Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garbage City

Yes, there is such a place. When you throw something away in Cairo, it ends up in Garbage City.

Those ubiquitous plastic drinking cups? Yep:

Clothing scraps? Yep:

Cardboard boxes? Yep:

Plastic bottles (that's what these huge bags are stuffed with)? Yep:

Mystery items? Yep:

General grossness? OH YEAH:

Not pictured: a dead rat with flies all over it, lots of donkey poop with flies all over it, and trays of freshly baked bread cooling on an outdoor rack amid all the trash.

That huge puddle of nastiness was the worst part. I don't know what kind of liquid it was or what, exactly, the accompanying sludge is, but the smell was GHASTLY. It caught me off guard, too, because this was technically outside Garbage City as we walked to the main road to get a taxi home. I thought we were done with pointed olfactory assaults and then along came the mystery puddle. Ew.

Grossness aside, I enjoyed our visit to Garbage City more than I thought I would. I didn't even really want to go at first because there is a little bit of Garbage City on every street in Cairo, you know what I mean? I wasn't sure I really needed to see it in its concentrated form. But what made it such a neat place was the people. Here they were, living in literal filth, piled up to and beyond their doorways, and they were doing just fine. I saw a grandma sorting trash with some young children. Teenagers were driving donkeys and their carts down the streets. The boy a couple pictures up was eating a fly-covered bun as his parents worked on sorting trash deeper in the alcove.

And they all waved and said hello to us as we walked by. A little girl ran up and tried to grab Magdalena away from us to show to her family. A man took a moment off from his trash duties to give Magdalena a big kiss on her cheek. Some people even invited us in to see what they were working at. All this, when there were flies swarming everywhere and the stench of garbage was inescapable.

From now on, anytime we throw away something out of the ordinary - like my insulated water bottle that's on its way out, or our Camelbak with a leaky valve - I'm going to be really excited for the inhabitants of Garbage City. I almost wish I could see their faces when they find it. Almost.


Sherwood family said...

I think about the trash pickers every time I throw away blatantly American products - like U.S. armed forces milk cartons and J.Crew boxes. What kind of picture is formed by our garbage? Sometimes I like to think of it as Goodwill that will come to your door; I'm considering carefully bagging up a suit of Brandon's that he no longer wears. Surely somebody there is his size!

Bridget said...

Yes, that's exactly what I mean! We'll be throwing away most of the clothes we brought with us to Egypt and I'll be sure not to mix them in with the regular garbage. It is like Goodwill in a way.

breanne said...

I loved garbage city when I was in Egypt for the same reason--the people. We actually had a really nice guy give us a tour of the city and the cave churches above the city--did you see those? If not you should go back--they are pretty awesome. And he refused any type of payment, even though he gave us like a 45 minute tour.

Bridget said...

Yes, we did go to the cave churches. Ah, Christians + Mideast = caves. And yeah, the people were so upbeat. It wasn't as grim as I thought it would be.

Melody said...

So this is random, but you should call camelbak to see if your leaky valve is covered under their warranty. I have two camelbak water bottles that for one reason or another have been broken by Eli. I called the warranty office and they replaced both of them even though they were about five years old. I didn't even have to pay shipping.

Sarah Rose Evans said...

It's interesting that you went there on purpose-- when I was looking at the pictures, I was wondering where you were on your way to that required a trip through garbage city. I did a couple trips during my time in Asia where we would go tour the most impoverished parts of town-- like the people who live out of boats in Cambodia.

Liz Johnson said...

Huh. This is probably worldly and selfish to say, but I'm really glad that the stink doesn't come through the pictures or the interwebs.

Susanne said...

Oh wow, I thought this was just a fancy landfill. People actually live here? It was sweet of your family to go there to tour it. I'm sure your girls made them smile. So the regular garbage doesn't go there, but only Goodwill type stuff? I got confused when I saw your comment above.

I noticed the donkey mostly. He seems to have quite a load.

Ooooooh, I just clicked on your link to Garbage City...intriguing. Wow, thanks for sharing your pics and thoughts on your travel there.

Bridget said...

Yeah, it's an actual place where people live, and then there is all the garbage. It is their livelihood. I know this is kind of a weird post but I didn't know how to couch it in acceptable terms - I was a total voyeur for a day, basically. Nobody seemed mad at us for visiting, though. They were all smiling and saying hi, so maybe they had as much fun gawking at us as we did at them.

(And ps, this is not the poorest area I've ever seen. I've seen worse in Amman at least, and that's even without there being garbage everywhere.)

Bridget said...

Still not clear. What I mean is, we went there to answer the question, "where does our garbage go?" Not, "let's go look at poor people!!!!!!!!!" just for the sake of it. Not that there's anything wrong with THAT, Sarah.

Susanne said...

Thanks, Bridget. You all actually were interested enough to find out where all your garbage went? That's so cute! I guess with the World Cup being over, you were a bit bored, right? ;)

And, hey, it made for an interesting post. I had no idea! I guess the people were happy to have interested Americans seeing their tourist attractions (like the cave). I think an exploring-the-caves post would be interesting...or maybe there wasn't much to share about that?

I love all the cultural stuff I learn from your blog! Thank you!!

Spencer said...

Cairo is a city that teaches in so many different ways.

You might be interested in a couple of documentaries that have come out in the last couple of years about this neighborhood/phenomenon. They focus on both the difficulties of life there (the Coptic Christians who live there do not necessarily have many other career options available to them) and the innovative practices that they have developed for dealing with the waste created by a city as big as Cairo.

The first is called "Garbage Dreams." It's a pretty straightforward documentary about the Zabaleen and their place in Cairene society. The other is a more impressionistic look at the life of one girl who lives in al-Zabaleen. It's called "Marina of the Zabaleen." Both are worth watching.

Kristen said...

That wiki was very interesting (with your supporting images). I never would have imagined such a place.


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