While researching Cairo, I came across a note in Lonely Planet on a neighbourhood which doesn’t feature on the list of tourist sights. This hood is called the Garbage city: Known locally as Manshiyat Naser. It caught my eye.
Here we have a community of mostly Coptic Christians (also called Zabbaleens) who collect garbage from all over Cairo and then work on recycling. It is quite different from slums and favelas: here the community only processes garbage for a living.
I decided to explore the area out of curiosity: What is Garbage city supposed to be?. I did not expect at all what I experienced.
The locals probably wondered: Why on earth had this fella come here? This isn’t a place for tourists.
Here is something you should know: I don’t explore places where it is strongly advised to not venture eg: La Boca in Buenos Aires. Most so called poor neighbourhoods in developing nations are generally safe, warm and welcoming (though shit can happen anywhere) but I also make it a point to not stand out too much. And of course looking like an Indian/Mexican/Latin/Arab/Greek/ etc etc helps when I just explore randomly….and then looking like someone who doesn’t have money (no watch, average clothes…) definitely helps! I respect local people. I don’t take photos without permission and since I grew up in a poor country (India) , I know what it feels like when tourists only focus sometimes on poverty and ignore the humanity of these neighbourhoods.
Here in the Garbage city, buildings are in a very poor state: like a war zone (to some extent). Heaps of garbage lay on the sides of streets with trucks lining up with a lot more garbage. Life carried on. Men and women were working on collecting the garbage and probably sifting through. They were working. After all they are trying to survive and maybe even thrive. Kids were running around in the filth stepping over food waste, plastic and at some places dead rats. But there was a sense of unfiltered joy on their faces which felt immensely humbling.
I got lost in the lanes trying to get to the rock/cave church (that’s the biggest attraction here) . A kid helped me out with Arabic and sign language. I tipped him a couple of Egyptian pounds and he gave it back, indicating that he didn’t want money: Believe me when I say this – In Cairo, this was unexpected and extremely refreshing.
Out of respect for the community (and for reasons mentioned earlier), I did not take many pictures and definitely none of the residents: I have posted the only two pictures I took. You can get a sense of this hood.
In these moments of exploration, I am reminded, of the need for humility and gratitude, which at times I fall quite short, by kids with nothing in their pockets but with hearts of gold.