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Even living on a garbage dump is a privilege

'Koshe' is the big garbage dumping site of Addis Ababa city. It covers an estimated ten hectares of land. "Koshe" boys live on what they find in the garbage. The atmosphere of the area is dominated by smoke and bad smells. A minimum of 60 children and adolescents, hundreds of vultures, dogs, donkeys, sheep, and rats are all sniffing and scavenging at this place. The noise of the people, of the animals and of the different flies give a buzzing sound. The children look all alike with soot and ash spread all over their faces, hands and legs. Their clothes are dirty, with patches and holes, and are smeared with something oily and sticky attracting hundreds of flies.

From out of this garbage came an eleven year old boy called Beyedg, walking clumsily. Like all other children of the Koshe, his face is darkened with soot and ash, his mouth and hands greased, his trousers smeared by an assortment of dirty things. He has added shorts on top of the trouser and wears an oversized shirt. He has a bandage to cover the wound on his forehead. Beyedg is a third grade student in Abune Baslious school which is about 300 meters away from the dumping area. He is enrolled in the afternoon shift which starts at noon and lasts until 5:00 p.m. Every morning from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. he comes to the garbage dumping site and tries to find something useful to him.

Both his parents are affected by leprosy and they live by begging to support their family of ten a eleven month baby boy, a four year old girl, a thirteen year old boy who is fourth grade student, a fifteen year old girl who is a sixth grade student, a seventeen year old sister who has completed her fifth grade but, at present, a daily labourer, a girl of nineteen who is serving as a maid-servant in the vicinity and a nephew who is twenty, a daily labourer.

Beyedg lives with his family in the old Gebre Kiristos church compound. They live in a cemetery plot which is 3m x 5m . The wall of the cemetery, which is made of mud, has started falling apart and sunshine penetrates the home through the several holes on the roof. There is no kitchen or toilet for the family.

Beyedg's daily life
"Every morning, I come to the 'Koshe' in search of firewood, food and other items such as plastic bags, bottles, that could be sold. There are times when I find a number of penicillin bottles which could be sold for 0.05/two bottles, 0.25/two bottles (the smaller ones) dextrose bag for 0.10/4 bags. On a few lucky days I get 1.00 - 1.50 Birr a day. With the money, I usually buy food for my siblings who are waiting at home, and sometimes exercise books and pens. The big boys at the Koshe are so much feared and respected, they always want to have the best of the Koshe and leave the minor items for "us" the youngsters. They have several times snatched what I found. They even take the small penicillin bottles which are more valuable than the big bottles from me, so I have to leave what is big for them or try to hide it. Otherwise, they will hit me and take away what they want.

The horrible smell in the Koshe sometimes becomes intolerable with the presence of dead animals which smell very bad. When I try to minimise the smell by covering my mouth and nose with a small piece of cloth, the objection comes from the others in the form of slaps on my face, arguing that if it smells bad, why should you come here? Most of the time I cough and feel dizzy.

Sometimes I see dead creatures which I have never seen in my life and do not know what they are at all; they are deadly scaring. There are dogs, vultures and big rats which are taking the share of the left-overs. I have to compete with them too.
I have spent over two years around the Koshe. At first, it took me a long time to adjust to the Koshe world. But later on, I started serving as a messenger to the bigger ones by carrying their findings of the Koshe to their homes or hiding places; and that was how I managed to be accepted.

The garbage dumping trucks which come from the Hilton Hotel and Ethiopian Airlines are the best. They bring the best of left over food, and they come early for breakfast. I identify them by their drivers or their plate numbers. The big boys can run and climb up the truck before it reaches the dumping site, pick-up the best of it before it is disposed of. They do not allow us to jump on the truck like them; we have to wait at the dumping site. I have never tried climbing on the truck which is rolling. I am always afraid of falling down from the truck, because I have seen boys falling down and bleeding a lot.

After enduring all this, sometimes, I manage to go back home with some of the left over for my family. I feed myself first and take the rest of it to my siblings who have nothing to eat for the whole day until my parents are back from begging late in the afternoon. They also do not come always with something everyday. I go back home at 11:00 a.m. to get washed and change my dirty clothes and prepare for school. I do not want to be seen so dirty by my classmates, who do not go to the "Koshe". The teacher will also punish me if I am not neat. After class, I am always at home doing my homework, studying or playing. The next day starts again, and the same cycle of life."