Saturday, January 19, 2008

La Chureca.....True Confessions Of A Coke Bottle

La Chureca....hmmmm....what to say about La Chureca. La Chu-WHAT you may ask? La Chureca. It's the name of the city dump in Managua. More specifically, it's the name of the "community" of people living and working in the dump in Managua. It's also the place where I plan to spend a fair amount of my time this year. As I mentioned before, Mangau itself doesn't exactly ooze affluance. To borrow from a previous Blog entry, it's poor......really poor. Not unlike any other society though, there are certainly differing levels of affluance.....or in this case, lack thereof. In THIS struggling city, the "bottom of the barrel" would certainly be found in La Chureca. The dump itself is really quite large, and believe it or not, is located on the shores of Lake Managua (think ocean front property in Prince William Sounds....cirque 1989). There is a vast open area where the trash is dumped, and then there is an adjacent residential area where the people live. Now, when I say adjacent, I mean "pretty much IN". Anyway, the system is that.........the trucks collect the garbage from the city......the truck drivers take out anything that looks salvageable.......the truck drivers then drive to La Chureca and dump the trash wherever they find the motivation (middle of the road? On someone's residence? NO PROBLEM).........the people then start manually sifting through the trash looking for ANYTHING that can be recycled, sold, worn, reused, or eaten.......the people eat or use what they can and then sell the rest to the local "dealers" at the entrance of La Chureca (middle men).......from there, I'm not exactly sure where it goes, but the "collectors" are paid a small sum. From what I could tell, THAT is pretty much the thriving economic system within the least officially. Unofficially, the economy involves selling of drugs (mainly crack and small bottles of sniffable glue) and prostitution (yep, this is where the kids come in).

THE WORK.........To be quite honest with you, I didn't find the working conditions to be THAT horrible. I mean it's certainly difficult and filthy manual labor. But all in all, after becoming accustomed to the smell, it really didn't seem that bad (yea yea...I know....that's easy for me to say....I wasn't the one DOING it). Despite my lack of repulsion though, I did see a couple of problems. First of all, there's the smoke. Oh, did I fail to mention this before? Yea, there's a lot of smoke. And like the old adage says, where there's smoke, there's fire. In this case, the trash is burning.......ALWAYS. Some of the fire is from spontaneous combustion deep within the layers of trash. Other fires are just on the surface....on the side of the the middle of the road.....EVERYWHERE.....or as they say in this part of the world, "on all sides".Another problem is that the children are forced to work in the trash. Apparently, some of them do attend school (more on the school later) to some degree, but they also have a very strong presence in the trash.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD.........Like I said, I didn't find the working conditions to be terribly horrific. The living conditions are another story. The structures are very simple and would probably best be described as "shanty" type structures. They seem to be constructed from whatever wood or metal that happens to be lying around, and as you can imagine, the "furniture is simple". The good news is that to my surprise, most of them did have running water and electiicity from the city's grid (i.e. ONE bulb and ONE spicket). In fact, one of the ways the city has turned a blind eye to such an atrocity within its borders is by claiming the benevolence of allowing the "thievery" of its water and electricity. Anyway, it wasn't the simplicity of the conditions that I found to be so offensive. Rather, it was the filth. I mean it's one thing to follow up a hard (and dirty) day's work in the dump with a nice shower in a relatively clean living environment. It's entirely another when you continue to live IN the same filth. AND, since the trucks are consistently driving by all day, the dirt, trash, etc. (again....filth) is EVERYWHERE. And you have to keep in mind that you can't just close the window when the trucks drive by:) So without belaboring the point, I'll just say again that the home life is less than desirable.

LIFE AMONGST THE TRASH........As you can imagine, if you were to live under such harsh conditions, you might look for some type of escape. Well, this is where the drugs come in. The glue that I mentioned before seems to be the most prevalent. It's sold in small baby food jars, and I believe a jar will generally last for about three days. Apparently, in addition to providing a minor sense of euphoria, it acts as a great appetite suppressor (not a bad thing when there's no money for food). The prostitution is just another way to make a buck. Starting at an early (7 or 8), young girls can make a little extra money for the family by offering their services to the truck drivers. Again, for the folks on the giving end of this service, it all comes down to survival.

AND FINALLY.......A RAY OF SUNLIGHT..........Believe it or not, despite the prevailing darkness within the community, there is also a beauty to be found. Although the kids around there don't have large piles of leaves to jump in like I did growing up, they DO have piles of paper. Although I didn't come across any new PS3's or WII's, they seemed to take great pleasure from a myriad of simple "toys". Within the people themselves, there IS a sense of community. And as confusing as the family structures are at times, they are families nonetheless. I look forward to exploring this side of things in the coming months.
To learn more about La Chureca, check out

No comments: