Another set of victims of swine flu  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

In an article in the New York Times, “Cleaning Cairo, but Taking a Livelihood,” Michael Slackman reports from Cairo, Egypt about he zabaleen (garbage collectors) of that sprawling city. (You can read his report here.) Turns out the zabaleen are not simply business owners but a community—a community of Christians.


CAIRO — The garbage collectors of Cairo live in neighborhoods spilling over with trash. The children play with the trash and in the trash, when they are not helping to sort or collect the trash. The women sit right in the trash, picking out rotten food with their hands and tossing it to their pigs, which live right there in the neighborhood with them.


It is a world of shocking odors and off-putting sights. But it is their world, the world of the zabaleen, hundreds of thousands of people who have made lives and a community by collecting Cairo’s trash and transforming it into a commodity…


“It is not a job, it is a life,” said Isat Naim Gindy, grandson of one of Cairo’s original zabaleen, who now runs a nonprofit organization to help educate the children of garbage collectors.


The beginning of what they fear is the end started with the government’s reaction to news that a swine influenza was spreading around the world. Egypt decided to kill all its pigs, about 300,000, although there have been no cases of swine flu in Egypt. International agencies quickly criticized the authorities, saying that pigs were not spreading the illness.


But Egypt did not stop the huge pig cull...


The government said that it was no longer acting just to prevent swine flu, but that it was carrying out part of a plan to clean up the zabaleen, to finally get them to live in sanitary conditions. Egypt has tried this before. Several years ago the government tried to hire private companies to collect the trash. But the waste of Cairo overwhelmed the private companies, and little changed for the zabaleen.


“We want them to live a better life, humanely treated; it’s a very difficult life,” said Sabir Abdel Aziz Galal, chief of the infectious disease department in the Ministry of Agriculture.


Then the government came up with a new strategy: take away the pigs.


The zabaleen are Christians. Egypt is a majority Muslim country. The zabaleen are convinced that the government wants to use the swine flu scare not to help improve their lives but to get pigs out of Egypt. Islam prohibits eating pork.


“The bottom line is pigs are not welcome in Egypt,” said the Rev. Samaan Ibrahim, a priest in one of the largest zabaleen neighborhoods in Cairo…


As is often the case in Egypt, this crisis started with a decision that came unexpectedly, without consultation, and without consideration for how drastically it would affect about 400,000 people in zabaleen families.


The zabaleen and their supporters argue that if the people of Cairo could be taught to separate organic and inorganic waste before throwing out their household trash, the problem could be solved. The pigs could be raised in farms outside of the city and the organic waste could be carted out there daily.


But that does not appear to be under consideration….


Zabaleen voices will be part of that myriad song of praise when representatives of every language and tribe and nation praise the One St John saw enthroned on high (Revelation 5:9-10). In the meantime they suffer, and many of their brothers—like me—didn’t even know of their existence.


This entry was posted at Monday, May 25, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I saw a news story on this just a couple of weeks ago. Thanks for bringing it to light on your blog as well.

Could that boy in the last photo holding the pig look any sweeter? I don't think so.

May 26, 2009 at 10:33 PM

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