Kenya: The Pickers of Dandora

A man from the slum of Korogocho hefts his last bag of trash for the day in hopes of selling the mostly rubber scraps. He'll earn $.50 for the lot. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Predawn light creeps over the Dandora dumpsite as a lone picker begins another early day. In the distance, the neighboring slum of Korogocho's high-power crime prevention lights help illuminate the otherworldly scene. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

"Tiger" is Dandora's gatekeeper. City trucks pay his cartel to enter the site. He grew up eating the leftovers of Nairobi's airline passengers and has spent most of his life working at the site. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Every day, the unfinished salads, sandwiches, bread, yogurt cups, and waste from each plane that touches down in Nairobi are transported to the Dandora municipal dumpsite. Dozens of men fight over the scraps as soon as the truck arrives. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

They eat what they can find, then sort through the trash, placing whatever can be sold for recycling into large sacks. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

The spoils. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Men climb on seemingly every possible inch of the food truck while others wait their turn or for friends to toss them a morsel. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Rahab Ruguru, 42, a mother of six children -- between the ages of four and 17 -- moved to a small home directly bordering Dandora after the country's 2007 post-election violence forced her family from their Eldoret farm near the Western border of Kenya. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

"Working here is how I am able to feed my children," she said. "Of course it is not a usual job. Dodging pigs, used condoms, eating what I find; no it's not good for me. But it is a job and I have to persevere." Asthma makes life even harder for Ruguru. Toxic-laced smoke from small fires of burning waste spreads to every corner of the site and across the surrounding neighborhoods. As a mother, though, what bothers her most is the adult behavior that her children are forced to witness. Except for her four-year-old, all of the Rujuru family scavenges Dandora with their mother on weekends and after their classes to earn money for school fees, books, and uniforms. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Tiger directs an incoming city dump truck to an acceptable location for dumping. The pickers shout at Tiger, asking him to direct the truck to a spot that does not spill onto an area they've yet to sort through. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Most pickers seem to have a particular product they're looking for, either rubber, firewood, food scraps, milk containers, plastics, or cardboard. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Using a bent piece of rebar with a makeshift handle, the pickers -- all day up to their knees in waste -- smash and separate the piles of trash. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

On the edges of the dumpsite are those that prefer to work alone, looking for metal scraps. It usually reveals itself in areas that have been burned, so these men endure the harshest breathing conditions for the potentially larger payout from recyclable metal. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

To get from the dumpsite to the neighboring slums, pickers must cross the tar-black Nairobi River. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Community buyers purchase the pickers' day's work at nearby weigh stations, eventually selling the newly acquired share to informal drivers who are ultimately paid upon delivery by the recycling companies. None of the workers make more than $2.50 per day. Here, buyers in the slum wait for pickers to deliver bags of plastic bottles. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Trash pickers pay Tiger roughly $.12 a game to use his pool table during breaks. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

At the end of the day, women are allowed to pick through the dumpsite. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

Another day begins in Dandora, as the sun rises on birds and man alike. Image by Micah Albert. Kenya, 2012.

East Africa's most populous city, Nairobi, is a booming metropolis, regional headquarters to major international corporations like Coca-Cola and Google, and filled with upwardly mobile urban dwellers. And all the trash they produce has to go somewhere. It ends up in Dandora, the city's only municiple dumpsite, where thousands of workers -- men, women, and children -- pick through refuse daily, looking for food and recyclable scraps to sell. It's a hard, toxic life -- but it's also the only job available, and as the Nairobi city council considers closing the site and moving it across town, they fear losing even this most unwelcome resource. As David Conrad writes for Foreign Policy, "They are fully aware that Dandora is not good for their health, but a slow death is better than no life at all." Here, photographer Micah Albert takes a look at the lives of the people who make their living scouring the massive waste land.