October 31, 2009 § 7 Comments

so there are rumors that schools in egypt are going to close again because of swine flu.  the whole swine flu scare here seems so absurd.

anyways.  found this month old post about swine flu, the zabbaleen (our swine loving garbage collectors), and egyptian government ridiculousness.

Before leaving Cairo earlier this summer, I spent a day in the zabbaleen (garbage collectors) neighborhood. This area is home to 30,000 people who exist in a symbiotic relationship with the city: they go door-to-door to collect Cairo’s trash and then recycle it in small workshops. But one of the links of this cycle is now missing: pigs. The Egyptian government–prey to hysteria and very probably religious prejudice (pigs are raised by Christians in Egypt and considered unclean by Muslims)–ordered a total pig cull after the outbreak of the so-called Mexican flu. Cairo’s garbage collectors happen to be Christians, and the pigs were used to dispose of tons of organic garbage. With the pigs gone, not only have hundreds of families lost their livelihood overnight, but the city has lost an efficient way of disposing of organic waste, which the zabbaleen now dump in lots around the city. You can hear a detailed story I did about this, for the Radio Netherlands environmental show Earthbeat, here. (Also, check out  Liam Stack’s reporting on this issue for the Christian Science Monitor).

The pig cull is just the latest blow to the zabbaleen community. The authorities consider the whole area an embarrassment and are constantly scheming to relocate it far out in the desert and out of sight. A few years ago a plan was introduced to “modernize” the garbage collection system by subcontracting to modern companies. But the whole thing seems to be a bit of a scam: the garbage companies actually subcontract the zabbaleen (who get paid less than when working for themselves); the recycling rate is much lower. Everyone in Cairo now gets billed for this supposedly new-and-improved garbage collection service, but also still pays their local zabbaal, who continues to come to their door.

so here in abdeen, cairo.  now all that trash gets picked up a lot less regularly and gets dumped in just larger trash piles rather than being eaten/recycled by the pigs.  because the egyptian govt decided to kill all the pigs.

a lot more trash on the streets.

which means that the street cats and ferrets and rats are having a field day.  and of course the street cats also leave their feces  in the streets.  which is not picked up either.

which leads to my kid walking home.  and getting roundworm from the cat shit.




§ 7 Responses to zabbaleen

  • Aaminah says:

    okay, i’m gonna say this for the benefit of your readers. it’s not directed at you, mai’a, because i think you already know this and even if you don’t know the particulars, you comprehend the gist of it.

    1) there is nothing “Islamic” about some muslims’ fear of pigs, in the context that they served a use in Egypt.

    2) the Islamic issue of pigs being unclean ONLY means: a) we don’t eat pig, b) we don’t touch pig or if for some reason we have to then we must wash very thoroughly

    3) the reason that the pig is considered unclean for eating are quite obvious – they eat garbage, offal, etc

    4) Allah created the pig! The pig exists for a reason, and any semi-intelligent person (muslim or non) should be able to understand that. Allah doesn’t make mistakes, the pig is put here for a reason. It seems like at least part of that reason is that they take darn good care of the garbage! so destroying them out of some ridiculous fear of an illness that you don’t know they are infected with, and keeping them from doing their God-given job that happens to benefit humans greatly… well, that is stupid and possibly downright sinful!

    • mama says:

      dear aaminah

      ah thx. sometimes i forget that my audience (as it may be) would not have the automatic context necessarily that the egyptian government is using some warped interpretation of islam to get rid of the zabbaleen. that this is much more about class and image. than anything to do with religion.
      one of the things i love about cairo is the symbiotic relationships that are created between various communities that allow this city to run despite the government’s ineffectiveness.
      thx aaminah… 😉 …

  • Aischa says:

    I just don’t get why there is no pride in cleanliness? I’ve seen it in halal stores here too (US). It makes me crazy—and I am not a clean freak.
    Also crazy that people automatically equate pigs and dogs as evil scary things.

  • Aaminah says:

    mai’a, i totally went all soapbox on that last comment then took a call from my mom and was out the door. so i FORGOT that i also meant to say that i do agree with your assessment that there is an issue between “Muslim” Egyptians and Coptic Egyptians. and that this situation is about getting something over on the Copts, making things hard for them, and discriminating against their way of doing things. which is ridiculous, and also not Islamic. by which i mean, it’s not even some warped “interpretation” of Islam, it’s just people being crappy to other people and using their religion as an excuse for what they want to do.

  • Nora says:

    Mai’a, I’m a very sporadic reader, I always get a lot out of your blog, when I get to reading it. (I loved the anti-racism training/whiteness studies post – Tim Wise kind of creeps me out, too.)

    I just wanted to say that I loved this story, and the inexorable logic that runs through it: how avoiding one thing (swine flu) leads to another (roundworm) and how sadly representative that is of the bargains humans often make on this earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading zabbaleen at guerrilla mama medicine.


%d bloggers like this: