Friendly Garbage City, Mosques & A Quirky House
Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
215Trip End Dec 20, 2010
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Where I stayed
African House Hotel
When we told our hotel staff that we wanted to go to the Garbage City and asked if they could write the directions in Arabic so we could negotiate a return deal with a taxi driver, they thought we were insane and couldn't work out why we wanted to see this bizarre site. The guys offered us a driver and car for the afternoon for a small fee and some bakeesh (tips) for the driver who would wait for us at the places we wanted to go. Cool bananas. A garbage city, we had to see.
There is still alot of garbage on the streets of Cairo but some of it is collected and this is done by
60 000- 70 000 people known as the Zabaleen who are Coptic Christians
We went down into the streets of the community despite our driver telling us that in the past his car has been attacked by "monkeys", he meant children. We never felt unsafe there and in fact the people were some of the friendliest people we have ever met on our travels. Everybody came out to greet us, welcomed us and said hello. Children all wanted the handshake or high five and even the women were happy for us to take their pictures.
Many Zabbaleen suffer from health problems such as hepatitis, due to the low-tech sorting methods used and general poverty. Although these slums have streets, shops, and apartments like any other area, they lack infrastructure and often have no running water, sewage or electricity
There is a church perched on a ridge above the city that is a part of a whole complex of churches carved into a cliff that also has biblical scenes carved into it. Today the site is a major site of Coptic Christian pilgrimage. Another church, the Cave Cathedral or St Sama'ans Church is the largest church in the Middle East with seating for 20,000 people, and what a location.
Later this day we went to visit the Mosque Of Qaitbey built in 1474 by a sultan. The mosque is located in an area known as the City Of The Dead. The cemeteries are not only for people buried there but also for the living. More than 50 000 people live amongst the tombs where there is free sleeping space so the area is very low-income and unfortunately was unsafe for us to visit due to some recent attacks on tourists there
We drove past the giant and very impressive Mosque-Madrassa Of Sultan Hassan which was built between 1356 and 1363. It was Friday prayer time so we were unable to go inside. Instead we headed over to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun which was built between AD876 and 879. We can't really get our heads around the age of these buildings. Some footwear minders at the entrance put some canvas slipper bags onto our feet and we did a lap of the courtyard. You can't wear shoes inside a mosque and women must be covered including their scary knees. There is a spiral minaret and a large dome. We were there when one of the daily prayers was sung through a microphone and found that the sound echoed throughout the mosque. The prayer ritual whose meaning and power have remained unchanged for 14 centuries and sometimes sounds like a cow givung birth. The act of praying consists of a series of predefined movements of the body and recitals of words all designed to please Allah. The call goes "Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Ashhadu an la, Ilah ila Allah, Ashhadu an Mohammed rasul Allah, Haya ala as-sala, Haya ala as-sala" but normally just sounds like the cow giving birth. Upon exiting, the footwear guys took the bags off our feet and we donated some tips.
Next we visited the very cool Gayer Anderson Museum which is two joined houses next to the Ibn Tulun mosque restored by a British major and army doctor and filled with antiques, artwork and knick knacks. The entrance was steep at 30 Egyptian pounds but we had a tour guide and the houses were big. There were some wacky paintings (maybe a few too many of young boys?) and a secret room behind a closet and drawes plus there was a large copper urn that slid out to reveal a cistern. There was a glamorous harem room and a restored rooftop terrace that featured a pulley system that was used for pulling up trays of food and cafe from below. There was a gallery that looked down onto a magnificent reception hall and where an orchestra would have sat entertaining guests below. One room in the houses was used in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Nice one. again the obligatory tips were left.
We shopped at the handicrafts emporium across the street called Khan Misr Touloun where i bought some beautiful mother-of-pearl and wooden inlaid trinket boxes for gifts.
The driver who had been patiently waiting for us way too long got us through peak hour traffic and back to the hotel. Well done boy.