Islamic Cairo, Garbage City & My Neighborhood


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Africa » Egypt » Lower Egypt » Cairo
September 25th 2004
Published: February 10th 2006
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Cairo: Impressions after a few weeks
Now that the orientation portion of our stay is over, I am in a better position to evaluate our surroundings. I can now go to a different part of the city and NOT get lost, which is always a plus. My Arabic abilities, while pathetic, are up to the standard of negotiating cab fair before the trip, thus cutting the cost of traveling by taxi by about 75%! (MISSING)As I have mentioned before, traveling by taxi costs as much as the driver thinks you will pay. Proving that you have been here a while shows him that you know approximately how much a ride should cost, and his fare is adjusted accordingly.
Whenever my whole group travels together, we have the privileged of tourist police escort. After the ’98 attacks on European tourists, the government has worked very hard (not without success) to make the country as safe as possible for visitors. Part of this package is police/soldier protection for a group large enough to be deemed a target. We usually get a plainclothes bodyguard with a submachine gun under his suit. The trip is just that much more enjoyable this way. Sometimes, the clip of his MP5 sticks out the back of his suite and looks like a little tail. When we went on our water tour of Cairo, we even got two police boats to keep up with us.

Islamic Cairo:
We have been to a number of Historical Mosques in the area, and my favorite was the one from the 16th (?) Century that had open air areas and in addition to the closed. The earliest one was all open and the last was all closed, but did house the tomb of the Shaw of Iran. That was cool. We have also attended a Friday Prayer service at the local mosque. I was still getting used to the whole nature of things but ended up bowing down and getting up at the right times. An important thing for them is that one should stand in unison and fill any gaps in the line (they all stand in lines). Lucky for me, nobody asked why we were there. If they had, I wouldn’t have been able to answer them. The girls had it harder, for they had to do the whole head covering thing and purifying wash. We were told that many people wash before they go to the mosque, so that it wouldn’t be necessary for us. Another thing regarding mosques: it seems that it is such a high priority for devout Muslims to go, that if one is riding in a taxi, it is possible to schedule a stop at a mosque for prayer without increasing the fare at all. I have not done this, but when traveling with a Muslim friend, it did happen. On a separate occasion, the taxi driver has stopped to say one of his five daily prayers. He just mentioned something about needing to pray, parked, got out and left for a bit. I conjured that it would be rude and culturally inappropriate to get out and take another taxi, so I waited the 10 minutes.

Garbage City: Moqattam
One of the most underreported acts of ‘secular’ President Nasser in the 50’s was the ghettoization of a large group of the Coptic Christian population in Cairo. Resources are naturally hard to come by, but the general understanding seems to be that some time during the fifties, he uprooted a large number of Christians and moved them into a part of the city behind the
Garbage City PigpenGarbage City PigpenGarbage City Pigpen

This gross open...whatever it is functioned as a pigpen. The tourist police noticed everybody takin pictures, and, according to reports, it was filled in a few months later
citadel. The primary task assigned to them has been sorting of garbage; the exact nature of which I am not intimately acquainted with. They are called the zabbaleen -- or "garbage people.” When we toured there, I did see lots of piles of garbage where the recyclables were sorted out from the biodegradable etc. It is one of the poorest parts of the city and smells like a dump. The Sisters of Charity run a catholic orphanage there, and we also saw a craft enterprise that employs young girls. The city was a sobering sight. Even the two monkeys that constituted the local zoo were befitting of the location.

My Neighborhood:
I have found a great little grill that is not large enough to actually seat anybody, just a storefront with room for 2-3 employees. The food is good, and the owner quite the character. The prices? Well, they change every day. I have ordered the exact same item three times, received the same item each time, and paid different prices on each occasion. I figure that as long as I pay less than I should sometimes, what is the difference if I pay more other times?
My housing is fine. The apartment is a three bedroom with a large living and decent sized dinning room. Only gripe is that the Kitchen seems to be hot and humid regardless of how often the fan is employed, and ants have found their way up a four story drain pipe to get into items like the sugar bowl. So now, when I make tea, it is necessary to stir the sugar in, and wait for the then dead ants to float to the top so as to scoop them out. This is a whole lot more efficient than trying to pick them out one by one. Mike and I share one room with two queen sized beds in it. There isn’t room for much else, but we have the dinning room to work at anyway. I think our proudest achievement so far has been raking up the highest utility bill in the history of the program. Our electric bill, which is paid by the program since we pre-pay the entire semester, came to a whopping 600 Egyptian Pounds (circa $100). We were accused of takeef (A/C) abuse, and told to lighten up on the use of the air conditioner. Consequences were not stated, so we didn’t really change our behavior that much. This wasn’t an issue though, because it was already getting cooler and we naturally turned it down. Our flat doesn’t really have a cool view, so we head over to the other boys flat to check out the neighborhood and enjoy the rooftop peek at the whole area.



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Smoking SishaSmoking Sisha
Smoking Sisha

John (R) and I at the oldest Sisha joint in town
Tourist PoliceTourist Police
Tourist Police

These trusty guys go with the group when we all go together


11th February 2006

nasser gheto?
that's the first time I hear this. the zabalin exists and is a poor christian community, they present both an inspiring story and a depressive one, but I've never heard about this community having a different role in the past or about being moved there. recently the government has been trying to get foreign companies to take care of garbage and cut the zabalin out (the sane thing to do is give the zabaling technology and training)

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