A grand return, but nothing has changed.
It was early in May and I was trying to edit the documentary I started last summer about people living from a landfill in the Dominican Republic. Some of you may know more about this project than others. I realized I needed more footage, the kind which I had just not been able to get the year before because of a lack of connections, and a lack of trust from the community. The year that had elapsed since I went had opened more doors, however, and I decided to go back and see what I could get.
I have been keeping up with events in the area by calling a few contacts and asking for any updates or news they had. My best source does not own a telephone, and I have to call the colmado (small neighborhood store) across the street from his house. They shout his name across the street until he comes for the phone. Apparently the government filled in the dump with dirt to abate the smoke, and they bought some new trash trucks. “They are bright green and orange,” Jose said. So some of the smoke is gone, but not much else has changed. “Are you sure?” I asked, aware of all the plans the government had told me were going into action this year. It didn’t sound right. But I wanted to document how this had effected the lives of the people.
Upon my arrival, I indeed noticed how much better the smoke was. My arms and face didn’t go black anymore when I walked through the dump. But the essential problem of the dump hasn’t been addressed: there is a lot of trash, it’s not going away, and they need a place to put it… and these people are still as poor, powerless, and disadvantaged (not to mention illiterate) as ever. The trashflow is not being tackled on the front end: for example, reducing packaging materials, or, say, consumer recycling in homes. The buzos have NO opportunities. There has been a lot of money thrown at the situation and very, very little has been done that can be accounted for. The money the sindico (mayor) has supposedly allotted for the project (75 million pesos) has produced green-and-orange trucks and one-time-dirt-fill. That’s about it. It’s a fascinating case study of politics, and also incredibly frustrating.
The situation stinks. The trash is putrid. Kids dirty with slime and black ash from head to toe still work in the dump. If the buzos find any food worth eating, they stuff their mouths straight from the ground. Poverty abounds, multiplying with every child born, misery in every nook and cranny. At a political level, the situation is also rotten. It has become a political battleground of wills, possible (definite) corruption, with the buzos lost somewhere in the middle. In fact, almost no one think about the buzos. They are nonexistent. Undocumented, illiterate, unskilled, they have no political power. They are ghosts in a system of grand corruption. Hey, guess what? I made a documentary about ghosts.
But I really enjoyed my stay there – I got to reconnect with all the different characters I had interviewed last year (Santos, Ignacio, Bedona, Diego, Ramon, Chivito, Pablo Esteben, etc…) and I also interviewed a host of more official characters such as the mayor himself (Jose Sued), the subsecretary of the environment (Ernesto Rayna), two doctors who have done health studies on the population surrounding the dump (Arsenio Estevez, Juan Rosario), two journalists (Maximo Laureano, Miguel Ponce) and more.
I feel like I really have a complete set of tools to develop the documentary now, a lot more information, and a better grasp on the situation. I also have some exceedingly juicy footage of the dump… I got right into the trash along with them.
It’s a scandal, what’s happening. I don’t have a lot of power to change any of it, but I hope I can make some waves. Now comes the editing.
Oh and a big shout out to Ernesto, who was my translator. I can speak Spanish well, but when it comes to communicating complex ideas (”What do you think of the cycle of poverty that is perpetuated by the illiteracy and lack of political will from the state?”) I need a lot of help. He really enabled the trip and made all the interviews come alive.
More soon. Photos will be up shortly.