The Zebelline of Cairo is the trash city. We drove through it the other day, on the way to the most beautiful, amazing church I have ever seen. I had never heard about the Zebelline before coming here and it’s not on wikipedia, so I’m willing to bet some of you haven’t either. All the trash of the city is brought there, and the people who live in this largely Coptic Christian neighborhood sort everything. They then recycle it for money. Apparently the place has a mob structure. Those at the top are making millions of pounds, and those at the bottom literally live in filth.
If I ever thought Cairo was dirty, I had no clue what was coming. We saw the zebelline on what was considered an exceptionally clean day. The smell is pervasive, and was even worse a week or two ago when all the pigs were slaughtered. If you haven’t heard, Egypt is wicked scared of swine flue. They took all our temps on our way in (and redid mine several times, looking just freaked out enough to make me think they were gonna throw me in quarantine) and I’ve heard some people may have been x-rayed, but I haven’t been able to validate that claim yet.
When swine flu first came into the public discussion, President Mubarak decided to slaughter all 300,000 pigs in Egypt, just in case. There have been no cases of swine flu in Egypt, and no scares. Muslims do not eat pork, so it is the Coptic Christian population that raises pigs, with tourists and Copts consuming them. The pigs were slaughtered in the Zebelline, so that’s where all the protests were. It has quieted down a bit, but it was still considered safer for us not to get out of the vans. Also, I think most of us would have felt entirely uncomfortable walking around gawking at people’s lives as though they’re some sort of spectacle or tourist attraction that you can buy tickets to see.
Many menus didn’t have pork products on them to begin with, but now they are absolutely gone. In many cases, we’ve seen censored menus, so that any reference to pork products is completely whited out.
Getting back to the trash city though, it is exceptional. Even more amazing was driving through it to see the cave church, which was gorgeous. At the top of the hill, looking out over the entire city of Cairo, is a church carved into a mountain.
Taking pictures afterward, we ran into some cute little kids who teased us and spoke Arabic. We have seen tons of little kids, most of whom wave or run up to us. These children, however, never begged or tried to get money. The sad thing was that we all knew they lived in the Zebelline. It is important to note, though, that living in the zebellin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re poor. Many choose to stay there, like a woman who died a few years ago. When going through her belongings, millions of Egyptian pounds were found in her mattress, yet she remained in her neighborhood. Somebody is making money off of the system, it’s just not always clear who.
This little side trip served to remind us of the severe economic differences between the US and other parts of the world. Zamalek, my neighborhood, is wealthy for Cairo, which is wealthy for Egypt, which is wealthy for Africa. There are also many different ways to look at poverty, and the brain’s ability to filter. I’m sure many people who live in the Zebelline have never left. All they know of the world is garbage.