Garbage City

Saturday, December 23, 2017

It is our last full day in Egypt and Mary and Gabby are taking us around today. The focus is on things that others wouldn’t show us and first on the list is Garbage City.

I didn’t take many pictures of garbage city as we drove through, but if you have images of people living on heaps of garbage like in the Brazilian garbage city, it’s not like that. Now to be clear, garbage city is not a real tourist destination, it is a city within a recycling centre. But one of the more interesting tidbits is that global corporations have figured out that the people who perform this task (supposedly with a 90% recycling rate), make money from doing so. Large corporations have therefore convinced the decision makers to sign major contracts (reportedly $50MM) to pick up garbage, diverting money that can be used to improve the city and services while simultaneously reducing the quality of service, the recycling rate and the income of some of the city’s most vulnerable people. I am sure there will be much written about this over the coming years when they try to relocate these people for a second time in recent history.

Below is a picture of the backside of an apartment block, and you can see people with large bundles of garbage in their homes. The front side is generally made up of tiny operations, in ground floor spaces the size of a garage (some are the size of a small kitchen, others as large as a four or five car garage, but typically about 20×20 feet from what we saw) and often a compression machine or something of the sort for plastic bottles or plastic bags or metal, or a chimney for burning wood, etc. One had framework from couches and living room chairs, another light fixtures. Everywhere in front are trucks and mule drawn carriages stacked with bags of recycled goods heading out. This contrasts with the mule drawn buggies and small trucks on the streets picking up the garbage. All for free.

One of the effects of cramming these people into a space like this is that they evolve in a way that allows them to survive. A key aspect of the recycling is that they use the organic garbage to raise animals. (And the animals to consume organics). Pigs and goats will eat almost anything and you may be surprised to note that they will live almost anywhere. Like the cows on the seventh floor (red) or the sheep, chickens (green) and pigs (yellow) on the fifth floor of an open air apartment complex. It’s all a very interesting dynamic!

The people we spoke with are very proud of the graffiti art as it was painted by a world renowned graffiti artist el Seed. It is only visible now from the rooftop where we were standing, it’s also partially blocked by that apartment building dead centre and it’s also very hard to get to.

Garbage city sits at the base of a small mountain and within the perimeter of the city is a thriving Christian population. Over the past 40 years they have built a remarkable church, digging into the mountain with (illicit) explosives and hard work to create cave churches. They continue to dig and carve to build a shrine that would be improbable, if not impossible in western culture. The work required is exceptional as are the results. Their services are broadcast on the internet. I have lost that slip of paper.

The carvings on the outside are just as spectacular, and are worked on continuously. They have all the hallmarks of a southern baptist church quoting primarily scripture that fits a theme supporting an apparent quest for attention from their pope (Coptic), the outside world and the locals who could use hope far more than I am sure we can imagine.

The work is well worth seeing and we never would have found or even heard of this without our local guides. Again, we are very thankful for Mary and Gabby and their recommendations, and in this case ferrying us around.

After Garbage City we then went to see the Cairo Citadel and mosque of Mohammad Ali Pasha. The citadel was originally built by Saladin (his European name) and completed around 1183. We spent most of the time in the mosque which is beautiful and spacious if a little dirty and showing its age.

The fortress (Citadel) walls offer excellent views of the surrounding city and on a clear day, it is reported that you can see the pyramids. We were not so lucky to have a clear day during our entire stay. On our way home, after dark we passed the citadel, and it was lit up and provided a very pretty silhouette in the night sky.

Finally we visited the largest market in Cairo. Situated in a very old neighbourhood it is a maze of alleys and stores selling a variety of wares including jewelry, housewares, clothing, cloth and of course tourist trinkets. We all picked up some memorabilia of our stay in Cairo.

We ended our day with a small dinner at Sequoia, the most highly rated restaurant in Cairo. It sits at the point of the island just across from our hotel (but very difficult to get to) and was bustling with people. During the summer it would likely have been even more spectacular with open windows and a much better view of the Nile.

Sequoia as seen from our hotel room

1 thought on “Garbage City

  1. Hi Don,

    Wow what a trip to Egypt! Sailing on the Nile in Cairo at sunset, a visit to the Pyramids in Giza & Saqqara. What a treat for your family.
    Have a Merry Christmas & a great Happy New Year to you and your family.

    Cheers
    Nick & Karen

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