The sun had already risen over the hills when the vehicular-turned-foot-inclined trek alongside the truck jam began. This, in accompaniment of three community police officers. Their purpose: to learn and understand the life/culture that exists beyond a particular gate. This was a visit to the Beetham Landfill Site, off the Beetham Highway westbound, on September 14 and 16.
The scenery: immensely unique, concerning and interesting—a state of affairs not for the faint of heart, but why care about visual appeal and stench; everyone else looked comfortable, was jovial but piercing.
The greeting came by way of garbage, armies of corbeaux, an array of disorganised, peculiar, teeny-weeny huts and a handsome volume of people of mixed genders and ages, professionally termed waste pickers, blended in with the canvas of municipal waste, intensely and untiringly rummaging the tipping area as the D8 Compactor and tractors worked in between.
The objective of acquiring the correct education would see the first narrator being an 18-year-old bachelor who proudly relays, that: “Every day is a hustle. My school always closing and was teaching nothing, so I end up in a (name) youth camp. Every day was robberies, so I leave and start to make a life in here, but I like carpentry, and really want to be a police.”
He claims to be preparing to do CSEC POB and Social Studies next year, and thinks it’s better to be on the site working than getting into trouble.
Then came happy-go-lucky, 22-year-old Anthony Blackman, who had no reservations to share his name. Blackman started this job at age 14 coming from a place of hopelessness. “When I first started, I used to get real licks from my family when I came over, but I know when I work I will get paid so I could get something to eat. Monday to Saturday, I will reach here 7 am and leave 6 pm, so now I handling myself.”
Whether legal or not, healthy or unhealthy, the relevant authorities will determine, but there is thriving business abound, if only could be better streamlined to sweeten the fruit.
Besides official personnel, additional site-populace narrators— who playfully announced that their immune system can withstand any virus—were decades-long residents, employers and employees, the entrepreneurs, restaurateur; transporters; guides; and a shy 53-year-old female picker, Amoy.
Preferring to die with her dignity and filling her cupboards and others’ that are always bear and scanty, she emotionally yet shyly asserts: “I come here after my CEPEP hours. I am 53 years old, and I doing this since I was 12.”
A sad story she says, “long story short, I had to run away from my father. When people out there say all kinds of horrible things about us, they don’t know what we either went through or are going through, and I not only doing this to put food on my table, but I take back things to some families in my community who in need.”
While all children should ideally go to school and learn, many experience first-hand how poverty is hell but, with dented pride, they soldier on.
It is said that pressure makes diamonds out of rock. In jail, two men will be looking through the same bars, one will see mud while the other sees stars. As these risk-takers keep their sight on the sites and make a living from them, they continue to pray to win the Lotto as they genuinely want to utilise their talents in better spaces. Has our education system taught about our landfills?