Kenyan Journal: Garbage Dump Reflection

Friday, January 20th: Garbage Dump Reflection

“The more we have to lose, the more weighty becomes our decision to respond to God’s call, and the more fiercely and subtly we resist.” – Dom Helder Camara

Yesterday I filmed in Nairobi’s largest garbage dump. Three poor men, all garbage scavengers, escorted us through the massive garbage dump. Their presence smoothed the way for me to film the extremely poor as they desperately picked through the putrid waste. As I filmed I could not imagine how they endured the noxious odor which was making me nauseous. As we walked out of the dump, the three men begged us for some money, plentifully saying how hungry they were. I had a little less than a hundred bucks with me, and not much more than that back in my room at Mill Hill. I had already realized that morning that I had not taken enough PetB cash with me to cover my modest daily expenses. I gave each man a hundred Kenyan schillings…the equivalent of a little less than one dollar. They were grateful but noticeably less than pleased with that meager amount.

Of course, I could justify not being more generous. In practical terms, giving more money then I had in my pocket would have required my fishing out and opening my concealed wallet…something I was afraid to do for fear they would grab it and run away. But in all honesty, I am ashamed to admit I was more worried about my own modest needs (and the needs of the film) than with their extreme physical needs.

As we drove back to JRS headquarters, Paul (my driver and now assistant director and cameraman) and I stopped for a bottle of cold water and a snack. After the choking stench of the dump and walking around under the blazing African sun, the water tasted very delicious. Later that day when I got back to Mill Hill, I took a nice, long, hot shower, washing off the dust of the dump. I then went to the dining room and took a gold beer from the fridge and drank it in the beautiful garden as the sun slowly set. Adding to the pleasantness of the moment, a brother brought me a bowl of chips to munch upon. A little later I had a very nice meal with the brothers and other guests. The food was good…yet I could have used another portion of macaroni. I was very hungry because we never stopped for lunch. I was, in hindsight, less than pleased with the abundance of hospitality I had been given. It is stunning to realize how often enough is not enough.

The three men from the dump were slowly slipping from my consciousness and memory…their hunger unabated.

I began the day by receiving sacred bread during the Eucharistic celebration but during the day I failed to give physical food to the hungry, thereby making a mockery of my morning devotion.

Pax et bonum,



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