The burning Gehenna


With Aicha

Once upon a time, ancient kings sacrificed their children to please the gods. This ritual took place in Gehenna valley in Jerusalem. Later on this valley became a huge dumpsite where the fires burned day and night, all year long. At this dumpsite people threw their trashes, but it was also here where self-dead animals and executed prisoners were thrown. The stench was overwhelming and the smoke affected everyone that came near the place. Gehenna was a place where the corpse maggots never go without food. Everyone knew about Gehenna, how awful this place was. They felt it to be an evil place, a picture of Hell. When the prophet Jesus spoke about Hell he gave the listeners a narrative – Gehenna, just because everyone knew about it and could picture it in their minds. Prophet Jesus was a great educator, and he knew that it was easier for ignorant people to understand metaphors to get the message.

There was no use of keeping the conversation on a high level because then the people wouldn’t have understood and they would have rejected it. For Prophet Jesus it was important to make his followers understand the seriousness of breaking God’s will. His message was new for them, and he was questioned a lot. By speaking in a way people understood, and giving them narratives they could relate to, he made his listeners to begin to reflect. Gehenna was a familiar place for the people at the time when the prophet Jesus lived, but for people from other parts of the world and also from other times it is and was different. We were made to believe that Gehenna was some supernatural place, deep down under the ground, where the fire was always burning.


We were made to believe that sinners were thrown into that fire to burn alive. I didn’t reflect much on this Gehenna, or Hell if you prefer to call it that, until some years ago when I heard about its rightful history. I felt fooled, betrayed even by the priests and pastors of my youth. Imagine how many people they managed to scare, how many kids who dreamt nightmares and how many dying people were laying on their deathbeds terrified of not being allowed into heaven.

God is love, He is our Creator, so for what reason should He punish humanity in the beastly ways preachers of all times have made us fear? The reason for why Sweden is nowadays secular is mainly political. When the social democratic movement began to grow at the beginning of 1900, people were fed up with the power the church had over them. Priests had huge power over people’s lives; they controlled everyone and everything. Through the political movement, people grew stronger and independent and questioned all oppressors and the church was one of them. The priests wanted to remain in power as the benefits that came with it felt too good to lose. A misuse of power by making people afraid of God was a way to stay in power. Talking about punishment, the devil that tortured the sinners forever was a way to control people, make them not to question the power – either it was used by the king, the priests or someone else high and mighty.

Things slowly changed when education reform was established in 1842. It mandated that every child in Sweden has the right to go to school. It took some years before this was implemented all over the country but after about five years, we had schools more or less everywhere. Education is the foundation for development in a society, that is a fact no matter where you look in the world. Slowly education, even if it was poorly at the beginning, began to change people’s minds. They began to do what the rulers of the society had feared so much – to question those who were in power. They questioned the priests and pastors who tried to control people by making them afraid of the devil. They questioned rich businessmen who oppressed the workers. Farm workers questioned rich landowners who forced their workers to endure long and hard work for a little pay. People starved, they were oppressed, they were afraid and they hated it.

This is how the Social Democratic Party became stronger. People got together because they knew that together they were strong. Other movements began to grow; women’s liberation, unions for sobriety as alcoholism was a huge problem. A lot of people had fled the country and moved to America to get a better life where they were free to express their religion and their opinions. Those who remained in Sweden tried to create a better life as not all could leave. As people had been so oppressed by the church, it was natural that they turned their backs on it. Religion began to be private, even questioned by some as they thought it was the ”opium for the people”. Knowing this background, it is easier to understand why our society is the way it is. We are coloured by our beliefs that all of us have the freedom to express our opinions as well as our religion, and no one has the right to influence someone to change their values.

Our society has kept on developing, in a hundred years a lot has changed. From a country where most people lived in the countryside, we even had small farms inside or very near the cities. From poverty and oppression our country is now modern, has a good education system, health care that is paid by our taxes so no one has to suffer or even die because they can’t pay their hospital bills. We have good houses, safe and well maintained roads and almost no corruption. We try to care for our environment as well as we can. The trashes we throw go to highly technical dumpsites where they are incinerated. The energy that is generated by burning the trash is used for energy. We don’t burn it directly on the ground, it is burnt in high tech ovens where the smoke is cleaned before it is allowed to get out in the air. At the dumpsites, trash gets sorted; paint, chemicals, broken lamp bulbs, old batteries is sorted in different containers and taken care of. Scraps of wood, building materials, old newspapers, broken glass and old clothes are also sorted. We have staff at the dumpsites and they check that people who are lazy don’t throw things where they are not supposed to be.

It is possible to see the smoke coming from the chimneys at our dumpsites, but you can’t smell it as the air is so clean.
This leads me to a hellhole called the Bakoteh dumpsite. Anyone who hasn’t heard of it? No, thought so. If you don’t live nearby, at least you have heard about the place and especially recently as there has been a fire there. It wasn’t only a small innocent fire that could have been put out in an instant. No, it was a large fire with enormously lot of smoke that has yet again caused a lot of suffering for those living nearby, but also for those who have to pass the place. The SOS Children’s Village is on the other side of the street, together with schools filled with vulnerable children who inhale the toxic smoke. A lot of residents live near and there is no possibility for them to avoid the smoke. Being a curious person, as teachers often are, I wanted to find out more about what this kind of smoke contains. You see, I always base my articles on facts, I spice up the mixture with my opinions of course, but when it comes to something you can find on Google – rest assured that I have googled it first.

The source for my information is a report written by Räddningsverket. That is the authority that is responsible for the fire fighters here. They are also responsible for giving information to the public about fire prevention and what kind of damage smoke can cause. I will share the information with you, so you can see what damages the fire at the Bakoteh dumpsite gives you. It is not a nice reading, so brace yourself.

Polyurethane, which is what we call foam rubber and is used in soft furniture makes a thick black smoke. This smoke contains hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide. Hydrogen cyanide is highly toxic, carbon monoxide is a gas that has no smell or colour. As exposure of this gas doesn’t give you any warning, you will easily become highly affected. This leads to unconsciousness and even death.
Dioxines carried by soot can give you blisters in the mouth and face, diarrhoea, blood in the stool and vomiting. A lot of the substances in the smoke have through scientific experiments on animals shown to give tumours and cancer.
Exposure to this kind of smoke has, as similar experiments on animals have shown, resulted in disordered reproduction.
Human foetus is very sensitive to extraneous chemicals, which can cause, for example, heart conditions.

Carbon dioxide is also a risk for those who get exposed to it daily, like the traffic police in The Gambia. It affects the eyesight and gives headache. After a high exposure it can appear to damage the cells in the eyes and the heart which results in chronically worse eyesight and heart conditions.

Hydrogen chloride in smoke causes coughing, convulsions in the throat and in worse cases damages on the lungs
There are a lot of particles in smoke, mostly soot and tar. A fire needs oxygen but when it doesn’t get enough of this it will burn slowly for a long time. This means that the smoke spreads the dangerous substances for a long time which causes a lot of damage on people and environment. When we breathe, we inhale the particles and some of them remain in our lungs. The particles can be carriers of substances that cause cancer.

Hydrogen cyanide can easily be absorbed by the skin and cause headache, dizziness, convulsions and respiratory arrest
Benzene can cause blood cancer, fatigue, affect the nervous system and bone marrow.
Carbon dioxide increases the respiration and by that the effect of other inhaled substances
What do you think of this list? This is what the residents living close to the Bakoteh dumpsite have been and are exposed to. This is what innocent schoolkids are exposed to. This is what the kids and the staff at the SOS Children’s village are exposed to. Isn’t it about time we do something about our own burning Gehenna?
Some of the damages caused by exposure of the fire show immediate symptoms, others can take longer time – even years before they appear. The smoke has been heavy and has spread really far this time. For how long are we willing to sacrifice people’s lives?