Friday, August 18, 2017

Driving Through Garbage City To See A Spectacle......

On the outskirts of Cairo is an area most tourists never get to see. Mountains of garbage fill up every square inch of the streets, including rooftops, garages and other buildings. Commonly called, "Garbage City," the area is home to some 90,000 Coptic Christians. While 80% of Egypt's population is Muslim there is a small 20% of the population that call themselves Coptic's, meaning non-Muslim.

The city of Cairo has never had any type of organized garbage pick-up system, so one group of inventive Coptic's called, "the Zabbaleen people," took it upon themselves to start a business collecting trash. They began going door to door picking up trash for a small fee which residents were all too happy to pay. With so many people around the city collecting trash things got out of hand and the government had to step in. They offered these garbage collectors an area outside the city center, provided them a place to live and keep their trash.

Despite what people think of the Zabbaleen's they have successfully turned a profit out of trash and manage to recycle over 90% of the trash they pick up. Far better statistics than any other nation from what I've heard. The men are responsible for picking up the loads of trash while the women and kids rummage through it to find the jewels they need to keep.

We drove by many workshops that had perfected a specialty of turning trash into treasures for resale. Old furniture was sanded down and made to look pretty again before selling. Car parts were utilized, old appliances, plastic and whatever else they could reuse they did.

I asked Alfy our guide IF all of the garbage people were poor? He said, "no, not at all because they are making money from this way of life." Sure they might look dirty because after all they are dealing with trash. But surely the money they rake in is clean and goes to feed their families and fund more recycling endeavors.

Yesterday we got to experience first hand the sights, horrible smells and spectacle of garbage city. A experience that will remain with us forever.

Not far from garbage city is the Coptic City of the Dead, a huge cemetery complex filled with tombs and mausoleums. There are actually people living and working among the dead by choice. Our guide explained that not all dead bodies here are put into coffins, but many are just laid into the dirt as their final resting place. As a former paramedic who had to deal with death on a daily basis, Clyde recognized the stench of death along with the other horrible smells of the area.

This is one of two major Cities of The Dead in Cairo, this one being for Coptics while the larger one that runs some 4 miles in length is to bury Muslims.

Once we made our way through the potholes, trash and bad smells of Garbage City we arrived at something we had not expected. A cave church built into a mountain full of spectacular artwork. Wow.

Mario The Artist Can Be Seen Hard At Work Most Everyday

Everywhere We Looked There Was More To See

The Monastery of St. Simon, better known as the Cave Church of the Zabbaleen's, is a massive church set into the side of the Makattam mountains. Legend has it that one man had the calling to reach out to the trash people who were living a life of poverty, alcoholism, and squalor. He created a small church that was later expanded into what it is today.

Seating for 20,000 worshippers inside with room for another 40,000 outside.
On 9/11 we were told that 70,000 worshippers literally rocked the mountainside with prayer.

This Carved Virgin Mary Was Found In The Ceiling Of The Old Smaller Cave Church
Indicating That There WAS A Former Church Here Before This One Was Made

Then along came Polish artist Mario who for the past twenty some years has added his magnificent touch. Mario married an Egyptian woman, they had several kids and his life's passion has become this church project. This massive, mega-church seats 20,000 people with room for another 40,000 outside. An amazing surprise perched high in the mountains next to a garbage dump.

There he is!  Super Mario!
The man responsible for all the artwork.

On the same grounds as the magnificent church is a smaller version used as an auditorium. There we met with a local guide who gave us some information and told us the auditorium has seating for 2000 people. The auditorium is also used for smaller masses, services and even exorcisms on a weekly basis. Beneath the large auditorium is yet another cave church that was locked up. We were allowed to peek through a window and could see the altar reassuring us that there was another church below.

On our way back to the hotel our guide introduced us to one of his favorite restaurants for some local cuisine. Koushari is a poor man's dish that is commonly eaten in Egypt. A combination of pasta, rice, lentils and chickpeas topped with tomato sauce, it was cheap and really tasty. We added two small Greek salads and drinks for a whopping total of just $4.22 for dinner for the two of us!

This modern three-level restaurant serves only one thing....Koushari
 it was packed with locals.

Small Greek Salad With Lemon To The Left
Large Bowl Of Koushari, Tomato Sauce On The Side And A
Very Hot Sauce Is Served Alongside

On Our Way Down The Stairs We Spotted The Kitchen

Another interesting day of exploring the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of Cairo, Egypt.....along the gringo trail.

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