…Coming to Kenya with the BBC’s natural history unit you’d be forgiven for assuming that I was here to spend a few weeks on safari. For sure, the BBC’s cameramen and women have had a long and fruitful relationship with Kenya’s amazing wildlife over the years, resulting in some of the most sensational wildlife sequences ever seen on TV, a particular favourite of mine being the awesome spectacle of thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara river during their yearly migration filmed for Planet Earth.
Not withstanding this age old tradition, we have indeed come here in part to film Kenya’s wildlife, we just aren’t staying in a stilted safari lodge nor whizzing around the plains in an open top four wheel drive. We’re in Mombasa, and for the last 3 days I’ve been wading through mountains of rubbish in this city’s sprawling waste dump.
On our first morning at the dump we arrived at dawn and I spent the first few minutes clambering over the twilight debris looking for a suitable high vantage point from which to shoot a panorama with the first light from the rising sun. Atop the largest pile I could see I came across this quiet scene. I shot a few frames and then climbed down.
I don’t know anything about this boy… what his name is, or how old he is. I don’t know if he has a family. The clicking of my camera didn’t wake him. Sitting here now writing this at a desk in my hotel room I wish I could tell you something about this young soul other than the fact that he is one of quite a number of youngsters who live and work at the dump, days spent sifting through Mombasa’s refuse looking for food and things to sell to middle men for recycling.
Since that first morning here, a steady stream of people have stopped their work to come and talk with us about life on their dump. Many of them just come to chat, seemingly oblivious to the notion that there is anything that the outside world can do to help them other than continuing with its culture of rampant consumerism. It’s a cruel irony, but the reality here is that this is their life and work and it provides them with an income that keeps them alive. There’s no doubt that the majority of people living here would rather be somewhere else; the sad fact however is that their farewell would inevitably herald the arrival of a replacement in no time at all. Walking around this waste land, I am reminded once more that mother nature is not prejudiced. Scavenging at a dump is an environmental niche that she invites all species to inhabit, our own included.
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