A response to the refugee crisis in Europe for me includes a travel memory. While in Egypt, I went to “garbage city”. This Christian community located in a Zabbalin village on one of the hills of the Mokattam, was the result of a 1969 decision by the Governor to relocate all the garbage collectors of Cairo, to this space. Hastily built houses of tin were erected. In 1987 there was a population of 15,000. The number has doubled now and there is better housing. There is a stench in the air of the village because all the garbage that is collected by these Christians, who were dis-located by their government, sits on the ground floor of the majority of the houses. Families live on the second floor, on top of piles of trash, which is sorted to be recycled, sold, and burned.
Zabbaleen, an Egyptian Arabic word, means “garbage people”. There are seven communities of these garbage collectors in and around Cairo. The largest Zabbaleen community in Cairo is about 30,000, found in Mokattam village where 90% of the people are Coptic Christians. For several generations, these families went door to door in Cairo collecting trash for very little compensation. They also recycle 80% of what they collect, while the western garbage collectors that have made moves to take business away from these folks recycle about 25% of what they collect at greater cost. The socio-economic stability of this community was threatened a dozen years ago when the government awarded annual $50 million dollar contracts to multinational garbage disposal companies.
While on the mountain, after walking through the community where I noticed one health clinic and one school, I walked up the mountain and into a cave church. The Church is built into the stone and can seat 20,000 people. It is simply miraculous. This worship space is named after Simon the Tanner (10th century), a Coptic Orthodox saint and Mary, mother of Jesus. In Simon’s day, his training prepared him to deal with skins and would have been known as Simon the Tanner, Simon the Cobbler, and Simon the Shoemaker.
I felt anger, anxiety, dis-belief, and astonishment when I witnessed where and how our Christian brothers and sisters were living. My concern for the future of the children in the community overwhelmed me. Seeing the grandness of the Church, a short walk up the mountain from all the poverty I experienced was painful.
- Dale Linder, Vicar
NOVEMBER SCRIPTURE READINGS