Thursday, January 20, 2011

Korah and beauty in the trash dump….

First of all, let me stress again, that we are doing great.  We have a wonderful driver named, Solomon, and he takes great care of us.  He takes us everywhere we go, and it is wonderful.  We are very comfortable here in Addis Ababa, which is obviously a total God thing.  I think a city like this shocks many people from the Western world,  but Wes and I feel quite at home.

Okay, let me start with yesterday.

Yesterday, we went to the trash dump by Korah.  Apparently they have gotten a lot stricter about who they let into the trash dump, so when we went the first day (Monday), we didn’t get to go.  On Tuesday, Sumer (with Project 61) told me that a film crew with Session 7 Media was going into the trash dump on Wednesday, and that if we could make it we could go along. 

Well, we made it. 

What I am about to write, may get a little graphic, so if your stomachs get queasy, you may not want to read further.  I have struggled with how to share our experiences there, because I feel it is so important to honor the people there. I don’t want to exploit their stories and their lives, or romanticize the lives they are leading.  There is nothing romantic about this life in the trash dump.  It is what it is, and nothing more.  I am only sharing what I am about to share because I feel it is important to really know what lies beyond our four walls in the States.  I believe it is important to share the story of the beautiful people of Korah, because they are not forgotten.  They deserve to be looked in the eyes, and told that they are beautiful.  The deserve to be told that they deserve more than what the circumstances are handing them in this moment.  

When we pulled up to the trash dump, it was about 3:45pm.  The sun was getting a little lower in the sky, and fires were burning in various spots throughout the dump.  The smoke rising up into the afternoon sky, overshadowing the acres upon acres of trash, left almost an apocalyptic feel.

We were with other men who had grown up there, but are now a part of Project 61.  They are amazing.  They were very protective of us, and made sure to lead us in the right spots, so as not to fall into a hole in the midst of the trash.  I am in awe of these men.  They exude such love, and such care.  You immediately feel drawn to them because of the great love they radiate from within.

At first, the smell of the trash didn’t seem very strong.  But as we continued to walk along, the trail got more and more difficult to walk, and the smell of every dead and filthy thing, hit our nostrils. The smell mixed with the ash from the burning debris was overwhelming.  I have never seen so many bones in my life.  Dried up carcasses were strewn throughout, including the remains of dogs and goats.  I had unwisely worn my thinly canvassed TOMs this day, and they were not ideal for walking through mounds of carcasses, rotting food, and broken glass.

We eventually made it to an area where new trash was being dumped by various garbage trucks.  Since it was a holiday, there were not many people there that day.  But those that were there attacked the fresh piles of trash with diligence and expertise. 

To my right was a boy lounging on the ground, as if he were just relaxing on a pleasant sunny afternoon.  To look at him just in the position and calm he was in, you would never think he was lying in a pile of trash.  A moment later, he reached over and found half of a goat skull, with skin and meat still attached to it.  I watched him scrape the meat off with a jagged rock her found, investigating it to see if it was edible.  In the end, he threw it to the side, and continued to lounge.

Several young men sat over several yards away, smoking cigarettes, and laughing at one another….perhaps laughing at us.  It was hard not to feel like we were invading and intrusive of their space.  I didn’t want them to feel that we were gaining from their unfortunate circumstances. I didn’t want them to feel like they were some kind of tourist attraction either.  I wanted them to know how respected they were, and how much they were cared about.  Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to speak with any of them that day.  I hope to soon, though.

Over the new piles of trash, mainly women and children searched for anything of value…perhaps for recyalables they could sell, or food they eat.  In the mix of it all were dogs.  Dogs were everywhere.  They were scavenging for food themselves.  Random dog fights broke out throughout the entire half hour or so we were there.

The people here are beautiful.  Even in the midst of the filth and decay I saw beauty.  I could see what God had intended these people for, and it is much greater than this. 

It was a surreal experience.  It is hard to fathom that there is life like this.  It is hard to believe that any human being could be stuck in such a place.  Our driver, Solomon, had never been to this part of town.  I asked him how he felt about it, and he told me that he was glad to see it and to know this life existed.  He also said that the city of Korah reminded him of Kenya….I don’t know what he has seen of Kenya, but apparently shanties and huts remind him of it.  I found it odd that even an Ethiopian was surprised by what he saw in Korah, within his own country.

Our time in the trash dump has been eye-opening and life changing.  It is something we will not soon forget.
(this photo credit to Cara Dee Photography)


  1. Thank you so much for sharing, friend. I cannot imagine. I would love to hear more and to visit in person as well. Hopefully soon....

  2. Hard to imagine...thanks for writing. You are truely gifted.

  3. WOW! What a tragic way to live. God does have a plan and the plan for these people is so much greater. We can learn so much from the people that suffer and struggle. It's humbling and makes me not want to waste.

    People joke, but the people in where ever are starving. It's not a joke. It's real and we need to remember them. Even if all we can do is pray, we need to remember them.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thank-you so much for sharing... Korah has been tugging at my heart ever since learning about it... Your account and insight are so appreciated...

  5. Nina,
    Knowing your heart for this place and these beautiful people, I am so grateful that you get to spend time there.

    Love you!!

  6. This reminds me of my friend, Megan, who worked with folks in one of Bolivia's largest trash dumps. Megan gave a disposable camera to some of the young trash pickers and had them capture images that were meaningful to them. It was such a neat way to reinforce their dignity as humans and to see their world through their eyes.