Sunday, May 6, 2012


(Calgary Herald) - By Jamie Komarnicki

Haitian-born Victor Antonio Ynoa is a chief, and a trash heap is his domain.

Wearing a faded camouflage shirt and a bright Toronto Blue Jays cap, the wiry 46-year-old boss or jefe (pronounced hef-fey) of the Sosua dump surveys his realm.

There is garbage almost as far as the eye can see here, some of it in bags, but most of it spilled out in a rank kaleidoscope of clothes, food scraps and human waste. Wild dogs prowl as cattle feed placidly on the swill.

No one wants to work here in the stinking, rotting waste. But dozens have to.

In the sunshine on this Caribbean island nation, the dump workers dig, many of them bare-handed, through the piles looking for plastic bottles. If they can fill a bag, they might make a few dozen pesos. By the end of the day, they could clear at least $10.

Most of the garbage pickers fled from Haiti, a few hours away. Without visas, they have little hope of finding a proper job.

They're stateless, nameless, invisible to the outside world.

Rather than begging or stealing, scavenging at the dump earns an honest dollar, at least, Ynoa says.

"Here is the last hope for a nation to work in the Dominican Republic," the jefe declares.

"If they don't come here to work, they won't have any money to buy food to maintain their family."

At days' end, they might be able to buy just a little more food as they get a few hours help picking from WestJet workers on a humanitarian trip.

A downpour the night before mercifully washed away the worst of the smell, but the rain has left swampy sinkholes half a foot deep.

Once the shock of the surroundings wears off, Calgary sales agent Sarah Gauthier-Turner, 29, starts to adjust to the rhythm, eyes trained to the ground, watching for a flash of plastic, ears perked for the sounds of a bottle crunching underfoot.

"I feel like I never want to complain about anything ever again," she says later through tears.

Her partner at the dump is Menor. His dirty blue shirt hangs on his 19-year-old frame and his pants are tucked into boots. As he talks, he stares hard at the horizon, like he's not seeing anything at all.

"I come early and I leave late," the teenager says. "There is nothing else I can do."

A couple times a month, a truck comes to pick up the bags of bottles. A Chinese company buys the recyclables in bulk.

The garbage workers' numbers have swelled since the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake prompted an exodus over the border.

The dump's boss says it is troubling to see his realm expand.

"I am very, very sad. I am praying every day we will get out of it," Ynoa says.

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