The Waste Pickers of Ghazipur, India

At the huge garbage dump of New Delhi in Ghazipur, about 25 kilometers outside, the poorest of the poor work as garbage collectors, “Waste Pickers”, called “Kabari” by the Indians. They look for recyclable waste, especially plastic, fabrics, wood, paper and metal. Right at the top of the over 280,000 square meter garbage dump, where the garbage trucks arrive at regular intervals wrapped in clouds of dust and bring new freight, you poke around with metal hooks for useful items and fill them into large plastic bags.

I am surrounded by a violent stench, every misstep causes my shoes to sink into the yielding, oily underground. I concentrate on where I’m stepping and at the same time try not to look too closely at what is peeking out of the garbage.

Arrived at the top of the mountain of rubbish, your gaze wanders far to the horizon over the suburbs of Delhi shrouded in gray haze. The noise of the big city is far away. The constant screeching of thousands of birds, frightened, circling above me and then settling down again, spreads a strange apocalyptic atmosphere. Even birds of prey are among them. In between, emaciated cattle chewing silently in front of them – who knows how they got here … Now and then the excited yapping of many dogs when I move too hastily. A little further on, a cow is lying on the ground – with rolled eyes, twitching its legs in agony.

That is the daily environment of the waste pickers, unimaginable for us. Men and women work here equally for a few euros a day, including many children. Little is spoken, especially not among the sexes. The children alone seem to be able to gain something playful from the whole thing. A laugh here, a shy smile there; soon curiosity prevails and they overcome their initial shyness. After all, some even have fun posing for my camera and looking at the pictures afterwards.