Saturday, July 31, 2004

Cruising, purse trolls & garbage dump

Cruise ship today, gambling on the high seas. I forgot how much smoke exists in a casino. My lungs are clogged. We had a fun time…spent the $15 free tokens they gave us and won enough to keep playing for about 45 minutes. I think DH and I were the youngest people on the ship.

I took my Alpha Smart with me and managed to get some writing done on deck while DH and FIL were gambling (big spenders - $10 worth of quarters in the slots). I figured out a great way to make the Big Black Moment more dramatic and urgent for both Lucien and Ashley. Ashley must make a critical decision. Ah-ha! More conflict! I love torturing my hero and heroine, but as I once joked with a friend, I always reward them with plenty of good sex in the end.

Alpha Smarts are wonderful for travel. I fit mine into my big fish purse that looks more like a suitcase but has room for all the necessities in life, like suntan lotion and lipstick and a cell, and my address book, about 10,000 crumbled receipts, old gum wrappers, old gum, Advil, spare tube of make-up, Tiger & the Tomb bookmarks (they’re great for jotting down phone numbers if I can’t find a decent crumbled receipt to write on), and my wallet, plus all of DH’s stuff which he dumps into my purse. My purse could hold a whole flea market or smuggle an illegal alien into the country. Or two illegal aliens. Some days I think there is a troll in my purse. He likes to eat my pens because they always vanish. I collect pens. I even have an Egyptian pen.

We had to go through the metal detector at the port and then show picture ID. I hadn’t been on a day cruise in a while, certainly not since 9-11 and it’s sad because the days of going to Port Everglades and watching the parrot fish swim are over for good. It’s frightening to think about how vulnerable we are as a soceity. Metal detectors before you board cruise ships or airplanes are feeble security measures compared to the potential for damage in other areas.

I found an essay I wrote on my last trip to Jamaica on an old file on my Alpha Smart. I’m uploading it to this blog. The essay was written after I returned from a trip to a garbage dump. Sometimes, quite literally, my day job truly stinks.

June 10, 2004 - Kingston, Jamaica

I’m sitting here in my hotel room in Kingston with the bathroom door shut. The sneakers are in there, hiding like shy, errant schoolchildren. They still reek, even after acrubbing them with a wash cloth and soap like a frenzied laundry maid. They reek because we spent three hours today on the dump in Montego Bay. Most people come to Jamaica to Mo Bay to visit the beach. I visit garbage dumps.

And get stories of children eating from them.

We drove there starting at 6 a.m. Four hour drive. When we got to the dump, we waited. The smell wasn’t horrific… it’s odd to say that in my ten years of doing relief and development work, I know my garbage dumps. Thre’s the really really bad kind that gag you…and the politer, more delicate stench from better areas, such as the Mo Bay dump. I stood there in the broiling sun wearing my cap I got at my husband’s company picnic. I bet when they gave them out they didn’t expect me to be wearing it at a garbage dump. A baseball game, a day at the beach maybe. Not a dump with vultures circling overhead.

We talked to the people. Didn’t exactly get what we came for – children digging through the trash for the rice hotels throw away… found out they come after school. Change from their neat school uniforms into “play clothes” and come to the dump and get the rice and bread and meat the hotels toss out. And they eat it.

Some people would deny this. I’ve seen enough hunger, and children digging through trash cans in Jamaica, to tell them it’s true. Open your eyes and stop trying to deny what is true and real and do something about it instead of screaming out that it’s an exageration.

At first the people we talked to, a few adults and one or two children, said they never ate from the dump. But they saw we weren’t there to mock them or strip their dignity… and they went about their business.

The stench was… foul, but bearable. And the breeze helped. As a trash compactor pulled up and dumped its refuse…the men and women raked through it like looking for treasure. One man I talked with pulled out a few limes and one very round, very orange orange. He gestured to a 12 year old girl who had a knife, borrowed the knife and cut it, offering slices all around like a communal feast. Then he ate his half. He found a bottle of soda in the garbage and drank it.

And he found bottles to sell. He told me with this wide, white –toothed grin, “I got something to eat and something to drink and something to sell today.”

I thought of the enormous waste, the huge amounts of bread and food I saw tumbling out of the foul end of the truck with a wash of gray water…and part of me wanted to scream.

I saw a champagne bottle amid the garbage and all I could think of was maybe some happy couple drank that … never knowing its final destination… recycled by a person too poor to eat at an all inclusive.

We rode back to Kingston, four and a half hours, reeking of the dump. We joked about it. Made songs about it. I mean, what else can you do when you’re riding in a truck with two other people stinking like garbage? As soon as we returned to Kingston, we dashed for our respective rooms and showers. I scrubbed and scrubbed. And all the while I’m thinking of how this was one day… smelling of rotting filth in a dump where a typhoid breakout occurred not too long ago… and I have hot water and soap.

And I think the stench I cannot get out of me is inside. It’s not in my hair or clothing… but something deeper. A smell of wasting food… of tossing it out and knowing that what is one woman’s trash is another woman’s meal. I’m just as guilty as the next person.

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