No. Jesus Christ. No. No. No. This isn’t real. This can’t be real. But it is. It’s real. Mounds of trash have replaced the mountains in the distance. It’s all you can see. It surrounds you, envelopes you, crushes you, smothers you. “Okay” I was thinking. “There’s mountains of trash. Trash has to go somewhere…” my thought is halted because it’s not just trash. It’s people. It’s families. Mothers, fathers, teenagers, children, infants; there is a village here. There is a village in this garbage dump.
I stumble over every disgusting thing you could possibly imagine, feeling beyond thankful that I had worn Toms instead of Rainbows. Brands mean nothing here though. It’s either valuable or not. I feel ashamed to have spent $50 on these shoes. I feel even more ashamed that I have 2 other pairs of sneakers at home. I’m even uncomfortable knowing that I have a home to go to after I leave this place. I follow after my friend. I’m walking through trash. I’m walking through a pile of feathers. I’m walking through dirty diapers. I’m walking through rotting food. I’m walking through a group of pigs eating the rotting food. I see a woman climbing the nearest hill of trash. She has a bag and a long hook. My friend greets her and I do as well. The one word I know in Burmese. Mingalaba. We pass another woman, she grins at us. We climb down one of the mountains. There are more people. I see babies running barefoot and half naked playing with string and empty soap containers. My friend begins to converse with the leader, a man with crooked teeth. I take in my surroundings. A dirty pond is in front of me, a field littered with trash behind. A group of women sit to my right. A group of men sit to my left. I feel so out of place. My clothes are clean. My skin is white. I squat down next to a young mother who is kissing her baby. My throat closes as I realize we are one in the same. Someday I’ll have a child who I’ll kiss and cuddle. Someday I will do anything to provide for that baby. But, would I dig through trash?
I’m thankful for the breeze, because the smell is overpowering. There is the constant buzzing of flies. They zoom past my ear, graze my eyelashes, and land on my arms and legs. I feel like I’m in shock, unable to move, hardly able to think. Suddenly there is a commotion up the hill. People are congregating. I’m almost knocked over as the men and woman rush towards to crowd. “Time to go!” My friend Aikawn announces.
“What’s going on?” I ask, doing my best to avoid the pile of who knows what I almost stepped in.
“The garbage truck is coming. They need to get back to work.”
As we are pulling out of the dump, the garbage truck pulls in. The people wait in anticipation. Bags are open waiting to be filled.
My heart feels empty as we drive back to the office of Compasio. I feel like crying. I don’t understand how I could have seen what I just did. A verse flashes through my mind as we turn a corner; Be joyful always, but Jesus how can I be? Pray continually, oh I am. Give thanks in all circumstances, but my soul is so heavy. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. The verse replays over and over until it is replaced by another; All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. Tears form. We zoom past a Buddhist temple. I feel like shaking my fist at the dragons that guard the gate. Jesus has sent us. Jesus has told us to serve the poor and to love the unlovable. How could I but follow, even if it means walking through the garbage dump.