Garbage City is the kidney of Cairo, a vital organ with a dirty job: clean, sort, and repurpose the dregs of the city. So you might expect a fair share of misery here. But not so, especially not today. Because today is Christmas Eve (January 6 by the Orthodox calendar), and almost all of the zabbaleen in this predominately Muslim metropolis are Coptic Christians. After migrating from southern Egypt looking for work, they began pig farming (a trade Muslims steer clear of because pigs are considered unclean in Islam) and initially collected organic waste as fodder before turning to the namesake trade of Garbage City: recycling for profit.
Sanaa’s husband, Antar, 39, comes home from work (he’s a treasurer at a local environmental group), having bought enough pork, beef, and eggs to feed 18 relatives after Midnight Mass. It’s a big event, not least because Copts—the Orthodox Christians who say they make up some 10 percent of Egyptians—have been on a strict Lenten diet (vegan except for fish) for the past 43 days. Christians elsewhere might recognize a 40-day diet that corresponds with the 40 days Moses fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments. But Copts add three extra days to commemorate the 10th century miracle in which Saint Simon the Tanner lifted the mountain the zabbaleen live on as a test of faith.
More from Christmas in Garbage City, now on Roads & Kingdoms
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