We will be leaving Maasin today, driving back to Tacloben and then flying to Manila. This morning we will revisit the dumpsite. The people were embarrassed and afraid yesterday and would not come out of the shanties. I tell Pascal that I really want to get inside one of the shanties and speak with a resident.
We drive up to the dump about 8:00am. There is a large iron gate across the entrance. It is locked with a thick chain. We can see people moving about inside and they recognize Paschal’s truck so they start coming out to greet him. Paschal must be one of their only friends in the world. These people are the outcasts of society. They are like the lepers of the Bible. “Unclean, unclean…do not come near!”
Pascal and JoJo, Pascal’s employee, get out first and start speaking with the people. They gather in front of the vehicle. In a few minutes, Jerry and I get out and start taking pictures. They will not shrink back into their shanties this time. We see babies with their mothers, school age children, teenagers and adults. We walk though the access door in the gate and slowly start making our way toward the shanties. The dump smells even worse today. I get to the first shanty. This is where Melissa, the girl in the hospital and her family live. JoJo is my interpreter today and asks the grandfather if I can come in and see his home. He agrees. I am very respectful. This is a great privilege. Even when you are poor and living in a dump, you will still be embarrassed about having visitors in your home. I notice they take their shoes off at the door.
I tell JoJo to tell the man that, “I am from America and would like to show Americans his home so they send more Manna Pack Rice.” We enter into the darkened shanty. It is approximately 10 feet deep and 16 feet wide and is two stories high and constructed of primarily bamboo and materials from the dump. I notice the floor right away. It is very lumpy and uneven. I realize that the floor is made up of fist-sized stones, with some of it protruding. I wonder why he hadn’t removed all these rocks. It was probably the only material he could find to make a floor into the side of a hill. When it rains at least they are not walking in mud and water. The floor is tricky to walk on and I am careful not to twist an ankle. I use my GoPro camera inside and slowly move it around to capture the scene. The man and his daughter are in the shanty. I turn to JoJo and say “Ask the man, how long has he lived here?” The reply comes, “eight years.” “Ask him if the house was here or if he built it himself?” The man responds with that he built it himself. There are bed sheets separating two other rooms. I ask if I can go into the kitchen. He agrees. The floor is especially uneven here and slopes downward. I stumble on the stones again. The shanty is on stilts in the front, but is built into the hill in the back. The kitchen is cheerful and depressing at the same time. There is a bench and built in table on my right. A small covered pot is sitting on top of a small fire. The walls are covered with posters obviously gotten from the dump.
When I come back out of the kitchen, some of the children have come into the house from outside. I ask him, “Do you eat food found in the dump?” He says “Sometimes.” I ask how many people live here. The man adds it up on his fingers and says “eight.” I ask to see behind the sheet of the other room. It is the bedroom and about 6’x6’. There are some blankets on the floor and no room for anything else. I ask him how many people sleep in the room. He says “three.” I ask where the others sleep and he says upstairs. I am surprised at the answer and look up and see that there is another chamber above, but no stairs to get there. There is an opening for my GoPro camera to peer inside. The man and his daughter smile and are amused when they see me put my camera through the opening. There is a case of Manna Pack on the chair in the entryway. It was left here yesterday for distribution today. From my estimation it looks as if there are about 15 shanty families here. Pascal says that he is feeding 17 children. In reality he is probably feeding the whole village. Hunger respects no age group.
I am preparing to leave the shanty. Through JoJo, the interpreter I thank the man and tell him this will help Americans send more food. He smiles and nods. I look down at the children with an ache in my heart. They have no clue to the lot in life they have received. I look out the crooked shanty door to the sea of garbage. I morn for these people living on the edge of hell with no escape.