By Clyde Davis
Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series detailing Clyde Davis’ mission trip to Guatemala in the mid-1990s.
The well-worn bus carries us in a bump-and-grind pattern along the suburban streets, having picked us up on the outer edges of the suburbs. Closer and closer, packed denser and denser, as we weave our way into narrow city streets, the organic unity of the suburbs is left behind.
They had tried to prepare us for the Dump, when we were being briefed for this mission trip. They told us how that section of Guatemala City, a deserted landfill, had been covered over with dirt as the government turned it into permanent temporary housing for those who had nowhere else to go.
With more than 80,000 people crowded into a few square miles of unsanitary chaos, it would catch us off guard if we were not prepared.
This was where we would work first, passing out medications, shoes, clothing and doing carpentry for a mission church, which strove to bring food, medical care, education and hope into the lives of the people who called the Dump home.
We had been told that many of these folks came to Guatemala City from the villages in the mountains, hoping for work and a better life than subsistence farming could provide.
Instead they found themselves trapped. Many of those living in the Dump were children; many of these children were orphans.
My toolbox is a green metal ammo box, covered with accumulated memories. It rests in my lap with the familiarity of an aging housecat. Sorting through the tools it contains takes my mind off of the gradual disintegration which we are riding through.
Beside me, a woman is reading the Nurses’ Guide to Medication. An RN with years of experience, she doubtless knows this book by heart. Reviewing it must be her way of blocking out the growing despair around us — her toolbox, if you will.
Here and there, I see through the windows adobe buildings. Most of these are shops: a carpentry, a seamstress, a grocery. Far more common are shacks of plywood and tin, collected piecemeal and thrown together. Sometimes the walls and roofs are corrugated cardboard.
Patches of grass, trees, and an occasional flower or vegetable garden fight here and there for life. Mostly the warming sun beats down on dirt streets. Refuse and litter fill the gutters; open sewage runs down the edges. Most of the shacks show no sign of plumbing or electricity.
The Dump is enveloping our bus.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at email@example.com