An independent documentary that depicts the harrowing and honorable life of a family of Coptic Christian trash workers living in Cairo’s garbage city was recently named “Project of the Week” by IndieWire – a respected source of independent art news.
This distinction puts the film called Zabaleen in the running for “Project of the Month.” And if it wins, the creative team behind this beautiful, moving account will win a free consultation from the internationally-renowned Sundance Film Institute – pretty much the biggest dream of any filmmaker.
Cairo’s informal trash workers
Directed by Justin Kramer and produced by Carrie Vermillion, Zabaleen follows Mourad Waleed, his wife Um, and their 11 children as they cope with life as Cairo’s informal trash workers. See a preview below.
The Zabaleen (or Zabbaleen) which translates directly from Arab into English as “Garbage People” harvest and hand-sort 15,000 tonnes of waste every day, recycling nearly 80% of that. Although they are responsible for one of the most successful recycling programs throughout the Middle East, this community of roughly 70,000 Coptic Christians face all kinds of discrimination.
According to the Zabaleen Project, Mourad’s mornings are all the same. “He wakes up at 2am. Then, he fights to get his sons out of bed for an hour before leaving late for his garbage route in Shoubra.” This involves traveling door to door either on a donkey or with a small flatbed truck to pick up and sort hundreds of pounds of trash every day.
Understanding garbage city
Garbage City is a relatively well-known phenomenon in the world, but it richly needs greater exposure. In the meantime, all sorts of designers and architects have tried to fix the Zabaleen, whose pigs used to sort Cairo’s organic waste before the city culled all 200,000 of them in 2009, as though the system needs fixing.
Instead of patronizing or misunderstanding them, the stylized documentary portrays in a more compassionate light the increasingly vulnerable Coptic Christians without whom Egyptians would be swimming in their own waste.
Decades of corrupt governance in Egypt has resulted in the complete erosion of municipal services including trash collection, and the Zabaleen pick up the slack.
Even so, children play in heaps of steaming waste and are at risk of contracting disease while the stretch of land at the base of Cairo’s Moqattam Mountain is an eyesore. Block after block of rubbish accumulates in every direction, on every rooftop, and along every street corner. And don’t even get us started about the stench.
Help catapult Egypt’s environmental issues into the greater consciousness
If you would like to support the Zabaleen Project, why not visit the team’s Facebook page, and get ready to vote for them in the “Project of the Month” poll taking place towards the end of the month.
More on Garbage City in Cairo:
Mekano Designs Renewable Energy Scraper for Cairo’s Filthy Garbage City
Cairo’s Fixers: Repairers That are Helping to Heal the Planet
Green Tidings From the American University in Cairo