The People of the Garbage Dump | Nicaragua 2014

In 2014, we went to Jinotepe, Nicaragua with our church to build a small home for a local family. These are not the best images that I have ever taken but they certainly represent one of the moments from this trip that impacted me the most.

The area that we were working in did not have trash pick-up so we had to drive outside of the city to the local garbage dump, La Chureca, to dispose of the trash. Our host briefed us prior to the trip about the homeless population that lived within the area but his warning fell on deaf ears. As a social worker, we see the worst that humanity has to offer. I felt no hesitation or fear about what I might see and yet…nothing I have ever experienced was adequate preparation for what I was about to witness.

This was a type of hopelessness that I have never encountered before.

I had limited time to document what I was seeing but as I looked around, all I could see was an endless wasteland of garbage and burning excrement. The air was thick with a black smoke that choked out all sense of light. My mind could barely process what was around me. Even now, years later, I struggle to find the right words to describe it. The loss of human dignity was overwhelming to me.

Hundreds of families live in La Chureca. Some work in the dump sorting trash from recycling; others live there, but work elsewhere in Managua. Some decades ago, city officials negotiated an agreement with the owner of the dump’s property as well as several hundred people that were squatting there: the families could continue to live in La Chureca and work sorting out recyclable materials, for which they could sell and earn income from. In return, the city would rent the land from the owner, sanction the squatter communities on private property, providing potable water to the residents.  

Community just outside of the gates of La Chureca
Homes built from the trash found within La Chureca.

As we entered the gate, our van was greeted by those that live within. They helped us empty the van with smiles on their faces and then immediately proceeded to search through the bags. Bags that were filled with food scraps, empty cans and used tissues that had been saturated in human waste.

They live off of the leftovers of those that barely have anything themselves.

A family that lives within La Chureca watches us from above the heap.
A mother plays with her son above La Chureca
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Las Fallas 2023: part 2 | La Ofrenda

There are countless things to do and see during the Las Fallas festival but “La Ofrenda” was the most immersive cultural experience we’ve ever been part of.

La Ofrenda takes place each year on the 17th of March. For two days, from 4 pm- 1 am, the entire city is an endless parade of color, music and intense emotion as the people of Valencia and surrounding regions bring offerings of flowers to the center of Old Town Valencia to pay homage to their patron saint.

During the week leading up to the Offering, a huge wooden monument is built in the center of the Placa de la Virgen, representing the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken) .

The parade begins on the 17th of March and runs along La Paz and San Vicente Streets. One by one, each representative, accompanied by marching bands and dressed in traditional costumes, parade through the city towards the plaza, to offer a gift to the Lady on behalf of their community.

The flowers are gathered up and placed into the framework “cloak” by teams of volunteers who arrange the flowers into a design (that is kept secret every year).

The processions last for two days and are incredibly emotional. We saw many of the falleras moved to tears as they finally approached the square to pay their homage.

We returned to the plaza several times each day and every time we entered the square, I would have an involuntary emotional response. All at once, you are baptized by the color and fragrance of thousands and thousands of flowers, coupled by the intensity of brass bands, random explosions, and raw emotion. It’s an overwhelming feeling and one that I will be forever grateful to have had the chance to experience.

For my fellow history dorks, check out part 1 for more detail about the Las Fallas festival.

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