Hello dear Sparkfriends,
Ever since I heard about Garbage Village in Cairo, I wanted to go there. I had heard some very encouraging things were happening in this extremely poor neighborhood of the Egyptian capital also known as Mokattam.
Garbage Village isn't beautiful. It isn't meant for tourists. It is a huge garbage site where the Zabbaleen ('garbage collectors' in Arabic) bring all the garbage they collect around Cairo - and where they live. The picture above is the view more or less everywhere in Mokattam: trucks loaded with garbage coming into Garbage Village, and garbage piled on both sides of the street.
Yet it is a 'normal' village, where 50,000 people live and children go to school, there are shops and churches...
The first place we visited in Garbage Village was the APE (Association for the Protection of the Environment). Their website is wonderful, if you want more information:
Their website will tell you better than I all that they do! But my colleague Mumtaz, who volunteers here and is well known, took me through various rooms of the building where we saw women making crafts (rugs, patchwork, paper necklaces, etc).
This is where rugs are made, but also bags and various other things:
Here these women were making necklaces out of paper:
Here I am shopping in one of the APE shops!
And in another one (my favorite, full of all kinds of products made out of recycled paper!)...
After this very encouraging visit (thanks to this, many women own some money and many products are recycled), we were off to the Cave Churches, above Garbage Village. Here is Garbage Village Cathedral:
It doesn't look like much? Well, follow me inside the cave...
22,000 people attend the services here!!! It is the biggest church in the Middle-East. And every Thursday evening, the services are televised on a Christian Middle-East TV channel. As we were there, they were preparing the cave for the evening, this is why you can see cables next to me on the picture.
Here is a picture I found on the Internet of a service in the cathedral of the Cave Churches:
Another thing that is extraordinary: the cliffs above the cave cathedral. They are covered with sculptures telling Bible stories, the way it is done on windows in 'normal' church buildings in the Western world and elsewhere.
The Flight to Egypt...
The story of the Cave Churches is amazing (there are several other churches at the bottom of the cliffs apart from the Cathedral). A few decades ago, although the inhabitants of Garbage Village were nominally Christians, there were no churches in Garbage Village. Then Farahat, a Coptic Orthodox believer, was invited by Quidees, a young garbage collector, to speak to his family. It took Quidees two years to convince Farahat, who had heard terrible rumors about that dangerous ghetto full of garbage and criminals and had absolutely no desire to visit it! When Farahat went to Garbage Village, Quidees' whole extended family became Christian, and they soon decided to build a church. Today, Farahat, now Father Simon, is the main priest at Garbage Village Cathedral.
As I was taking this picture outside Garbage Village's Cathedral...
... a little girl walked towards me and said in English: "Hello, what is your name?" Her name was Marian. She explained to me that she had come to the Cave Churches to spend the afternoon with her mother, siblings and cousins. And they would attend the service there on the evening.
Marian is a little sunshine! She was all dressed up for what was a special day for her, visiting the Cave Churches and attending the Cathedral service.
As we walked around the area, looking at trees I had never seen before and visiting other cave churches (they are all in the same compound)...
we met other children who wanted their picture taken with me!
St. Simon the Tanner's Hall was another impressive cave church. This picture found on Wikipedia gives you a good idea of it:
Here I am, standing next to the huge cross in the middle of the room:
Like the Cathedral, it is covered with sculptures representing Bible stories and verses, and also the story of Simon the Tanner, a Coptic saint.
Here it is the story of Joseph with Potiphar's wife:
As we came out of a smaller cave church, I was delighted to see little Marian again! She introduced us to her mother and the rest of her family who was there with her.
I so wish I had asked for their name and address, so that I could send her the pictures and a card from Paris now!
The visit ended at the top of Garbage Village, to have a better view on the area...
If you look more closely, you can see that garbage is everywhere, being recycled (85% of all garbage here is recycled, which is much more than in most Western countries!):
And you can see all kinds of animals too, mostly on top of the buildings!
It isn't beautiful, but I hope that, like me, you can think of lovely little Marian and her family, the women making crafts out of recycled products and the amazing Cave Churches, when you think about Garbage Village. That afternoon was one of the highlights of my days in Cairo. Thank you Mumtaz for taking me there and for being such a wonderful guide!
And thank you dear Sparkfriends for reading and for all your encouraging comments on my previous blogs about Cairo! This last week, as I came back to Paris a week ago, has been very busy at work, and I have been fighting a nasty bronchitis-like virus. Promise, I will be a better Sparker this week! :) And I'll post the Pyramids blog soon!!!