Garbage City – Now That’s Entreprenurialism

Yesterday I had an eye opening experience that definitely fueled my belief in people and the way people can fight adverse conditions to survive. We often think of the entrepreneurial spirit as something that is used by people to escape the 9-5 and follow their dreams but in the case of Garbage City in Cairo the entrepreneurial is used by this amazing community to survive.

Not long after I moved to Cairo I started to hear about Garbage City, a fabled place where a lot of the garbage is taken and all useful items are separated and readied for resale and reuse to local buyers and international corporations This amazingly progressive initiative is completely people led with no help Governmental help and hardly any international help. In Garbage City the saying “One Man’s Rubbish is Another Man’s Treasure” has never been more true.

Garbage City is not a place that will be in any guidebook, on our taxi ride in we started to see the piles of rubbish littered around the edges of the city including a foul smell and even a dead donkey out in the open. At this point I still was not fully sure what to expect when we hit the actual city. As we drove deeper in we reached typical Cairo back streets absolutely spilling with life and wormed our way through the streets up to an area known as the Cafeteria.

If you are interested in taking a tour of Garbage City in Cairo then I highly recommend Hanna Fathy. He can be contacted vis his email: hannafathy@rocketmail.com

The Cafeteria was at the highest point of the city and it was here that we started our education. The minute we stepped out we was greeted with nothing but friendly smiles, broken English and a real sense of joy from the locals. Although the ride in started bad with the piles of smelling Garbage it was clear that there was something amazingly special about this community.

We met our guide Hana and he started us on our tour. Hana has been introduced to us by a friend and he is a truly amazing guy. His English was learned from reading books he found in the garbage as a child and he is now one of the most innovative people in the city building solar heaters and methane gas tanks that produce from organic waste. All of this built for next to nothing, really flying in the face of what green technology involves…. Hana and his cohort are flying in the face of wisdom that green technology is expensive and only for the rich!

Throughout the tour he took us from the cafeteria, showing us one of the most amazing churches I have ever seen and then down through the streets of the city to his home for tea with his beautiful family.

There is no mistaking that Garbage City is poor and the rubbish lined streets could hard to deal with for the average holiday maker however but people are working highly efficient systems that the rest of the world really can learn from and it has to be seen to be believed. Plastic is sorted and shredded to be sold back to manufactures in large bags. Useful items are reconditioned and re-sold. People use scraps to make recycled paper, material for rugs, clothing and more. Every single item has a use. The organic waste used to be eaten by some 300,000 pigs but after the Swine flu issue the Egyptian Government had every single one of these pigs slaughtered, leaving the people of Garbage City with an ongoing dilemma! Goats and Sheep just don’t eat enough!

I just wish the people of Garbage City has some more help and in return NGO’s and organizations can learn from the highly advanced recycling and re-use innovations being refined daily by this highly efficient operation. It really is inspiring!

Ok let’s take you on a little photo tour.

The unfinished building known as the cafeteria at the high point of Garbage City.
At the high point in Garbage City next to the awesome St Simmons Church is the largest Crucifix in the Middle East!
St Simmons Church
St Simmons, A church cut out of the mountain side... Probably the most impressive church I have ever seen and the center of the Garbage City community
St Simmon's Church Stands
The stands of the 20,000 capacity St Simmon's Church!! Wow, just wow!!
Garbage City View
The view of Garbage City from the top of the Cafeteria
A close up of one of the many self built Pigeon lofts that line the Cairo skyline... This one is particularly tall!
Piles of sorted rubbish on one of the Garbage City rooftops.
Piles of sorted rubbish on one of the Garbage City rooftops.
A man restoring some iron fencing, likely for resale
Lara, Chawna and Hana (Our Guide) on a sorted Garbage lined alleyway
Chawna, Lara and Hana (Our Guide) on a Garbage lined alleyway
Hana's self built solar hot water heater.... Bringing hot hot water all year round
Hana's self built Methane Tank. It uses a tea compost to produce Methane from organic waste. Sometimes it produces so much he has to let some go!
Organic methane is powering this gas ring
Organic methane is powering this gas ring
Everywhere I go in Cairo there is a cheeky old lady!!
Everywhere I go in Cairo there is a cheeky old lady!! This is one of Garbage City's many friendly residents
Local Garbage City kids, they all rished to see the photo after I took it.
Local Garbage City kids, they all rished to see the photo after I took it.
Our awesome guide Hana with his wife and 7month baby.
Our awesome guide Hana with his wife and 7month baby.

I hope you enjoyed an insight into Garbage City and found it inspiring. The residents of this city prove what a little hard work and innovation can do even if the odds are stacked against you.

If you are interested in taking a tour of Garbage City in Cairo then I highly recommend Hanna Fathy. He can be contacted vis his email: hannafathy@rocketmail.com

I really think you should visit the city….

I’d love to know what you think about this and any comments you have at all.

39 thoughts on “Garbage City – Now That’s Entreprenurialism”

    1. Hanna’s family owned one of those red brick buildings you see on the landscape shot of the neighborhood….. His apartment was on the top floor and was mid sized with very nice bright painted decor and it was nicely laid out an clean…. He had cable, internet, phone and all amenities…. A very comfortable nice home.

    1. Yes I agree…. The people of garbage city really could teach the big corporations working to provide machines and ways to reuse and recycle a thing or two… we should be making use of the knowledge and sheer ingenuity of these people.

  1. That is an amazing insight. Thank you for the post. I cannot believe living in such conditions. Hana lives in this city?

    Why are there so many satellite systems on the roofs and pigeon lofts? Does the garbage just sit there on the rooftops to deteriorate?

    It just shows that people can truly adapt to their surroundings. And that some of take for granted what we have – as one living in the U.S., I really am rich and blessed with my surroundings.
    .-= Money Funk´s last blog ..Book Review & Giveaway: Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel =-.

    1. Yes Hana lives here and he has a very nice apartment in his family building. There are some bad conditions here that could be cleaned up with some outside help but they need to keep sorting the trash for their survival and for the good of Cairo as a whole…. even though they sort a lot of it there are still major trash problems in this city.

      The USA really should look at adapting some of the things from Garbage City… These people are using initiative to reuse EVERYTHING….. it could be translated into a more factory style setting and more machinery could be bought in but something like this should be looked at as an inspirational model for the rest of the world.

      1. Sorry missed a few points.

        Most people have cable (that’s what the dishes are for)
        and many have internet and phone services going to their houses…. They pretty much all have running water and electricity.

        I’m told the pigeon lofts is simply a game. Each evening the owner climbs up to the loft and lets the pigeon’s fly…. Then when they call them back they see how many come back into their loft (or something of that effect, I need to find out more about this).

        1. That is fascinating, Forest.

          I remember growing up and helping my neighbor take care of his homing pigeons. What a fascinating place.

          So, they have the upper hand on recycling and innovation. Now they just need someone to fund them to show people the gold mine within the city.

  2. Forest…what a beautiful picture gallery. Must have used up quite a bit of bandwidth. ;)

    I would be very interested in hearing about how to make a methane stove (and if there are dangerous emissions) and how to make the solar water heater.

    Keep on plugging…what a great adventure you are living.

    We could certainly learn from other cultures about how to use everything we have instead of throwing it all away.
    .-= simply stephen´s last blog ..what is community =-.

    1. Yeah I wanted the photos big on this one as I know people can be lazy about enlarging them when small….

      I believe the heaters and gas producers Hana uses can be found on a website called Solar Cities (He works with them)…. http://solarcities.blogspot.com/

      I should have included this link in the post!

  3. The brains of engineers (be they self-taught or formerly educated) astound me. Tea compost heats a tea pot. Dude is awesome!

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I grow weary of poor folks being portrayed as helpless victims. This is proof positive that ingenuity, intelligence, creativity and power have no economic boundaries!
    .-= ConsciouslyFrugal´s last blog ..Tuesday’s Tip: Dumpster Dive =-.

    1. Hi Consciously Frugal,

      Ha ha, I never thought of the irony of the tea compost!

      This is the whole thing Muhammed Yunus talks about in Banker to the Poor…. The whole “Teach a man to fish” ideology is flawed…. The poor often know who to do things, they are just in a situation where the eternal loop of being oppressed never lets them escape (the odd person gets out but it’s rare)…. Yunus talks about the right to credit being a human right and displays that his micro loan systems have over 96% repayment…. The poor quite simply are not stupid, they are just without the same opportunities people from richer backgrounds have.

    1. Thanks for your comment :), If you build one please do document it… Also if you need any advice I am sure Solar Cities will be more than glad to help out. Hana told me the heaters take 3 years to pay for themselves in Egypt where energy costs are really really low…. I imagine they will pay for themselves much much quicker in Arizona.

  4. Thanks for sharing this very interesting place with us. I watched a documentary, called Recycled Life, that was shot in South America about these people who basically live in a garbage dump. They rummage through the garbage and either reuse or sell items they find as a way of living. Up until a few years ago, children would do this as well. Many of them were orphans. However, due to the documentary, the city made it illegal for anyone under the age of 17 (I think) to enter the dump. In some ways, this was good due to safety issues. But in others, it affected those children negatively because they knew no other way of life. The documentary was very eye opening.

    I found a link to the Recycled life trailer if you’re interested:
    http://www.recycledlifedoc.com/
    .-= Little House´s last blog ..How credit card debt consolidation can eliminate your anxieties =-.

    1. Garbage city have mult-national contracts now and many innovative machines…. they are making a real class act all by themselves! It would be interesting to send people from Garbage City to other places in the world to teach them how to utilize the garbage and get the most bang for their work.

      The doc you mention sounds familiar, I am going to watch the trailor and hopefully will manage to watch it.

      Thanks for your comment :)

    1. I know it’s a place that brings many mixed emotions but overall I just am so admirable of what these people have done.

  5. Thanks for posting on this! I’ve seen a couple of TV specials on this side of Egypt here in France and it sounds completely fascinating. I think it’s sad that all those people lost their pigs but at least they’re using goats and sheep now. . .I was wondering what the heck they were going to do.

    Great pictures too. I love hearing about people living abroad–you learn so much that way that the average tourist who stays for a week can never really experience.

    Also–i loved your post on Journey to Millions as well. I’m glad I found your blog!

    1. Thanks very much…. I would really like to see those specials (sadly I don’t speak French). I love learning about culture and things that are completely different to what I know.

      I don’t remember posting about Journey To Millions! :)

    1. Hi Egypt Tours…. No problem, you know there are easier ways to promo your own site rather than lying and saying you came across it…. How about:

      “I run a Cairo Travel Guide site and it would be cool if you would come check it out”

  6. Holy smokes. This place is like… A frugal heaven. It’s chock full of resourceful antics!

    But one thing that stands out about this particular place is how masterful the architecture is while remaining that downtrodden look. You step back and look at it and say ‘yep. This is where frugality thrives.’

    Absolutely sublime.

    It’s places like these that bring out our human ingenuity; the single thing that makes all our lives greater throughout the years.

    1. Hey Aury… t really is stunning what they acheive here. I have just been asked if I would like to volunteer to teach children English there and I definitely think I will… I will learn and get so much more back than I give!

    1. The biggest disease problem is Hep but luckily I am all shot up for those so no real concern. There are some stomach bugs and things floating around so you need to be careful about cleanliness when eating in poor areas, generally it’s fine though.

    1. It is in no way ideal. I would guess the age of death is pretty low due to bad health, diet and all the flies and things hanging around. if only they could get government support for their operations!

      Garbage City used to be cleaner, they had pigs that ate the organic waste. After swine flu hit Egypt the government slaughtered all 300,000 pigs in the country. The goats and sheep can’t eat the organic waste fast enough. Also cats and dogs are choosing to eat organic watse now rather than vermin so the rat and weasel population is shooting up. I have been told that there have been instances of huge rats killing cats recently, which is quite scary!

  7. I have clients who wanted a day tour to the Garbage City “Zabaline” well to tell you the truth although I am an Egyptian I did not know where this place is so I had to do research until I came accross your website. Your information is quiet valuable and the photos are good. I have to say thank you for helping me figure out designing this tour.

    I wonder how do clients know about our country more than we do?

    1. Hey Deluxe Travel, glad you found out about it and hope the tour went well. The people of Garbage City are providing a great service and I hope the new government gives them a real contract.

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