My thoughts on visiting “Garbage City” in Cario, Egypt.

My time in Egypt has been short of  amazing. I have been able to see the Pyramids, the Sahara Desert (again), visit many temples,  watch history being made in Tahrir Square, fall in love with an amazing Island in the Nile, view Luxor from above and many other things. When we plan on visiting places we normally only want to see the amazing and beautiful sides of the places we visit. I mean it’s only natural. However before getting to Cairo I knew for sure that I wanted to visit “Garbage City”. I had never heard of it until my friend Giulia wrote a post “Same same but different: cave churches around the world” in it she mentions the beautiful cave church that is only found after crossing “Garbage City”. I was intrigued and knew that while I was in Cairo I must visit it. So I did just that and before I tell you about my experience and thoughts let me give you some details on “Garbage City”.

“Garbage City” is actually named Manshiyat Naser, but everyone knows it as “Garbage City” because it’s a city where the economy revolves around the collection of garbage. The cities trash is brought here by the Zabbaleen (arabic for garbage people) who then sort through it to retrieve any potentially useful or recyclable items. The living conditions are very poor and the city lacks any infrastructure. It does have streets, shops and brick apartments, but has no running water or sewage and minimal electricity. The majority of the population in the city consist of Christians that have come from all over Egypt in waves of migration over the last 100 years. Within the city at the end of it you will find one of the most beautiful and unique churches in the world. The Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest church in the Middle East with capacity of seating 20,000 people.

Upon arriving in Cairo, I had mentioned to a few people that I wanted to visit “Garbage City”, but was encountered with many questions. The main one:

“Why would you want to visit such a place?”.

I always answered with:

“We can’t travel around & only see the pretty. We have to be open to see it all.”

I know it seems crazy, but it’s the truth… this is our world and yes it is beautiful and amazing, but it is also sad and un-understandable (is that a word?) sometimes. Traveling around the world is a growing experience of your mind and it gets blown away many times and visiting “Garbage City” was just what Giulia told me it would be “an experience”.

How to get to Garbage City, Cairo!

I had my friend who is Egyptian write on a piece of paper in Arabic “Please take us to Garbage City and leave the meter running and bring us back.” (or something similar to that I forgot).

Manshiyat Naser - Garbage City, Cairo

Manshiyat Naser - Garbage City, Cairo

The Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner (also known as Cave Church).

Garbage City, Cairo

Manshiyat Naser - Garbage City, Cairo

Manshiyat Naser - Garbage City, Cairo

Manshiyat Naser - Garbage City, Cairo

Manshiyat Naser - Garbage City, Cairo

Striking images of Manshiyat Naser also known as “Garbage City”.

In the photo with me I had no idea how to look at the camera… I didn’t want to smile, but didn’t want to look sad. What I got was a confused face of I have no clue how to feel about this.

As I mentioned above visiting “Garbage City” is something I wanted to do while in Cairo, but did not want to do alone. I was lucky enough that Norbert from Globo Treks arrived in Cairo while I was there and was going to be there a few days. I mentioned what I wanted to do and he didn’t ask any question he said he would love to join me. We thought it would be difficult to get a cab to take us out there, but on our 1st attempt we were able to get a cab to take us. The cab driver spoke no English, but through out the whole time we were able to communicate with hand gestures. At some points we did get worried, because it seemed like even the cab driver was not sure where to go, but he would stop and ask people and show them the paper and we would continue on with out a hitch.

Upon arriving both me and Norbert were awe struck, we both had never seen anything like this. Piles and piles and piles of trash lined up along buildings or completely filling what looked like huge ware houses. You would see men, women and children sorting through trash and trucks filled with even more trash coming through the middle of town where many stores and food markets were.  This is what we were able to see in the cab on the way to the church at the back. We made it to the church wondered around and couldn’t believe how something so beautiful is hidden all the way behind such sadness. On the way back I mentioned to Norbert I want to walk back to be able to take pictures. It was like playing charades trying to explain to the cab driver that we were going to walk behind and along side him as he made his way down slowly.

Walking down the main road that leads out of the city, was an experience I had not had on this trip before. Yes I have seen poverty and many sad things on my trip, but nothing like this. I just couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe we live in a world were we allow people to live like this. I had to fight back my tears many times. I would see plastic bottles everywhere and feel so guilty. I kept wondering… “wow is that a bottle I threw away?” “Did I drink out of it?”. I would see soda cans everywhere and think the same thing. We live in consumer eat consumer throw away world and don’t realize the damage we are doing to the world. To see this 1st hand and try explaining it is very difficult. It’s been a few weeks since I went and I still think about it. I know I didn’t write many of my thoughts, but I hope with this post you are able to get an idea of the conditions some people live in the world and how it feels to actually see this 1st hand. I am not done traveling and as I do I will continue to see both sides of the world the beautiful and the ugly.

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  1. Good for you to seek out the ugly…I’m not so sure I would have done the same. Certainly makes one think about what we do to this good earth…
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..How I Can Save For Travel

    • Thanks D.J. yes sometimes it hard to seek out, but I do think we should see it. It does remind us and makes us think about what we are doing to our planet.

  2. Brings to mind how overwhelmed I get every time I think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – the largest dump in the world in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    Thanks for raising awareness!
    Kent @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Our Seattle Snow Fix

  3. Gareth Sear says:

    The question is can you see the beauty on the ugly? Why was happening in Garbge City? Were people making money they otherwise wouldt? Were they recycling rather than burying/burning? Sometimes small amounts of enterprising activity such as this can lift people out of poverty albeit slowly. Granted, they should have sewers and water, but that may come in time. I’m assuming you have written to the Egyptian government / tourist board with your thoughts? Interesting article – thanks for highlighting this place. I’m guessing this is repeated in similar ways the world over…

    • Oh wow Gareth, so are great questions… that are now making me wonder. You are right these people are making a living out this… it reminds of the quote “One mans trash is another mans treasure…”. As for writing the government or tourist board now I have not… I would love to but not while I am in the country. I would hate to have to get a media visa or be seen as a journalist or anything like that. Oh & yeah this is not the only slum in the world. So many all over the place… sad but true.

  4. It takes a lot to want to seek out the ugly. No one ever mentioned Garbage City when we were in Cairo. But I’m sure it’s because of the obvious reason. Good thing you had someone with you. And way to go on the note.. making sure you’re taken home afterward. How do you get home from a place like that?!
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..Rotorua’s 3 Must Do Tourist Attractions

    • Agree Kieu, it does take a lot because it’s not easy… and yeah no one ever mentions Garbage City when in Cario. It’s something people just don’t acknowledge. Oh yes it’s helpe wonders to get directions written in Arabic to hand to the cab driver. Yeah if we had not asked him to wait we would have been stuck out there.

  5. I think it is SO important to see both sides of the world, especially as a travel writer!!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Andi’s Pick: The Fearrington House Inn

  6. Mate, sounds like you just had a ‘life defining moment’…
    Thanks for posting on this, I ended up not going to garbage city when I was in Cairo as the swine flu had just sparked up at the time resulting in government authorities exterminating the pigs through the city that many of the christians use to consume the rubbish…

  7. I totally get you. I am actually fascinated by global garbage — which incidentally is a great conversation starter with new travellers you go out for a beer with: “What do you like?” “Garbage.” I was in Naples, Italy a few years back where the mafia runs the entire city. The citizens were having a dispute with them, so the mafia responded by letting all the garbage pile up. It was July, it was hot, and the mounds of garbage were about eight feet tall. It was a Trash Amusement Park. And I LOVED IT. And also the heroin junkies that laid shaking in the park right next to the hostel. Ah… Naples.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Oh shit Bula… wow. That is crazy about Naples… I knew they run the Naples but didn’t know they controlled everything. That is an interesting story… I have to admit their is something interesting about Garbage, but at the same time sad… I think you would enjoy a visit to this city. It’s quite the experience.

  8. So glad you wrote about this – how many times have we come across huge garbage problems and how many times did the locals NOT care about it at all. The amount of plastic bottles being wasted every day is unbelievable – we are trying to re-use our bottles as often as possible… We find it particularly hard to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ while we’re traveling, and sadly, the place where we accumulated the most garbage was in the U.S. ..
    Dani | Globetrottergirls recently posted..Hijacked by a Buddhist monk in Sukothai

    • Thanks Dani, yes I felt like I had to share this with everyone. It is something everyone should be aware of. It’s crazy how much trash just one of us makes in this world. Now multiply that by 6 BILLION. That is way to much!!! I do the same as I travel, but it’s hard to do so in countries where they don’t recycle at all or care as much.

  9. The wonderful community spirit felt in “Garbage City” is overwhelming and heartwarming. To be able to support your family and community through the recycling of others “garbage” takes much organization and community leaders. When the large companies tried to come in and begin garbage pick up in Cairo, the people from “Garbage City” would come earlier in the mornings to pick up the garbage and beat the new garbage trucks. In the end Things remained the same. Change is not always a good thing. It is an experience everyone should have…to visit this wonderful city.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Thank you for sharing this information with me Soni. I didn’t know that. It makes me so happy to see how amazing the people of this community really are. I agree everyone should visit this city.

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