Tobias Hitsch, The Zabbaleen – Cairo’s waste pickers, from PRIVATE 45 – Development. An Ecological Question
The Zabbaleen are a community of waste pickers living not far from one of Cairo’s main tourist attractions; the Citadel. They are slightly hidden near the Mokattam Hills, in a place locally known as Garbage City. If you can’t see their houses, you can find them by following the smell that rises from the narrow, debris-filled streets. For decades now, they have maintained a simple, yet very efficient system of collecting waste from many urban areas. On foot, with donkey carts and nowadays also with pickups, they roam the streets of the endlessly growing metropolis.
Day and night, they not only collect many tons of waste; and recycle most of it, often under appalling conditions. I wondered about the lungs of a worker who inhaled toxic dust day after day while melted little bits of aluminium into resalable blocks. The places where the Zabbaleen work are the places where they live – often among animals. Indeed much of their infrastructure is in fact made out of waste.