“Now, over there,” he gestured in another direction. “That man’s nose is almost gone.”
For no more than five minutes, our car had been still as a large vehicle ahead blocked the way; out our windows, no other light-shinned faces met my gaze. My driver quietly speculated we were the only two white people within a 20-mile radius. Dozens of people moved past our car, eyeing us guardedly.
Stuck in the passenger seat, I felt like an exotic animal inside a cage. Feeling the stares of passersby, I began to feel unsafe and wanted to hide. Not since my first trip to Sierra Leone had I felt this way.
This time I had traveled to Ethiopia to perform a feasibility study. My driver was Dr. Tadesse Kassaye, North African Manager of a London-based organization Health Poverty Action; he agreed to take me personally to see the needs of those living in the Addis Ababa garbage dump.
Not a half hour from our hotel, the 30-acre landfill appeared just off the main road. No signs of any kind directed us; endless mountains of garbage just open up in the middle of what looks like a middle class housing development.
For example, the skin color of people working in one dump might indicate you were in Africa. In the Philippines and Cambodia, the Asian features of workers there would say you were not in a Honduran garbage dump. But everything else about these landfills is similar; masses of trash, fire and smoke, dogs, rats, and the stench of rotting garbage are everywhere.
With no official figures on how many people live and work this landfill in Addis Ababa, local authorities can deny that there is any humanitarian problem. But on this trip, I could see how the people there struggle for existence. In addition to vermin and toxic smoke, I saw human beings scratching for survival, scavenging through dangerous mounds of decaying food and discarded goods.