Monday, 10 December 2012

The cosmopolitan dustmen

The voice of a sheikh calling the faithful to prayer is not the only familiar voice to bellow through an Alexandrian street. In the morning, the loud, sloppy call of the rag-and-bone man alerts local residents to his presence, and anyone with an old fridge, valuable scraps of metal, or even a few planks of wood responds the call from their window and trades the goods in for a few Egyptian pounds.

The call these waste collectors use comes from what was originally an Italian phrase, "roba vecchia", meaning "old stuff", and refers to those household goods that in English we'd refer to as "ready for the charity shop". The influence of the Italian language on Egyptian Arabic was at its strongest just before the Second World War, when its community of speakers numbered around 60,000.

روبابكيا rubabikya house-hold junk
بيكيا bikya (a shortened form of the above)
بتاع روبابكيا bitāʕ rubabikya rag-and-bone man

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