Saturday, 15 December 2012

Garbage City

In addition to the rag-and-bone men mentioned in my last post, and to the official waste collectors that are becoming more common through multinational contracts with the government, there exists (in Cairo, at least) yet another community of waste collectors.

At the start of the twentieth century, Muslim migrants from the desert oases moved to Cairo and found work collecting scrap paper and selling it as fuel. Around forty years later, another wave of migrants came from Upper Egypt and began to collect organic waste as food for their pigs (most of these migrants were Copts, who are not prohibited from eating pork).

These pig farmers wanted no beef for encroaching on the Muslim paper-collectors' established presence, so they made deals with the latter to work on their land. As petrol and gas became more widespread and the demand for scrap paper decreased, the paper-collectors' new role as middle-men between the Copts and the buyers became more reinforced.

واحي / -ية wāḥiy (pl. -ya) migrant from the oases
زبال / -ين zabbāl (pl. -īn) Coptic waste collector
معلم / -ين miʕallim (pl. -īn) middle-man in garbage collection

The Coptic waste-collecting community settled in an area in the east of Cairo officially called Manshiyet Nasr, hidden away from the rest of the city by the Muqattam hills. This area has also become informally known as مدينة الزبالة | madīnit izzibāla | Garbage City and الزرايب | izzarāyib | The Sties, after the pig pens that were set up here. They manage to recycle up to 80% of the waste they collect, although organic waste is no longer used by the community itself since the government ordered the culling of their pigs in 2007. This was officially to prevent the spread of the H1N1 strain of influenza, but as pigs cannot transmit this strain, it's also been suggested that the government had religious motives.

زريبة / زرايب zarība (pl. zarāyib) sty, pen
زبالة zibāla rubbish (n.), waste, garbage
زي الزفت zayy izzift rubbish (adj.), lousy, awful

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