Just Another White Trash Family Tradition


In the city where my husband grew up, once a year the city offers its services for a week of free trash collection to encourage people to clean out their garages and safely dispose of hazardous things like batteries and fluorescent light bulbs and old motor oil.  But most residents use this week as a chance to dump unwanted junk on the curb and let the city deal with it.  I myself am not opposed to a little curbside browsing during that week.  I have collected several pieces of furniture with loose joints that were easily repaired with wood glue which had been abandoned to the dump.  I consider it my contribution to “Green” to reuse and repurpose other people’s junk. I also love a good garage sale (thought I haven’t actually GONE to one in years since they aren’t so common here in Latin America.)  Though I am not opposed to a little “dumpster diving” when I see something I could use, my husband’s sisters, on the other hand, take dumpster diving to a whole new Entrepreneurial level.  During the week of Clean Out the Garage, my sisters-in-law become vultures.  At night, they cruise around the neighborhood in their pick up truck with flashlights in hand and they collect junk.  TONS OF JUNK.  Then the following week they hold a massive garage sale and SELL THE JUNK BACK TO THEIR NEIGHBORS!

It horrifies me every year.  It reads like an episode of the iconic white trash TV drama “My Name is Earl”. I can’t imagine looking my neighbors in the eye as I haggle over $5 for the lamp they threw out last week.  But they DO it!  And they make a KILLING every year!  (For me, though, no amount of money can buy my dignity.)  With this family tradition fixed firmly in my psyche, when we moved to Latin America I would habitually find myself browsing curb-side garbage piles with my eyes.  But I can tell you with confidence that the only thing I have ever picked out of the trash in 6 years living in Latin America is a sickly Ficus plant that someone had dumped out of its pot and onto a garbage heap.  I did indeed save that little tree, and it is doing wonderfully in my yard this year.  But aside from that I have never, EVER seen anything worthwhile in the trash here.  I can safely say, if it’s in the trash… it really is trash.

scene from the movie Slumdog Millionaire

This is why I think it is so shocking to think of families living in the dump.  Here in San Jose, no one lives IN the dump, just around it.  But in Mexico City, people DO live in the dump.  So here’s how our trash was filtered in Mexico:  I put the trash out twice a week.  And twice a week the mafia run garbage collection company would come around with a huge dump truck.  Two guys would be walking along the street, and four guys would be up on top of the trash heap in the back of the truck.  The street walking guys would throw the bags up to the top guys who would rip the bags open right on the spot.  They would take out anything they wanted, and separate the trash right there in the truck.  Then at the dump, the people who lived there would further sort through the trash looking for anything of value to them.  What a hard way to live.

It is thoughts of those families living in the dump that cause me to give careful thought to the things that I call “trash”.  Life outside of the USA is so very different, shockingly different, that I know it’s hard to find a comparison to help you see.  (Try watching the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and tell yourself that people really DO live like this, it’s not just a movie.)  We don’t all need to make a buck selling our neighbor’s junk to our other neighbors, but we should all think carefully before we casually throw away things that aren’t really garbage.  And if we are believers in the Lord Jesus, we should be praying for the people who accept our trash as their treasure.


About amamiot

My family and I are missionaries in Costa Rica. Before that we lived in Mexico and before that we came from Minnesota. I am a teacher, an artist, a "journaler", a quilter, a cooker, a baker, a hostess, a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I like reading and watching movies (ehem, and quoting movie lines). I would love to be in a Jane Austin movie but I don't know how to ballroom dance or play Whist.

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