A Visit to the 100th Street Dump

Erasmo Calzadilla

Sick vulture. Photo: Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 24 — To witness a city dump is a soul-stirring experience, especially if dozens of other people plus hundreds of animals are swarming all over it.

The 100th Street Dump has been the final stop for 80 percent of the solid waste produced in the capital over the past 35 years.  By chance I was going past it with a friend and — alerted by an article in the Juventude Rebelde newspaper about the existence of this focus of environmental decay and abuse — we decided to take a look at this sublime spectacle with our very own eyes.

Dust at the 100th Street Dump

As we approached the site — moving first along the sidewalk and then through the grass and brush — the panorama became impressive.  We were welcomed by a starving vulture; in fact, thousands of birds of different species are somehow able to survive and even thrive off this concentration of trash.

Working the dump.

The vulture could have gotten sick from anything, but it probably drank from the pestilent ponds and the loads of heavy metals that skirt the heap.  Experts affirm that the level of metal in the water that leaches from the dump (and that subsequently flows into the groundwater and nearby rivers) is incompatible with life.

We walked along almost lost without knowing what path to take until out of nowhere there appeared an old woman who showed us the route.  She was black but with so much dust on her (including on her face and eyelashes) she looked ashy.  We remained silent for a while and neither of us even thought about taking a picture; we didn’t even consider helping her with the sack of cans she had collected during the day.

Garbage at the 100th Street Dump.

Then, at those same gates of hell, things started to get even uglier.  Trucks went by with loads so dusty that it was impossible to see or breathe.  Fortunately neither of us is asthmatic.

In the less trafficked but more inhabited areas, several groups of women and men were rummaging through the garbage, presumably searching for objects they could sell.  I didn’t know if they worked for the government or were self-employed, but I didn’t dare ask.  Yet, the fact was that they didn’t seem like people who were suffering or were disturbed by their work.

A dump dog.

On the contrary, they were enjoying themselves the whole time, making fun of our backpacker look.  But I wondered if anyone had explained to them the risks of their peculiar occupation?  Is it that they have no other alternative left, or could it be that they’ve adapted so well to this that they’re no longer looking for anything better?

When we were about to head back we ran into a prowling skeleton of a dog that had once been a beautiful Cocker spaniel.  At that moment I didn’t know what to do for him, but his image comes to my mind every day, especially when it rains or it’s cold.

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Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

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