By Miguel Arias Sanchez
HAVANA TIMES — Armando is 54 years old. He is an honest, hard-working and kind man. Anyone who speaks to him for the first time won’t believe that he lived a dangerous lifestyle for several years. He used to expose his body every day to whatever life could throw at him or, as we Cubans say, he used to go about tempting the devil.
It’s known that looking for objects inside trash containers or dumpster diving is not only forbidden, but Public Health also classified it as a danger to society. Why did you used to do it?
Armando: Honestly, I never really gave it any serious thought. Some friends were doing it and they invited me one day to go with them and I went. Back then, I was unemployed; even though I’m an electrician, I wasn’t being called for any jobs as I had started drinking and people didn’t trust me. I had also been kicked out of the workshop where I was employed because I spent most of my time in a drunken state.
The first time I went dumpster diving, I discovered that it wasn’t what most of us think it is… it is dirty, yes, but it also has its benefits and you can make a little bit of money. So, I began to go with them from time to time, until I had joined the group definitively without even realizing I had and I would go systematically.
HT: What motivated you to keep going? Was there a special reason?
Armando: First of all, I don’t like to steal and you can’t live without money, so I was in a crunch. I went out of excitement in the beginning, then I found things I could sell because they were in good condition, such as clothes, shoes, electrical appliances and many other things. People throw valuable things away.
HT: Wasn’t it better to look for a job, at a state-owned or private company, where you could have made money?
Armando: The thing is I was sick, I used to drink a lot. Plus, I would have had to spend a great deal of hours in a closed space. I don’t feel good inside; dumpster diving was out on the street, I set my own timetable, I didn’t have to answer to anyone; I would make more money in one morning than I would have working eight hours at a state-run factory, for example.
HT: Weren’t you worried you would catch a virus being in contact with all kinds of garbage?
Armando: There’s always a risk, there’s no doubt about it, but I used to wear rubber gloves to rummage about dumpsters and I used a kind of fork or pointed stick to remove garbage and touch it as little as possible.
HT: What other safety precautions did you take to look after yourself?
Armando: After going around looking in different places, I would come home and take a proper shower, I would wash the clothes I was wearing and I’d wash my hands several times, that was the first thing I’d do, cleaning my nails with a toothbrush.
HT: Did you choose where you went looking or was any dumpster good enough?
Armando: Of course, I chose the areas where I could find good stuff, for example, I went to Miramar or Playa from the very beginning because that’s where people of a good financial standing are and they throw better things out.
HT: Did you ever run into problems with the police?
Armando: Yes, several times, especially in the areas I’ve just mentioned because that’s where several government higher ups live. I was taken down to the police station more than once and I was forced to sign warnings
HT: Is that why you stopped?
Armando: No, I met someone who I fell in love with and I decided to retire. I didn’t even tell her what I used to do, I was ashamed. I thought that no woman would like her husband to do that kind of work so I stopped. Even though I admit it’s nothing bad, on the contrary, people waste a lot and with people like me, objects took on a new life, they were put into active use again. You don’t just reuse soda and beer cans, you can reuse other things too, but we don’t have a recycling culture here in Cuba.
HT: And if you separate from this woman one day, would you go back to dumpster diving?
Armando: No, I’m already at an age where I wouldn’t be able to, I get very tired, I don’t feel well and I want to work in a clean place and feel clean like any other person. No, I wouldn’t ever go back. I now work as a guard at a state-run center.