Egypt: Garbage City
6 March 2017

Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt

منشية ناصر‎‎

Manshiyat Naser (“Garbage City”) is a resourceful community of rubbish recyclers on the outskirts of Cairo that is often mislabeled as a slum. The following images are part of an ongoing body of work shedding light on this remarkable and marginalized Coptic community in Cairo. Manshiyat Naser is a microcosm of Egypt’s untold sectarian coexistence that remains ignored and even denied by journalists who cover the Middle East. While the nation as a whole is often inaccurately portrayed in the media, I have found that Manshiyat Naser is also irresponsibly depicted by journalists who appear to know little about the actual people who inhabit it. For example, the use of the derogatory term “Zabaleen” has become ubiquitous with Manshiyat Naser, when in fact its residents would prefer different nicknames. I hope to correct these indecent depictions of a unique and dignified community of microentrepreneurs, the “Zaarayeb” of Cairo’s Garbage City, or alternatively, “Nas Illi Min Manshiyat Naser” (the people of Manshiyat Naser). To the meticulous observer, Manshiyat Naser supplants the primitive, classist designation of “slum” and becomes something much more nuanced; a locale where peoples’ contentment is at odds with their circumstances; a community of religious and economic outcasts who have found peace in their own unusual way. ☗

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(1) Ayoub and his tattoos. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(2) A man is seen tending to the nest box on his building’s rooftop. Breeding pigeons is deeply engrained in the culture of poorer communities in Egypt. These unregulated, homemade towers often house dozens of pigeons which are raised and flown competitively against neighbors at sunset every night. In the background is Mokattam Mountain and the Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(3) Two men are seen in the streets of Garbage City carrying plastic bags that are custom-made to collect trash. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

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(4) View of Garbage City from the Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner, as seen before the creation of eL Seed’s “Perception.” Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. December, 2015.

(5) A man refuels his tuk-tuk on the streets of Garbage City. Tuk-tuks were only introduced to the streets of Egypt about 10 years ago, and remain mostly unlicensed and intermittently banned in parts of the Cairo Governorate. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. December, 2015.

(6) A boy hangs outside of his window. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. December, 2015.

(7) Coptic graffiti decorates the back of a tuk-tuk, reading “Our Lord is with us” (ربنا موجود) in Arabic. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. December, 2015.

 

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(8) French/Tunisian artist eL Seed’s “Perception,” photographed a few weeks after it was created, as seen from the Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner. Borrowing the words of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, it says “Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first.” (إن أراد أحد أن يبصر نور الشمس، فإن عليه أن يمسح عينيه) The piece is painted on over 40 buildings and is best viewed in its entirety from a single vantage point near the Cave Church. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(9) The parking lot and entrance to the Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner (“The Cave Church”). Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(10) Brothers Peter (left) and Mina Momtaaz (right) hanging out in the parking lot at the Cave Church. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(11) View from a rooftop neighboring the Momtaaz house in Garbage City, the evening of September 12, 2016. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

 

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(12) Mina standing on top of the nest boxes on a neighboring rooftop, the night of September 12, 2016. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(13) Small repairs are made to the nest boxes as friends gather around. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(14) Mina cradles a pigeon. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(15) Sami clasping a pigeon. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

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(16) Goats on the rooftop of the Momtaaz house. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(17) Mina holds one of the family’s goats on his roof. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(18) Mina with his younger uncle Samaan. Families in Garbage City are notoriously large, which can lead to unusual age differences between relatives. Most people in Garbage City are originally from villages in Upper Egypt, where it is not uncommon for families to intermarry. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(19) The main amphitheater in the Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner accommodates approximately 18,000 people. An interfaith service during Egypt’s 2011 Revolution hosted about 70,000, which included overflow in the parking lot. The Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner is the largest church in the Middle East. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

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(20) The tattoo parlor at Garbage City’s Cave Church. Copts bear a hallmark cross tattoo on their wrist or hands, many of them undergoing the tattoo process at an extremely young age. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(21) A young boy receives his cross tattoo as friends and family watch. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(22) Sherif, one of the most heavily-tattooed men in Garbage City. Tattoos are popular among Egypt’s Copts, and are supposedly gaining popularity in greater Cairo as well. Contrary to popular belief, tattoos are not taboo in all of Islam. Some Syrian Muslims wear decorative and tribal tattoos similar to the Copts. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(23) Images of Jesus, the Saints, and Coptic leaders adorn the entrance to a home in Garbage City. Copts in Garbage City decorate their cars and houses with images like this, claiming that it brings a blessing. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

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(24) Elderly man and a boy. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. December, 2015.

(25) Young men hanging out on the streets of Garbage City. Most men start working in the family business at a young age, often dropping out of school to work nights collecting trash all over Cairo. They sleep until the afternoon, while women stay home to sort the rubbish so it can be sold and recycled. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. April, 2016.

(26) A man sorts rubbish in the ground floor of his home. The people of Garbage City are most often referred to in Arabic as “Zabaleen” (a derogatory term meaning “garbage people”). However, they don’t live in the rubbish–most families keep it on the ground floor which functions as a workspace. Respectful Egyptians know the community as Zarayeb, which translates to something more like “pigsty-operators.” Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

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(27) Portrait of a man in Garbage City. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(28) Rubbish is not the only business in Manshiyat Naser. Most Egyptians shun swine because of Islam, but foreigners are frequent patrons of pork butchers in Garbage City. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(29) Friends share tea–a staple of life in Egypt–on the street in Manshiyat Naser. Egypt’s favorite beverage differs from other Arab countries that tend to prefer dark, Turkish-style coffee. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(30) Woman looks after her corner market on the main street in Garbage City. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(31) Portrait of an elderly woman. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(32) A man sits outside of his home. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(33) Portrait of a family at the entrance to their home. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(34) Three young men transport rubbish on a donkey cart. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

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(35) Portrait of an elderly man in the doorway of his home. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(36) Garbage City’s main thoroughfare. Population estimates run the gamut, but Manshiyat Naser is likely home to between 250,000 and 400,000 people, 90% of whom are Coptic Christians. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(37) The Monastery of Saint Simon the Tanner. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(38) Elementary school in Manshiyat Naser’s recycling center. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(39) An elementary student looks out the window. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

(40) View of Garbage City’s recycling center and green space from a rooftop nest box in a nearby neighborhood. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. September, 2016.

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(41) Entrance to the Cave Church. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(42) Portrait of Aadil in the Cave Church. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(43) Aadil and his Bible. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

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(44) Friends converse while children hitch a ride on a truck at Garbage City’s main thoroughfare. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(45) Portrait of Mina Momtaaz and his uncle. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(46) Man on his balcony. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(47) A blind man naps at the entrance to his home. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

(48) A man enjoys his hookah (water pipe). Hookah is known as argileh (أرجيلة‎‎) in most Arab countries, but in Egypt it is called shisha (شیشه). Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.

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(49) A boy smiles on a cluttered rooftop in Garbage City. Manshiyat Naser, Cairo, Egypt. November, 2015.