Thursday, 20 January 2011

Marty Aim: The Zabaleen of Cairo

Photo © Marty Aim-All Rights Reserved
I found Marty Aim's The Zabaleen photo essay to be timely in view of the New Year’s attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, that killed more than 20 people.  I saw it mentioned on Facebook, and decided it would jump the weekly queue in being featured.

Marty Aim is a New Zealand-born documentary photographer, currently based in South East Asia. He holds degrees in Visual and Social Anthropology. His clients include the British Museum, Time and the Discovery Channel. He's also an alum of The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop.

The Zabaleen are an occupational community of Christian Copts who have functioned as Cairo's informal garbage collectors for at least 80 years.  In colloquial Egyptian, Zabaleen means "garbage people" or pig-pen operators. The community is spread over half a dozen settlements in greater Cairo, and are estimated to be close to 80,000 people. The largest settlement is Mokattam Village, better known as "Garbage City," which is situated at the foot of the Mokattam Mountains, east of Cairo.

Many sources agree that the Zabaleen have created one of the most efficient recycling systems in the world, which is estimated at recycling up to 80% of all the collected waste. These are good people...the salt of the earth kind of people...hard working and largely self sufficient, but discriminated against in many ways because of their religion and their occupation.

It's funny...I still recall the daily sound of the Zabal's donkey-cart stopping outside my childhood home in a Cairo suburb, collecting the garbage and the trash. Efforts by the Egyptian government to replace the garbage collectors with modern local and foreign companies have essentially failed.

By all means, explore Marty's galleries. I did and was rewarded with the terrific photograph of girls in a Muslim school in Thailand's Narathiwat province. You'll know which one I mean the second you lay your eyes on it....really terrific.