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17 September 2012
The Zabbaleen are descendants of migrant farmers from Upper Egypt who first came to Cairo in the 1940’s in search of employment. They began working in the garbage trade, collecting, sorting and recycling to earn a living. (photo: Dana Smillie)
The September edition of ONE can now be viewed on our website. Give it a look. One of our features this month comes from award-winning journalist, Sarah Topol. Topol profiles a family in Egypt’s Zabbaleen or “garbage people” community:
The Nagib family lives in Manshiyat Naser — also known as Garbage City — an impoverished Coptic Christian neighborhood nestled in the jutting desert cliffs that rise above Cairo’s bustling streets. Called Zabbaleen, or “garbage people” in Arabic, most hail from the rural province of Assiut, 250 miles to the south. For generations, the Zabbaleen have served as Cairo’s de facto garbage collectors, earning a meager living hauling away city dwellers’ trash and recycling anything salvageable.
To spend time with the Nagib family is to witness in microcosm the struggles of an entire class of people — and to realize that they are struggling not just to salvage what others discard, but also to salvage dignity and a way of life.
Mrs. Nagib’s husband collected trash for a living. Now too old to work, he has passed his route on to his children. And it seems, one by one, the Nagib children are carrying on the tradition.
Six days a week, Mrs. Nagib rises before dawn to see off three of her sons to their work as garbage collectors. At 5, the young men will have climbed into the family truck to head down the slopes to the city — a drive that takes two hours. There, they go from apartment to apartment along their route collecting garbage. By early afternoon, they head home, the truck loaded with trash.
For more, read Salvaging Dignity.
Tags: Egypt Africa ONE magazine