trucks, with tap water to wash off with instead of dirty water retrieved from who knows where. With clean clothes, with a family that is not ashamed of what I do during the day, with the knowledge that I will not go through life with my face covered against the fumes and my hands wrapped to prevent injury from the garbage contents. How blessed we are.

Plastics: about 14 cents/ kilo

1 comment:

  1. What a journey you are on. You inspire me and I give praise to God for how He works through you to bring His love and joy to so many you touch.