Denise Abdullah rips out computer wires to scrape of copper from all the cables, including microchips that can be recycled to make a profit. She along with her husband, Mahir, have formed what she calls "a business" around recycling computer technologies and other items that carry metal, copper, iron and aluminum.
The Abdullahs live at the Western Motel, one of the oldest motels in El Camino Real in Santa Clara, Calif. They pay a $50 day rate to keep their room every day. Paying the rent proves from time to time to be a challenge, but Denise says "somehow (they) manage and keep going."
Shadeed watches television as Denise looks to see if the next public bus is arriving near the motel's entrance. Denise who usually takes her son to school tries to get his son to wake up early so they may both catch the bus together. From time to time, it proves difficult for Denise to keep up with his schedule.
Denise rides two buses to get Shadeed to school with a monthly bus pass that she pays for him with her recycling work. Sometimes on the way she takes moments to close her eyes for a nap, as she usually starts her day at four in the morning.
After dropping off Shadeed to school, Denise checks in on her neighbor and recent recycling partner Tasha, to see what the day's schedule will be like for finding, deconstructing, and delivering recyclables to make a profit. After dropping off her son, Eric, to school, Tasha took a nap before she arrived back at the motel.
Denise begins to strip wire for copper without rest. It's work that she describes as a normal part of their lives and not one of "leisure" but of hard work. She has become very efficient in stripping all the copper or metals off waste items she finds every day. She says that learning to be fast as "helped get more money."
Mahir, takes a moment to reflect as he works on dissembling door nobs for brass and metals. They place the waste items they find and deconstruct from dumpsters and warehouses on their bed to work on. Mostly, because they do not have the space to place these items somewhere else when working.
Tasha, drives the Abdullahs to pick up found items and recycling center in the San Jose and Oakland area to make money for rent. Once items are delivered and they receive compensation for the items, they then split the cost of gas 50/50 between them.
Mahir deals with a store manager to sell old motorcycle and AA batteries. If they are lucky, can make up to $20 reselling batteries. Sometimes they do not accept them, He feels they are cheated just because stores want to save a few bucks. On this day he just made $12, which he split in half with Tasha.
It takes them six hours to walk around and find things to dismantle, then another five hours total to deconstruct the items found and make multiple trips to recycling centers to sometimes "just make even." Denise says "the work never seems to end, but that's just the ways things are like here."
Mahir tells Denise that in order to make any money they need to set some rules with Tasha about renegotiating the split of work and how much money each should be getting for recyclables. Dennis suffers from pain on her arms and shoulders, caused by the heavy work she does and stress she feels.
Denise constantly works all day and even during and after her recycling, she takes time to care for the household chores like cleaning dishes. She feels the living situation every day can "sometimes be a burden." Wishes things could have "a normal sequence of the day" without feeling like they have no plans and nowhere to go.
With no kitchen sink to clean her family's dishes, Denise uses the motel room's bathroom sink to wash and dry their silverware.
Denise picks up some computer air vents and other tech parts from a near warehouse dumpster. She says computer parts sale better than most other random parts, the more computer items they collect the more likely their recycled value goes up, especially if stripped from all its metal and copper components.
Denise dives herself inside dumpsters to retreat each and every piece of precious metal she can find. If she is lucky she will find a full bin of items that have metal, iron, and copper to resale to recycling centers.
Denise finds enough computer and metal items to make enough money for both families, however they are not always lucky. She says that they've been living on the "edge" for months now, with luck here and there, they seem to just verily make ends meet, even with all their efforts.
While dismantling some pieces on the go. You could hear Tasha screeching, "Good lord, my back... it's killing me. I have to sit down." She gets pain medication but feels "500 dollars for medical insurance from MediCal is not enough." She is considering applying for disability.
On their way to a recycling center, Denise brings up her back problems as an issue that must be addressed financially. Denise explains to her that "(They) can't keep going like this." Denise suggested that Tasha should get 40 percent of earnings instead of 50; since they do the heavy work that she cannot do for herself.
Tasha and Denise empty out their trunk to deliver recyclables. If time permitting, they try to make two rounds of deliveries one in San Jose and Oakland, Calif. On a good day they can make from $100 to $130 a day. They make most of their money from Oakland recycling centers, saying, "It's worth the drive."
Sometimes good days come in small packages, like when Denise finds "buried treasures" that people leave behind in dumpsters, even though they are "perfectly fine," she said. Denise sometimes gets lucky and finds DVDs and CDs with computer games, movies, and music.
Denise likes when she can spend time with Shadeed. She usually feels tired both mentally and physically from work done, however she sees that even with all the work, "it sometimes doesn't feel like (they) are living day to day. (She) feels (they) still have some downtime."
Shadeed and Eric fix a pair of Nerf guns that their parents found for them to use and play. Eric is Tasha's son, whom she raises on her own as a single mother because his father, whom he has never met, is "not a reliable person," in their lives, she said. Shadeed regularly visits Eric, one of few friends at the motel.
Denise buys groceries for her family with food stamps. The government places money electronically to a card every month. She says, "It's not enough to feed a family." She does not use all the stamps she receives on the card, instead she saves some of the stamps for needed purchases later on.
When Denise does not have time to make home cooked meals, she buys microwavable or ready-to-go items to eat for dinner. Not having room to cook or even a kitchen of her own, she uses a wall in the room that she has set up as the kitchen to cook, prepare, and refrigerate food.
Shadeed finished his meal in bed, where he will usually have his dinner. With no room for a kitchen table, Denise and Mahir eat on their bed as well, where not just a couple of hours ago they had dismantled a large supply of copper wire and frames in the same bed.
They've been able to pay rent so far, however, Denise does not know how long they can manage it. Knowing "there will be changes coming" from an unsettled house Mahir's relatives are fighting in Sacramento or going back to Pennsylvania. "Eventually will be out of here. It's just a matter of time."