Zabaleen Village is in the heart of the working class neighbourhood of Manshiyet Nasr in Cairo, which is better known as Mansheya.
The neighbourhood has a population of 60,000, living amidst the constant recycling of Cairo’s waste and rubbish: these are the Zabaleens, who belong to the orthodox Coptic Church of Alexandria (only 5,000 Muslims actually live in the neighbourhood) and mainly come from the countryside of Assiut (to the south of Cairo).
These people first settled in the working class district of Imbaba. Once they had saved enough money to buy land off the Government (a sum of approximately 50,000 Egyptian pound – 6,800 euro), they moved to the Zabaleen Village and independently built their own homes with the help of some small local businesses, which, as well as housing extended families, also act as sorting and retrieval centres for waste.
The Zabaleens provide the city with a really good service, because Cairo generates 10,000 tons of waste-a-day, there is no differentiated waste collection and only one single waste dump up on Mount Moquattam is currently operating. These people manage to sort out, recycle and reuse up to 90% of the waste.
This is why they were officially authorised to carry out this business in 1996, despite living in terrible conditions in terms of health and hygiene (with a life expectancy in the neighbourhood of just 40 years). Each family unit owns a building, and each group of 10 to15 families controls one area. Some groups specialise in retrieving one type of material, such as plastic or glass, while others are responsible for monitoring several different products. 3 to 4 families live in each building, and generally speaking each one occupies one level, while the others are used for storing, sorting out and recycling waste collected from the city as well as for rearing livestock, such as cows, sheep, goats, geese and, most importantly, pigs, which are not eaten but are actually a fundamental means of getting rid of organic waste, which they feed off.
The neighbourhood, considered to be Cairo’s second biggest slum after the City of the Dead, is mainly inhabited by Christians, who until 10 years ago were not allowed to live within the walls of the city, and who, therefore, began to live – illegally – in Mount Moquattam. The presence of a Muslim minority is due to several relocations of dwellers affected by building collapses in the historic centre and in the neighbourhood of Imbaba.

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