Up at the crack of 10:15 am as room service was ringing my doorbell (didn't know I had a doorbell). Not yet ready to get up yet as the trek over from the US was a long and tiring one. Not only a 10.5 hour time difference, but uncomfortable, long plane rides with very little sleep, and each time I dozed off it was time for another meal. I arrived at my hotel a short journey from the Delhi airport and got settled in after 1am. I had planned to sleep in and not go to breakfast as I come prepared with peanut butter and Wasa cracker for a dose of protein in the morning.
The view from my 8th story floor at the New Delhi Crowne Plaza is limited. Delhi's air is highly polluted. Last night was also the last of the Hindu Diwali celebrations...tens of thousands of people setting off massive firecrackers to celebrate has contributed to the toxic smog that shrouds the Indian capital as air quality falls to hazardous levels. As my plane flew over I could see the firecrackers on the ground during the celebration.
Today is the first day, for a few hours I will go out shooting on my own. The driver and guide arrive at 1pm to begin the day. My guide asks "where would you like to go sightseeing, what is your plan?". Isn’t every American girl’s answer the landfill? Or is it just me? Lol. I hesitantly say the landfill...as I know that this has to be an odd request. Im probably the only female that desires to head to the landfill first thing when in a third world count We are off...10-15 minutes down the crowded street from the 5 star hotel...there it is...the trash mountain of Okhla landfill. A massive heap of trash that was said to be exhausted over 8 years ago is still active. From here you can overlook the city (limited view with the smog) of Delhi. The trash mountain rises into the sky and it is stated to be 180 feet, overlooking 10 story buildings and the city below.
We gain access and begin the walk up the dusty road the trucks take on a daily basis. This landfill operates 24 hours, 365 days a year. Supposedly 500 trucks a day come here to dump waste. For 25 years this mountain has been growing...Next year there are plans to close it and create a landscaped park or garden...will see if that comes to fruition.
As we walk the hill, Jitendra (my guide) tells me that he has never been in there...it's his first time, he usually just points out to tourists as they drive by, I'm the first person to ask to go there. Today he is in for a treat then to hang out with me! I ask him if there are people in the trash (working the trash), he said no...but I've learned from past experiences not to take "no" as the final answer. As we come to the turn in the hill...there they are...people, adults & children...in the trash. Similar sights that I have seen in Nicaragua and Kenyan landfills. Glad I didn't just say lets turn around when he said there were not people there.
I start to photograph and probably within two minutes we are getting questioned by one of the men that works for the landfill. I thought we had clearance from the men at the bottom, and my cameras are apparent as I wear them on a Thinktank belt...but back down the hill we go to find the dumpmaster to see if he will approve of my being there. Not the first time I've run into 'issues', comes with the territory I guess.
We wait a few minutes for the official dumpmaster to come around...I have to say I'm a bit nervous as I hate to be told 'no'...but I know this is not my place and to not mess around in the third world (been there done that, lessons learned). Two minutes and we get the ok. Phew! But we have to walk up that hill again...in the dust and heat of the winter here...but its ok...only takes a few minutes, but seemed longer.
I photograph a few people then we start to walk up the rest of the mountain. Two men on a moped come up behind us and get off, Im thinking 'great here we go again', but they apparently just wanted to let my guide know that there are some "naughty" dogs up there and we should have a stick just in case. Ok, great! I knew I didn't need that expensive rabies vaccine, just a stick will do ya good :).
On the way up I see one older woman, a picker, dressed in brown tones. She almost blended into the side of the trash mountain. I photographed her and asked my guide to find out her age, he said she was 60 and had always been a trash picker. What she would do is find salvageable items from the trash, fix them up and sell them on the market.
We get to the level just below the top of the mountain. The view of the city below is amazing. I'm so high above any building right now...my guide tells me to look at the one building below that is at least 10 stoies high, we are higher than that. Im thinking double or more...its hard to tell. We continue to the very top, not much to see here...no one is really up there except a sole bulldozer pushing the pile from side to side.
I did see a few things that were different than I've seen at the landfill in Nicaragua. Some people here use a large magnet on the bottom of a pole, as they sift through piles of muck they pull out small metal pieces to recycle. Also, they cut the metal zippers, buttons etc. off of clothing to recycle the metal. I would had thought they would want to get clothes to wear, but Im sure there are plenty in there on a daily basis.
I asked my guide if he knew there were children working in the trash, he said he did not. He also told me that he thought it was very interesting in the landfill as he had never seen it before. Glad I could share this experience with someone that appreciated it.
The first children I saw before we had to head back down to get another permission
This 60 year old picker works at the dumping site to collect goods she can fix to sell on the market.
The view of Delhi below from trash mountain...and this is not even the top.
These men were the ones that told us about the "naughty" dogs. they wanted a photo with me;)
Another worker wanted to pose with me. He spoke very good English, and also said he loves our President.
20 year old mother with her 4 year old son at the landfill. The child was quite scared of me. Moms face is apparently scared, I thought it was dirty when I created this image.
A 14 year old boy cuts the metal zippers and buttons off of clothing to recycle. The black specs on clothing are the flies.
Visit at a Slum
After we head out of the landfill I couldn't bear to go back to the hotel yet as it was not even 4pm. I asked if there was anything else I could see...just to photograph more people. We drove to the end of the road and there was a village of people selling their wares on the sidewalk with their homes directly behind them. A slum area. My guide said that I could only have 5 minutes as the driver could not park...I eventually convinced him to have the driver drive around so I could have at least 20 minutes...5 is definitely not enough as I do not like hit and run photography and do not want to appear that way to the people. I would rather spend some time and either verbally or visually communicate with them...anything other is just rude in my book. I've seen and been with groups that don't want to get their hands dirty and do the hit and run stuff...Just not right.
So we wandered around for a bit. One family (the home is pictured below) sold their metal goods in front of their small, sparse home. I asked to go inside and they were happy to allow me. As I entered, I could smell the odor from possibly not having sewage or proper sanitation in the home. The home had very little personal belongings. they had a wash area, but no toilet. It had kitchen items, three primitive looking beds, a broken LCD TV on the wall (probably from the landfill) and was adorned with posters of Bollywood actresses. The children followed me in as they were interested in me.
The home housed 4 adults and three children. Its hard for me to visually picture this, but I guess when you do not have much personal belongings its enough space...But only three beds so the sleeping situation has to be a bit tight.
Mom with her daughter in front of their home where they sell the metal tools that they make.
A man forges metal hooks on the StreetSide. Part of the slum area we visited in Delhi.
This woman and her friends asked me to take tea with them, its common in India to have teatime a few times a day. Unfortunately I can not risk getting sick so had to pass, which is always a hard thing to do as you do not want to insult someone.
When I was photographing the man forging metal hooks the woman on the right came up and started speaking to me in English. She was very nice but I sensed something different about her. My guide stated that she and her friend were Unicks.
As the sun was setting, the light turned beautiful...especially with the smog in the air as I'm sure it diffuses it even more. The last images of the day I made of this woman cooking on the street at the slum.