The streets are lined with houses, cafes, shops, and the businesses that sort the garbage. Everywhere are posters with Coptic iconography.
Our first stop on the tour, led by Wagdy, a young engineering student from the community, is at the Church of St. Simon, carved out of the sandstone. It is the largest Christian church in the Middle East.
At the church is a depiction of a miracle said to have occured there sometime around the Fatamid period. It was a enactment of the "moving of mountains, if you have faith the size of mustard seed." Almost every site we visit has some kind of similar story marking it as a spot of divine significance.
Young girls curious about these strangers in their midst (note Mohamed in the background on the right, greeting some of the men at the local cafe). There are lots and lots of kids there, a sign of a very high birth rate typical of poor neighborhoods.
Goats in the stairway of one of the homes. The Copts used to have pigs that disposed of the organic component of the trash collected by the zabbaleen. During the swine flu scare of 2009, the government had all the pigs slaughtered (despite a lack of evidence that anyone was getting sick from them). As far as I can tell, it was a thinly disguised form of discrimination against the community, reflecting the low-level tension and dislike between many Muslims and Copts. There is a modus vivendi, but it does not work to the benefit of the Copts.
A roof scene, where cows and pigs (in the shade) live amidst the half-finished upper floors. Like most houses in Egypt, these structures are left unfinished, awaiting additional floors to house the expanding families (or additional livestock).
A typical truck, piled high with a load of plastic for market. A young man sits perched atop the pile, talking on his cell phone. Donkey cart on left.
One of the women sorting garbage, also talking on her cell phone.
A local woodworker, planing the door to a cabinet he was building, and greeting us as we passed.
We met with workers in the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), started by Laila Iskandar, which works with local women to produce handicrafts. They have made a nice documentary about some of the young men in the community, called "Garbage Dreams" (worth checking out).