After returning to Mae Sot my friend Jordan and I went to visit the people who live on the city trash dump. Locals call it Trash Town. Out of all the things I’ve seen so far, this was the most gripping.
We drove up on Jordan’s Moto and found a small dirt road leading into the rubbish. This is what we saw.
Clouds of flies and stench enveloped us as we picked our way here and there to the houses. Every now and then, for a moment, a familiar aroma of what once was would waft by only to be overtaken by the pungent odor of decay. I had the sudden urge to go home and take a hot shower.
On we went. Right up to the houses to meet the people. I didn’t exactly know how to approach them. Here I was, rich and white, coming out there to… what? Gawlk? But, they were friendly, some waved and one woman invited us into her home. That meant we sat on the stoop of her one room house and, from that vantage point, with our feet dangling outside the house to be sniffed by dogs, we had the Trash Town equivalent of an afternoon tea, only without the tea. We chatted about children and family and life as best as we could. She spoke just enough English for us to have a rather confusing but friendly interchange. We were able to ascertain that her daughter was sick and had stayed home from school that day. There was some talk about her husband and where he was. Sometimes it sounded as if he was in town working, at other times it sounded as though he had died somehow. She was also living with an older woman who seemed to be her mother.
After a few minuets of what had turned into much smiling and nodding, we excused ourselves. It was time for us to go.
This whole family was at work preparing things to recycle. The dad and son were seemed happy to see us. The mother and daughter were more cautious.
At one point Jordan, who was in the lead, found himself slugging through a wet trashy bog. A woman walking by and carrying bags of recyclables stacked on her head, redirected us to the correct path through the rubbish and we followed her.
Having spent forty minutes or so at Trash Town, Jordan and I were ready to leave. Both of us had had enough of the sights and smells and I felt a bit overwhelmed.
All in all, my heart broke. I do not yet understand the complexities that surround Trash Town. Feelings among the NGO community vary from sadness to anger as some think the parents of children have other choices than to raise their children there. I still don’t know, really, but when I was there I was racking my brain for how I could help. I finally settled on what I have come to recognize as an amazing skill and gift in the world and it sets everyone ahead…the ability to speak English. By the time we left, I was ready to pack up, move there and begin teaching English on the edge of the rubbish.
On the return trip we went by the neighborhood school. We met the English teacher who greeted up warmly. He told us that if we wanted to volunteer to teach, it would be “illegal” but they would gladly have us. HIS English was the best I’ve heard from and English teacher so far.