Their entire fortune was a pile of paper, but they have lost it

Their entire fortune was a pile of paper, but they have lost it

There are 500,000 paper collectors in this country who hit the road every day, rain or shine, pulling their handcarts to make a living. They have all had tough lives, and continue to do so.

These people have escaped war, oppression, poverty and moved to the big city, collecting waste paper on the streets to survive. These people earn 30 kuruş per one kilogram of paper. 

These are the people that city dwellers do not want to have eye contact with; when they come across them, they change direction and glance away from their ragged clothes. They are regarded as glue-sniffers or thieves.

They want cities to become “spotlessly clean” so that, when we look at the streets, we won’t see the migration, poverty and misery in this country.

We should live in guarded housing developments, socialize in shopping malls and continue to enjoy paying 10 Turkish Liras for coffee in a paper cup. We should queue to live such a life.

The culture of competition is eliminating other forms of life from the city. 

An urban person looks at the paper collector on the streets and fears, “If there are no standards, this is what happens.” It’s as if paper workers do not earn their money through honest labor but are stealing… 

As a matter of fact, society has put them in this situation. Elected governments adopted inadequate agricultural policies, farming was weakened and social peace has not been achieved. These people who are trying to eke out a living by working on the streets of the cities they have migrated to have been excluded by urban residents. 

You cannot find a single paper scavenger who has not been insulted, who has not run away from the municipal police or who has not had his cart confiscated. If there is a theft, if there are paper collectors in that area, the crime is always attributed to them. We are all a part of such a shame.  

The paper collector walks with his head down on the street. Most of them have ear plugs in their ears because they don’t want to hear. They know what is said about them and how they are regarded.

How many of us exchange greetings with a paper collector? Is there anybody who shared chocolates with a child worker? Did we ever stop by a paper depot with a box of cookies and drink tea with them? 

Society should meet with these people not as a result of conscience and pity but accepting that what they are doing is a job, from which they honestly earn a living. 

Despite everything, waste paper workers are not people to bear a grudge. Al Jazeera interviewed paper collector Mehmet Kadir Karamanlı last month. On a snowy day, Karamanlı was walking with his cart over the Galata Bridge, saying, “Today is my birthday. I hope I fill this bag.” The reporter asked him what he expects from 2016, he answered, “I will again collect paper; this is our expectation.” 

He was asked how 2015 was, he replied, “Same again. We collected paper, bottles and boxes. It was always like that. I hope 2016 will be a good year for those people who do not live like us.” These workers seem to have a conscience much above the society. Because they know poverty, they do not want anyone to live it. They know hunger because they are hungry every day. 

The interviewed paper collector was sincerely wishing a happy year for those who did not live like him but he was not aware that in a couple of weeks certain companies would be working to close this way of making a living, with the greed to earn more.

We do not know how 2016 is passing for people who do not live like him, but the New Year will apparently be much more difficult for paper collectors.