During that first visit, children younger than six were working either independently or alongside their families to scratch morsels out of crumpled cans and cups, constantly beating off the competition of macro and micro-winged pests. Shacks made of rusty razor-edged tin, warped boards, and ripped tarps dotted the landscape of fermenting garbage mounds and craters. The children were covered in filth; it was etched into their skins and psyches. Ragged t-shirts and sweatpants were mere excuses for threads to suspend grime from gaunt bodies. Fibers were saturated with fetid sauces, drippings and smears. Little feet, often bare or inserted into dilapidated shoes or flip-flops, squished and crunched across mounds of multi-colored options and impediments. Each step could yield either treasures or treachery.

This was no place for a child. This was no life for a child.

Very few families and homeless kids live in the Guatemala City dump now. A giant landslide of refuse took dozens of lives. Eighteen bodies were never found, left to decompose within the piles they once plied. A fifty-foot wall of tumbling trash served as both executioner and embalmer. Now, rag-picker homesteads have been moved to the outskirts and curious missionaries like me have to observe from surrounding outcroppings and waste-strewn hills.