Garbage People


  Above in the huge caverns of the adjacent mountains, newly adorned with immense carvings of Biblical scenes, churches were built that can hold 10,000 parishioners. These places of worship perhaps offer some solace. Nevertheless, they tower over an insult both to God and humanity.

Poverty has never subscribed to any particular faith. It works on Christians and Muslims alike. Nearly fourteen million residents of Cairo are "poor," four million don't have potable water, three million lack access to a sewage system, and two million are "destitute."  Carts dragged by emaciated donkeys, and ancient trucks, carry the trash into the village where families living in overstuffed apartments sort it, bind it, and prepare it for sale. The product is then taken to recycling plants and resold thereby creating more garbage in what amounts to a circular process highlighted by exploitation and despair.

Garbage blurs the line between public and private space. It sets the stage on which individuals play out their lives. Its stink fills the air that the garbage people breathe. It lures the swarming flies whose vast number blurs the vision. It carries the germs that produce the countless diseases. It intensifies the already searing heat that often reaches 110 and sparks fires here and there. Grungy children play in the garbage. Wives cook food, wash clothes, and give birth surrounded by garbage. Men work amid the garbage, smoke their hookahs amid the garbage, laugh and cry amid the garbage. Old people with vapid eyes watch listlessly as the garbage is stacked ever higher in the suffocating alleys. Everyone looks as if they are simply waiting to die amid the vermin and the stench and the heat and the dust.

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mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA”>But is the garbage village really such an affront to human dignity? Democratic revolution is underway: there is a new state to be built, a bureaucracy to be purged, an army to be dealt with. Many will say, albeit sadly, that the entire economy is a wreck and that there are issues more important that the plight of 40,000 garbage people. Others will insist that outrage is a product of alien attitudes and that it is illegitimate for outsiders to demand solutions: such poverty is — after all "normal" in the region. Every city has its poor section, its slum, its ghetto. World travelers will surely note that worse (sic!) horrors can be found in the hellholes of Brazil, China, Congo, Darfur, India, Indonesia, or God knows where. An excuse always exists to avoid redressing the inexcusable. It doesn't take much to shift the viewer's gaze from the matter at hand. My memory of our driver and the garbage people is already growing dim. The only reminder is the lingering chill from the words written long ago by Bertolt Brecht:

                             And there are some who live in darkness

                             And there are others who live in light       

                             And one sees those in the light

                             Those in the darkness disappear.

Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture as well as Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. His books include line-break” />


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