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Garbage Village - Cairo Part 4

Saturday, April 27, 2013

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 Resurrection...

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!!!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    1029 days ago
    There is so much beauty in the world if only we keep our eyes and minds open. I would not have expected such a lovely blog about a place called Garbage City. I like the suggestion that they start calling it Recycling City. Thanks for providing some arm-chair traveling.
    1792 days ago
    Wow that was totally not what I expected from the title. It has it's own dignity and charm. I'm very impressed by the churches and the attitude of the people who consider their faith as being so very important. May they be richly blessed with many graces.

    Thank you for showing us this.
    1843 days ago
    So interesting, I'd never heard of this place. Thanks for bringing it to us! So wonderful to visit where the locals really live and get a true feel for the area.
    1845 days ago
    I just finished reading and looking at all your Cairo blogs..... Thank you for posting and how very fascinating! I would love to go there some time. I have a cousin living in France that goes to the middle east on holiday all the time. She told us she can not come to the USA until she get a new passport because of all Middle east stamps in her pass book! She came last year ans we had a wonderful visit
    1846 days ago
    That was so fascinating but was there a bad odor? I was feeling bad for people's noses assaulted all day!
    Then the carvings were wonderful! So much positive.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I take Bragg's organic vinegar daily or most days. Keeps me healthy. If you don't want to take it daily then use it when you feel a cold coming on or ear ache or whatever. It works.
    1847 days ago
    Incredible! I've never heard of Garbage Village or the cave churches. Thank you for the fascinating look at this unusual spot.
    1847 days ago
  • NIKKIJ55
    Very cool! I never imagined a place like this existed. Thanks for sharing!
    1847 days ago
    Fascinating! Isn't it great to have a behind the scenes tour of a city? Your blog is fantastic. I felt like I was right there with you. Thanks for the tour!
    1847 days ago
    How delightful it was to stumble across this blog! I've read about this place before, but from a more clinical point of view, which gave me an idea of how it benefitted the city, but not that it was liveable for the residents. You have shown the human side - that even in a place that functions like the city dump, people can be clean, can take pride in their handcrafts, can have spirituality and can welcome visitors with open arms.
    1847 days ago
    What an amazing adventure and well written blog chronicling your experience! Thanks for sharing!
    1848 days ago
    I have to say for being named "garbage village" there is a beauty about it and it's people "Marion" And the Cathedral is amazing. I think if we in the Western world would treat our garbage the same as these people, half our battle would have been won. Funny, I don't feel so bad about this place as I do about the trash around the Pyramids. The trash there is discarded by people who don't care how these beautiful
    monuments look. And that is what the cuz said, is just that people discarded trash like they do here in our beautiful lakes, rivers and oceans. They just don't care. If everyone in the world could pick up trash, we would be pristine. It makes me sad.
    1848 days ago
    Absolutely fascinating!!
    1848 days ago
    Just catching up here. What a marvellous blog Claire, and how very rewarding all your work is (and the visits you make before and after it). Thanks so much for sharing, and i'm looking forward to the pyramids too. Those children are lovely!

    Hope you get over your bronchitis quickly!

    1848 days ago
    So very interesting - thank you for posting!
    1848 days ago
  • KAREN91
    You found the beautiful even in Garbage village. I loved the cave church, beautiful art work and the pictures of the girl and her family. You were the most beautiful in your pictures with the children. I can tell you really love people! You have a beautiful soul and do such good work! emoticon emoticon
    1848 days ago
    Thank you Claire. It is a real education reading your blogs. Between you and a gentleman who is spending time in Cambodia on a humanitarian mission for the last 6 months, I am very fortunate to view areas of the world that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to see. This story was particularly enlightening for me as I never heard of Garbage City and it is encouraging that they are recycling 85% of all waste. I do have a query, however,..... did it not have a malodorous odor? nan
    1849 days ago
    Amazing, informative, beautiful, inspirational
    1849 days ago
  • BAKER1009
    Another awesome history lesson from awesome, beautiful, Claire!
    Hey, were there goats on top of that building? I believe I saw a goat! LOL!

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us...I always LOVE your blogs miss Claire! And Marian is just beautiful! How sweet to meet children like her along the way, that has to make the trip even more special.
    Thanks again!!
    1849 days ago
    Ma chère Claire,
    Oh how much I've learned of a place I never would have imagined seeing. That one of my SF educated me to sights not normally visited by tourist is stupendous. I so believe in recycling and have heard of people in Haiti and Nicaragua who live off the dumps, but to live to make things from the recyclable garbage..Bon Dieu! Marian est adorable et tout m'interesse de ton voyage. Merci mille fois.
    emoticon emoticon
    1849 days ago
    Great pictures!!!!! Egypt is totally on my list of places to visit. What a great trip!
    1849 days ago
  • DNRAE1
    What a fascinating and informative blog, Claire! Beauty can be found in the most unusual places. The cave churches are phenomenal. Thank you, Claire, for educating me on another bright place on our small blue ball in the universe.
    1849 days ago
    Wow, I always learn so much from your travels. Thank you for broadening my horizons.I hope you are feeling better by now. Can't wait to see the pyramids!
    1849 days ago
    I have never heard of this part of Egypt before; thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. What amazing photos ! The success of recycling is just remarkable, and it makes us look very foolish indeed. I am in absolute and complete awe of the cave churches. And what a sweet young lady you enountered there... I often reflect on the lives of children and wonder where they will be ten years from now. The people they meet and the things they see will have an affect on them.

    1849 days ago
    And why do we all think that the Pyramids is the only spectacular site in Egypt? These cave churches must have been a breathtaking site, Claire! So beautiful!
    I think the Garbage village should be renamed to "Recycling" village. It may look ugly but the work done there is so important and many countries would be really jealous of their recycling percentage!
    Thank you for showing us such a different side of Egypt, Claire. I was really, really amazed by the pictures in this blog.
    1849 days ago
  • BEWELL48
    Amazing pictures! Amazing story! Never heard of cave churches before! Thank you for sharing your trip with us!
    1849 days ago
  • YIWEN39
    And thank YOU, Claire, for sharing all your experiences and beautiful pictures with us, I always learn so much!
    Take good care of yourself and thanks for a wonderful blog!
    1850 days ago
    Hi Claire. What lovely crafts the women of Garbage Village make! I wonder if they are available anywhere in North America? The Mennonite CentralCommittee has shops which sell products from Third World countries, and I will definitely ask about them the next time I'm in one of their shops.

    Reading your blogs about the places you work, and the people you come in contact with, makes me feel very humble, and reminds me how very lucky I am to have been born into a safe, affluent society. There are poor Canadians, of course, but over-all we have a reasonable level of comfort in our lives, and Canada has not had a war on its territory since 1812, when the Americans tried to take over at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Thanks to Laura Secord (and her cow), the English were warned in time and the Americans were defeated.

    I was disappointed that Dana didn't refer to the cave churches in her sermon today; perhaps she will use the information another time. I hope that she will follow Ramaz's blogs, as I will.

    Hope you are feeling better before you have to travel again.

    Hugs, Gail emoticon
    1850 days ago

    Comment edited on: 4/28/2013 5:01:16 PM
    Wow Claire I have never seen anything like that garbage village, the crafts being made from recycled goods, the beautiful HUGE church with the carved scriptural illustrations! And I loved seeing the photo of Marian and her family with you. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful blog!
    1850 days ago
  • QTEALADY20031
    Claire, this blog is amazing and so interesting. What a lot of garbage but to think that 85% is recycled. i would have so enjoyed seeing the crafts and the cathedrals are just beautiful. The carvings show such talent and the wonderful children that you met and the little girl who looked so pretty and her family. What a precious gift for you.
    I am sure that you will have beautiful memories of your trip to Cairo to hold for a lifetime. Thank you so much Claire for introducing us to Garbage Village! emoticon emoticon June
    1850 days ago
  • GAMMY98
    Thanks Claire for a blog full of so much information. This was a very rewarding blog. I enjoyed everything about it. Thanks again emoticon
    1850 days ago
  • JACKIE542
    I never knew about these places. thank you for taking us along and educating us.
    The cave church was amazing, The sculptures were beautiful.
    Marian is so cute. Everywhere you go it seems the children are drawn to you, must be that friendly smile.
    Thank you again for taking us to a place I never knew was there. emoticon emoticon
    1850 days ago
    Oh Dear, Dear beautiful Claire! This is outstanding! I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this and how very much I emoticon for adding so much to my world. I'm ashamed to admit I would have known nothing of this without you as I have really never bothered to study Egypt. emoticon emoticon emoticon

    This is definitely emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

    What a dear, dear friend you are! I am blessed!!! emoticon emoticon
    1850 days ago
    Thank you for another educational tour Claire. These
    cave churches are amazing. I love how the children
    follow you always. These people have shown what can
    be done with recycling. I just loved your blog and I will
    search the Internet to find out more about this amazing
    place. emoticon emoticon emoticon

    1850 days ago
    so fascinating!!
    1850 days ago
    Thanks Claire I had only heard the name and immediately was disgusted, I expected dirty people and it was all so lovely. It is an amazing idea to turn the trash to by hand not machinery in to sale-able items.

    Thanks for setting my perceptions straight for me. HUGS and many many thanks Claire GREAT BLOG. For me this is the very best because you really taught me something new and exciting. There is HOPE in the World and hope for PEACE in our time too. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1850 days ago
  • DALID414
    Oh my goodness Claire, I don't even know how to thank you for this educational trip. At the start of the blog I thought how sad that so many people live with garbage around them, but seeing it as a way of making money and recycling opened my eyes wider than you can beleive!! I'm glad you took the time out of your trip to visit this non-touritsy village, to educate this simple minded girl. emoticon emoticon emoticon

    1850 days ago
    Extraordinary!!! I still say you find beauty wherever you go.
    1850 days ago
  • JUNEAU2010
    I am completely blown away! I drank in every word and every picture!
    1851 days ago
    That is so awesome!! All of it! When you first mentioned Garbage Village and had the pictures of the trash everywhere and said people lived there I thought it was so extremely sad to live in a place like that. But then as I read on and saw the products they make and all the recycling I understood more. At first I thought it was a place where the poorest off the poor had to live among all the garbage. Glad I was wrong It is so impressive what they do with it and how much is recycled. And the cave churches are just amazing! Thanks for sharing all of that and also the people you meet as you travel You really seem to attract kids to you. Such an awesome job!
    1851 days ago
    Thank you so very much for sharing your life !! Your blogs just blow my (old) mind. Thank you for your photos and the narratives... I sure do get an education via your blogs.
    1851 days ago
    Thanks for the honour of accompanying you to this wonderful place. emoticon
    1851 days ago
    God puts beauty and wonder in the most amazing places. Even in the midst of destruction and waste there is construction and value. Thank you for sharing. You have such an open heart , keep believing and working! Life is worth it.
    1851 days ago
    I can't imagine why anyone would want to live and work in a city full of garbage?? But even so, it is a very interesting city and the things they make are beautiful. I'm glad you're home safe and thanks for sharing your travels and pictures with us.

    1851 days ago
    We could put a lot of people to work with that concept. Being a recycle enthuseist it's good to see people making the best out of a difficult situation. The church was emoticon and it's good to put faces on those who's lives are touched that way. Thanks again for sharing your pictures.
    1851 days ago
    I enjoy reading your blogs and seeing all the beautiful pictures. I feel like I have had a trip to Cairo! I hope you feel better soon; it is not much fun to be sick. emoticon
    1851 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    What a wonderful blog and how wonderful that you were able to visit this amazing city. The fact that 85% of the garbage is recycled is astounding. Thank you for taking us along on this amazing little journey and teaching us about how another world lives.
    The Cave Cathedral is beautiful and awe inspiring! How wonderful to be there and be a small part of it for a moment in time. The beauty and talent that went into building something like that is just amazing.
    The children and the families are so cute and how wonderful that they are so friendly and want to meet you and talk to you.
    Thank you for once again showing us a part of the world that most of us have probably never even heard of let alone visited!
    You are looking marvelous in all those pictures too! emoticon emoticon emoticon Holly
    1851 days ago
  • RAMONA1954
    Absolutely amazing! I loved the cave cathedral! It's so wonderful you were able to see the garbage city and see what amazing things are there. Loved the photos as always.
    Hope you get over your virus soon and feel better. Take care.
    1851 days ago
    Absolutely amazing photos, claire !

    I've read about the garbage village on the outskirts of Cairo. I didn't know that they even allowed non Egyptians to see it. I love seeing homemade crafts like those. very creative. very talented people.

    I've been reading about a slum in Mumbai where families collect and sell recycled materials to make a living. If you ever get the chance, see if you can find this book by Katherine Boo called Behind the Beautiful Forevers. I think you'll like it.

    Thank you once again for sharing your journey to Egypt with us !

    1851 days ago

    Comment edited on: 4/27/2013 3:39:47 PM
    Claire, I have never seen such beauty among garbage and I have never seen so much garbage! The beauty of the handmade items, the cathedrals, and most of all the people just takes my breath away! I am sure that little Marian will remember you and your kindness for the rest of her days! The impact that you are making on people and the world that they live in is a wondrous gift. Thank you for sharing this amazing
    little corner of the world with us. I just can't even begin to put my thoughts and feelings into words. emoticon
    1851 days ago
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