Zabbaleen: Trash Town
This film offers a rare glimpse into how little life has changed for Egypt’s poor following the 2011 Arab Spring “revolutions.”
It specifically concerns the Cairo dump and the tens of thousands of people who live and work there collecting and sorting garbage for Egypt’s capitol. Most of the residents are Coptic Christians, but there are also Muslim families.
Men with trucks work in teams of 12 to collect trash from their assigned neighborhoods. Sorting and recycling metal plastic is also considered men’s. The plastic is cleaned and ground into powder to be sold to factories that remold it into plastic utensils and containers. Women mainly sort food waste and distribute it to chicken and pig farmers.* Children begin working at age 10-12, unless the family is destitute and needs the income of younger siblings.
Zabbaleen is largely self-governing and self-supporting. Ten percent of the community are managers and fairly well off. The managers refer disputes and criminal acts to a group of elders to resolve. Zabbaleen residents despise the police and army.
Many residents are descendants of Zabbaleen families engaged in this work for 40 or more years. The community has their own butchers, grocery stores and schools – though most children are too busy working to attend.
The average life expectancy in Zabbaleen is 55. This contrasts with an overall Egyptian life expectancy of 70.9.
*Raising pigs was banned for the two years the Muslim Brotherhood ran the Egyptian government.