Meet Amos: the proud, home-grown scrap metal collector. He is 28, married with two children, lives and works in the dump in London, Nakuru county. He collects and sells plastics, metals, snacks and coffee, is a rubbish collector and does delivery jobs here and there. He grew up as an orphan, the eldest of 6, but lost his youngest brother to illness and another to alcoholism. Amos is wrought by hard work, his smile bearing witness to his good humour, glittering with intelligence.
Amos usually starts his day at 6AM to cook snacks. He then heads to the dump with his wife from 12 o’clock until the end of the day. His children are in school, and he hires two youngsters to help him collect rubbish from the dump. He then sells his stock at the end of the week to other wholesale buyers. He wants to expand his business by developing his resources. He collects 2kg of scrap aluminium worth 200KSH, however he is keen to add value to the aluminium by using the scrap to make pans and sell them 1500KSH each,but first he needs to acquire the necessary skills to do this. In the centre of town these are already being sold for 950KSH, and bought for 400KSH from Uganda. We will have to look for a way of making our product competitive in this market.
The dense smell of rubbish in the Hilton dump – deep, dark, and almost sweet – makes it difficult to concentrate on our interviews with partners and competitors. What we are breathing is no longer air – it’s invasive dry dust, suspended between our noses and the horizon, deposited amidst the decay and the dwellings. Shacks of wood, iron and plastic imbued by indiscriminate grime are propped up among stains of grey, yellow, brown, and a worn out shade of black. The slum dwellers live in rubbish; it lines their mouths, rests in the cracks of their skin, and, baffling, as it is, all this decay gives them a means not only to survive, but also to live. Indeed, they have the power to turn worthlessness into fortune.
Amos says the dump and the practice of scrap-metal collection “made him who he is today.” Where one would say that a large collection of discarded items is the epitome of death for any commodity, the end of the life cycle and the symbol of rejection, Amos says “it is full of life.” He tells us there are 600 people there at a time. As we walk the path leading through the site, I see young men and women working, laughing and playing, as the elders sit and chat in the shade. At no time did I feel unsafe here – everyone seems to respect each other, and respect the work they do. Pigs and piglets roll in thick petrol-looking mud, birds and donkeys roam around, and dogs and cattle eat out of the ground. The solidarity here can almost make you forget the fumes of decomposition occupying your oxygen.
Written By Hana Mori, Balloon Kenya Fellow 2014