Some days are always remembered, not because of the laughter or happiness, but because they changed your life forever. Touching poverty like never before, I had the privilege of being part of a volunteer project in the capital of Ethiopia. Words cannot describe what it was like to shake hands with a leper, to play games with AIDS infected children, or to sing songs with teenage girls who had just been freed from slavery. However, nothing touched me as deeply as the day our team went to the slums of Korah. What we saw there not only shocked me, it broke me.
â–º honorable mention 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
After playing games and singing songs with nearly two hundred Ethiopian children, a gaunt looking man offered to show us more of the surrounding slums, his home. He told us that the people of Korah are the lepers, beggars and prostitutes that flood the streets of Addis. As I walked along the unpaved roads, trying to sidestep the human feces along the way, I noticed mud homes. My heart began to break for the people of Korah, who have no running water or electricity. It would have been easiest to just stop right then, turn around, or close my eyes. Being part of an organized “tour” does not allow you this luxury, however.
Soon our guide led us to what we were told was the city’s dump, the place where all the trash of Addis is left. We saw lines of low grassy mounds covering the landfill. Slowly the putrid stench began to grow and the path we walked brought more mud and waste into my shoes with each step. But this was still the “nice” part.
Before I knew it we were over the hills and there it was. Towering in the distance like mountains of sickness and death were the heaping piles of trash. Dump trucks passed one after another to pour even more trash onto the overflowing mounds. Before it could even hit the ground people swarmed around, picking at it with machetes and sticks to find anything that could be recycled.
We walked closer, passing pools of urine, human waste and animal carcasses. At any moment I expected us to turn around and go back. We’d seen enough, I thought. However, our guide continued to lead us into the dump until finally I stood at the base of a cliff of garbage. Another truck was dumping its putrid contents just feet in front of me and flies swarmed the air. Waves of stench, stronger than anything I’d ever smelled, filled my lungs. I held my breath as long as possible, dreading the moment I’d have to inhale again. To my horror I realized we were about to climb up the cliff of garbage.
This can’t be happening, I thought. I nearly gagged. After overcoming my urge to turn back, I reached the top, only to be met with an even stronger stench that nothing could pervade.
Walking through the dumps of Korah I felt helpless like never before. In two short hours the reality of that poverty shook me to the core. I could still go back to our compound, change clothes and take a warm shower. I had the luxury of taking a bath and eating 3 meals a day, but these are things that those people can only dream of. Eventually, the stench in my clothes and hair wore off, but the memory of Korah, would never fade. I could no longer live in ignorance of their suffering. I could no longer take my life for granted.
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