In Buenos Aires at dusk, where in the houses of the bourgeoisie the lights start to come on for the return from work, the cookers begin to colour and the scent of empanadas is in the air, in the streets that tend to the quiet many people begin to work. They are the Cartoneros who painstakingly search the rubbish left behind by ‘society’ for the hope of life.
Men and women struggling to emerge from the economic crisis that hit Argentina in 2001, but with a still open wound and a melancholically proud look keep their souls and their land alive. Many were part of Argentina’s middle class, which in the aftermath of the crisis was left with no economic livelihood but a family to support.
Entire families of cartoneros
There are also children rummaging through the rubbish. Whole families roam the city streets, preferably at night, hunting for anything recyclable that becomes food, survival for them. Those luckier or handier with irons and tools have built a decent cart, perhaps lighter and able to carry more goods, others make do with supermarket trolleys, where the unruly and independent wheels make the journey through the streets of Baires more difficult.
When their cart becomes so full and heavy that it is difficult even to push it, they head for the ‘depot’, unload and perhaps for a few minutes end that lonely journey through the city and find time for a mate, a beer or a ‘banter’ between ‘colleagues’ who are also friends. Wary perhaps at first to see a ‘foreigner’ enter their world, but shortly afterwards they trusted me by giving me the honour of immersing myself in their daily life.
With the smoothness of a tango step you approach and then with the next step firmly you move away again. Try to understand and feel what these men experience every day. You see in their eyes the attachment to their land and the silent strength to stay afloat with dignity. Just as they have had to do in recycling their lives, men who recycle rubbish try to make something change and change for the better.