Strange things happen at the Cebu garbage dump in the Philippines where, in spite of difficulties, the inhabitants can almost say they’re happy with their lot in life. (By Jean-Matthieu Gautier, translated by Peter Marteinson. Originally published in French in Enfants du Mékong Magazine n°168)
At ten in the morning at Inayawan, an almost-white truck quietly takes its final turn. Behind it, lined up in twos, not a soul jumping queue, about fifty disciplined regulars form a semi-circle from which not a peep can be heard. In his rear-view mirror, the truck driver aims toward the heart of the circle, backs up, and pulls the lever that triggers the dumping mechanism. A river of detritus is vomited among the garbage-pickers who move into action carefully, methodically, almost indifferent to the work. An ordinary scene of life here which is repeated several times a day and it has been going on for years at the Inayawan dump, at Cebu.
A Mountain of Money
The refuse-pickers come from the nearby slums and certain individuals have never known any other life than this immense discharge which at least offers, in truth, quite an incomparable view of the bay of Cebu below the uncaring planes flying above. “Most of the inhabitants of Inayawan have no education, no hope for their future, but are resolved to remain near the dump no matter what,” thunders Stephane Drouillard, a volunteer with Enfants du Mekong (?) in the Philippines. “Here, they have a job. It’s tough, but they can get by and survive, at least having something to eat…. And if you compare their situation to other slums, you could almost count them as enviable.”
At this dumpsite which is both a place of life and of death, all sorts of stories see the light of day. One of the most emblematic is very likely that of the “Tycoon of Inayawan.”
“In the middle of this mess, the Tycoon of Inayawan’ chances one day upon a plastic bag full of dollars, which he has never seen and of course doesn’t understand the value…” recounts Stephane “Useless to him, the garbage boy’s fortune even proves cumbersome for him as he doesn’t know what to do with it. Put it in the bank? Exchange it with someone who has a better knowledge of money and knows far better then he what to do with it?” Naturally, it would be too simple if that was the end of it. The captain of the ‘barangay’ (a sort of neighbourhood headman) who has, at Inayawan, a status as head of a vaguely gang-like organization, gets involved, along with the police. Everyone is after our Tycoon, who, utterly shocked, finally understands his mistake.
No one ever found out the real amount of money the poor Tycoon had found. And no one will ever know where the money finally went. Some garbage pickers to conclude, with a murmur of bitter subtexts, that the captain of the barangay got a new car not long ago.
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