Monday, 8 October 2007

Zabbaleen - People of the rubbish (Day 3)


This is the second part of Day 3 of our Egyptian Adventure. You can read about the first part in the previous post.


When we left the Mosque of Mohammed Ali our next stop was Rubbish city. But we knew nothing about it at that moment.


Our bus dropped us at a suspiciously looking part of the city. There was a strange smell in the air, but we got used to that by then. We just thought: "We're in Cairo after all, this is something normal."


With every step, we went deeper into a strange suburb. Soon garbage of all sorts was literally piled all around us. People were going through those heaps of all sorts of stuff with a strange enthusiasm and an occasional pig was rummaging around for something eatable.
Children were playing around and looking curiously at 12 strange Slovenians. They were quite cute and some of them just wanted to say hello or introduce themself to a strange foreigner. No one asked for baksheesh.
We got used by then to be approached by people asking for baksheesh in return for some strange favor they just came up with or even just like that.


After we got through this part of the city we went uphill. Steep rocky slopes were carved with various biblical motives. We made a stop at an interesting church which was carved into the side of a hill. Our guide decided it was time for an explanation.


He explained to us a few things about the place we had just seen. First of all, those people we had seen were mostly Christians (Muslims have no need for pigs). People we had seen live there by their own choice. Sorting rubbish is what Zabbaleen (people of the rubbish in Arabic) do for a living. And they earn enough to fall into Egyptian middle class. Ground floors of their houses are used for sorting rubbish. Upper floors however are mostly well furnished. The backyards also serve as parking places for fancy cars (Mercedes, Mitsubishi or BMW is not a strange sight in those streets).
On our way back to the bus, we looked at the same things as before through a totally different pair of glasses.



Did you know that two million Egyptians live in family tombs? The bus dropped us in front of one such tomb. Our guide has even arranged for us to take a look inside. The family didn't seem to mind. They got a nice amount of Egyptian Pounds afterwards to make us feel welcome. After fifteen minutes or so we moved on.



We were slowly starting to feel hungry and a meal followed. We stopped at a local place for a meal of kushary. It is made of Egyptian lentils, rice and macaroni casserole. Served with tomato sauce and some other extra spicy sauce.


It didn't look too promising but surprisingly it was very tasty. I think most of us liked it. One portion of kushary plus half a liter bottle of water costs approximately 1/4 of a Euro. I think two such portions should be enough to take you through the day. 1/2 of a Euro to provide food for a day is a bargain by my standards.


An afternoon walk through the streets of Islamic Cairo was really picturesque. It was a shame we were in a bit of a hurry and there wasn't enough time for some serious photography. Even that couldn't spoil a couple of nice photos.
In the old days big, stone wells were built throughout the city for everyone to have access to fresh drinking water. Nowadays, small plastic water wells (the orange thing on the photo below) can be seen in the middle of busy streets.


When the night fell we had a walk through Khan el Khalili Bazaar. This was one heck of a haggling experience. It felt like we were thrown to the lions.
When time it was time to leave we were already eating those lions. Well we weren't, but it felt like that. I guess in the end we were still not buying stuff at local prices, but maybe sometimes we came close.


After leaving the Bazaar behind, we went to the train station where we caught a night train to Aswan.

3 comments:

Jose 8 October 2007 at 08:20  

Man, what an adventure. Talk about venturing into the unknown.

Windy 8 October 2007 at 10:11  

This is really interesting. My mom told me that don't underestimate people who collect rubbish because they could be quite rich... Sounds like a very nice and educated tour!

Andy 9 October 2007 at 18:55  

This looks like such an amazing trip. I only hope I have the opportunity to do more traveling abroad in the future.

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