I visited the “Garbage City”, a slum in Manshiyat Naser, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cairo. Along its streets, men sit in groups to smoke shisha and drink tea. There are both Muslims and Coptic Christians among them, all mixed without problem and coexisting with joy, despite the recent terrorist attack against Coptic Christians only a few days before in the main Cathedral of Cairo.
I went down the taki at the entrance of Manshiyat Naser and the first thing I saw was a bunch of people having breakfast. Some of them offered me to eat, but I was only hungry of photos, so I started soon. Except the owner of the “restaurant”, if you can call it that way, nobody complained about my culinary interest in the variety of food they were taking.
In this neighbourhood lives Cairo’s largest concentration of garbage collectors. They are called Zabbaleen, which literally means “garbage people” in Egyptian Arabic. Its economy revolves around the collection and recycling of the city’s garbage. Trucks arrive here loaded with huge bales of garbage all the time. These are unloaded in premises along the alleys in the neighborhood, where young and adults, men and women, are busily separating bottles, metals, cartons, lids … which are then repackaged and carried to be sold to companies dedicated to recycling.
I continued along the same street, getting into the hart of the Garbage City, until I reached another alleys where I could see more people working with the trash. Some of them were reluctant to photos, but other didn’t mind. A teenager approached me a bit arrogant, asking me for money to take photos. I just ignored him and started taking photos of everybody else. At some point, he asked me to please take a photo of him, no need of money… did he get jealous?
Mena, the guy with the black hat, the beard and the blue contact lenses, was the only person speaking good English that I met in the whole morning, and he was so kind as to show me his neighborhood, his church (awesome one excavated in a mountain), and even invited me for lunch without accepting anything in exchange. Mena looks completely Egyptian, and it was a bit shocking to notice he was Christian. During our walk he was cheering both Muslims and Christians alike. In this neighborhood, Coptic Christians and Muslim live together in peace.
The Egyptian Christian woman in the photo (with a tattooed cross on her right hand) poses next to some of the huge bales full of garbage. The chain of metal that she grabs with her hand has a hook at the end, used to lift the bales to the roof of this building. I imagine that up there is where they would work in the separation process. The streets of Manshiyat Naser, the Garbage City, don’t smell well, rats run everywhere, and it is easy to find some of them smashed by cars on the pavement.
Drinking tea or smoking shisha in the streets of the Garbage City is a typical scene, as it is in almost every street of Egypt. On many occasions I have been invited to sit with them and have tea, which, by the way, is burning, and more than once I have burned my fingers when I picked up the glass! I was also invited, thanks to Mena, to try some just made bread which was extremely delicious.