20 May, 2008

Garbage City, Cairo

OK, OK, now that I've gotten the amoebic toxicity levels of frustration and disappointment out of my system I wanted to tell you about some of the amazing things we were able to see while we were in Cairo.

Our kids have been very interested in poverty lately. We often tell them how fortunate they are to be living in a wealthy country and to be in possession of "favorable" passports, but it's always been a very abstract concept for them.

They've been saving their allowance for the last five weeks to "give to poor people in Egypt". I was humbled and a bit overwhelmed by their generosity. Really wanted to do something special since they'd gone to so much trouble, so I called a contact of M's who is the MD for Chrysler in Egypt. On Tuesday he arranged for a driver to take us out to "Garbage City", the central collection point for Cairo's garbage. Inhabitants live among the refuse and eke out a living sorting and selling much of what they recover.

I was completely floored by what we saw: narrow streets teeming with people and absolutely full of garbage. I'd expected everyone to seem depressed or beaten down, but they were lively and busy and paid us no attention whatsoever. They even looked surprisingly clean, given the conditions they were living in.

We stayed in the car and didn't get to take any pictures inside the city itself, but I did find this fascinating video on YouTube. (We were actually able to go in the underground church he talks about.)


Peichi said...

hi, there

sorry if i bother ya.

I am Peichi Lu, a college student in Taiwan.

I found your blog from expatwoman.com. Since you live in Germany. I was wondering if you'd be willing to help me complete my project by allowing me to interview you by email for my graduation project. I am researching the topic "Pregnancy and Childbirth Traditions and Observances around the World."

If you are willing and able to help me, please let me know (email to peichi.lu1987@gmail.com), and I can send you the interview by email (it is about 20 questions).

Thanks for your help in advance,


anno said...

I'm not getting any sound just yet, and it's too early in the morning to get any help with the speakers, but those images are staggering. What did your sons think? How did they respond?

Astrid said...

I ecco Anno's questions. It must have been quite shocking for them to see such poverty and big differences though children often handle these things better than we grown-ups do.

The images on the film was quite shocking but I knew already that the coptic people were discriminated. Once I had a conversation with a nice Egyptian man who told me that the Christian churches had to be buildt out of sight (of the muslims), thus close to the sea for exaple where they were regularly destroyed by storms.

Betsy said...

You know, it was just typical. In my experience the most carefully constructed life lessons generally fall flat. It seems like it's the surprise happenings that the boys learn from the most.

S and B didn't really seem all that impressed by the conditions under which these people were living. Maybe it just didn't seem real to them. After all, we were in a brand new car with air conditioning, and looking out the windows is probably about the same as seeing the images on television. They were much more shocked by the traffic and chaotic nature of the streets in downtown Cairo.

I was pretty floored, though. Although I have to say, it didn't seem as sinister in real life as it was portrayed in the video. The people were lively and busy and I was just glad they had something to do in order to bring in money for food.

You're right, Astrid. I hadn't realized just how persecuted the Coptic Christians are, but that church in Garbage City was hewn directly out of a stone cliff. Apparently it's near impossible to get a permit to build a christian church in Egypt.

It was an amazing structure and had very bizarre carvings on the walls inside. My photos turned out a bit dark, but maybe I'll post them later just because they're so strange.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

This is truly another world. I think there's nothing that gets me heartsick as much as discrimination for racial or religious or ethnic reasons.

What an extraordinary film. I think it's often hard for children to take in realities that are unimaginably harsh for them, so they just don't acknowledge what they're actually seeing or experiencing.

Africakid said...

Thanks for showing us how you followed through on the allowance donation with your boys! Even if it didn't seem to sink in right then, I'll bet later in life they look back on that moment with more insight...
Interesting video, too.
Ugh -- can't imagine living with rats running past every minute or so.

R. Duckie said...

oh , wow, I was just there in Alexandria as well. The people on the video seemed proud of their work. I wondered if the reporter was not putting his own judgement on them because of the stigma of working with Garbage.