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Garbage Dreams: The Life of Cairo's Zabaleen
Trash isn’t new to Cairo, but have you ever stopped to think about where our trash actually goes after it’s dumped onto the streets or taken away by the bawab?
If you’re intrigued, watch eco-documentary Garbage Dreams. Directed by Cairo local Mai Eskandar, the documentary discusses one of the most efficient waste disposable systems in the world, which happens to be in this very city. The film gives us insight into the life of the Zabaleen through the stories of three different young men who have grown up in the area and work as trash collectors. While they express their daily hardships, their genuine spirits are humbly felt and help open our eyes to the nature of their situation.
While many of us are more than familiar with the sight of donkey carts hauling off mounds of trash, rarely have we ever given thought as to what happens in the aftermath.
Towards the end of the 19th century, migrants from Upper Egypt began moving to Cairo, and by 1950, over 60,000 individuals had settled in and around the area of Manshiet Nasr near the Mokattam Hills; taking up life as Cairo’s trash collectors. Not only did the Zabaleen set up a strenuous system of retrieving over 4000 tons of trash a day, but they also creatively produced recycling centres, where over 75% of the collected trash is recycled and resold; making a sustainable system while also innovatively generating an income in the process.
With Cairo’s ever-growing population producing trash at a phenomenal rate (some sources estimate 25,000 tons a day: enough to fill Cairo Stadium), the work of the Zabaleen became quickly inefficient with their simple donkey-cart-and-sorting system. Then, the government began contracting multinational waste collection companies that solely deal with privatised solid-waste management.
Not only have the contracts left thousands of Cairenes without employment, but with 0% of the trash being recycled, the landfills are growing at an alarming rate. While the Zabaleen are struggling to make ends meet and are forming initiatives for efficient upgrades of their waste disposal system and recycling centres, all of the effort is at stake with no help from the government and little help from international organisations.
Ezzat Naem Guindy is the founder of the Spirit of Youth Association for Environmental Service. The organisation has been working diligently to not only speak out about the importance of the Zabaleen to the Cairo community but also to launch a more efficient recycling school in the area. The school provides a non-formal education for those that can’t afford school otherwise. The school teaches children the basics of recycling and also provides literacy courses among other things.
For more information on how you can help recycle your Cairo trash, check out our guide to Going Green: Simple at Home Solutions. Also, do yourself a favour and get your hands on a copy of Garbage Dreams; available for purchase on the website. Not only will you learn something new about your environment; but you may also be inspired to help make a difference.
He promptly charms the somewhat cynical principal Ms. Vaillancourt (Proulx), who at first is a little hesitant to his slightly mystical presence, and soon takes over the 'broken' classroom. The film’s heart also lies with the two students who were unfortunate enough to discover the body. Alice (Nélisse) is a bright-eyed, straight A student, who deals with her own troubles of an absent parent on daily basis. The tender-looking Simon (Néron) suffers a level of guilt for his teacher's demise and is a problematic student as a result.
The task at hand is one of many challenges for M. Lazhar. Nevertheless, with his own personal suffering set aside, its details slowly unravel throughout the film; he takes the kids under his caring wing and slowly starts guiding them to the truth.
Fellag's interpretation of M. Lazhar is a delightful surprise. Though slightly old-fashioned in his teaching methods, trying to get to grips on a modernised education system, Lazhar is portrayed as loyal and caring. From beginning to end, we are embraced with his warmth and affection. The same can be said for the outstanding performances by both child actors, Alice and Simon. The level of maturity and the profound strength they bring to their roles is nothing short of mesmerising.
He could have been the next Bob Dylan; in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia, he was even bigger than Elvis. His music was loved by the critics but ignored by audiences, and after two albums – titled Cold Fact and Coming From Reality – fell on deaf ears in the US, and his efforts proved commercially fruitless, the Detroit street-poet instantaneously fell from the face of the earth, vanishing into complete obscurity.
So, whatever happened to the talented and disturbingly underrated Detroit-born 70's soul-folk musician, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez? That's a question first-time Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, seeks answers to in one of the most compelling and touching music documentaries of the past decade.
Ingeniously titled, Searching for Sugar Man, the story takes us to South Africa where we learn that while Rodriguez never managed to find the artistic and marketable success in the US, his music – thanks to the bootlegging of his first album, Cold Fact – ended up playing a significant role in the apartheid-era. Rodriguez became the voice of the people despite governmental efforts to censor his record's 'offending' tracks; and for many years, he never even knew it.
With only a few pictures of Rodriguez available as proof that he really does exist, his devoted fans never really knew much about their beloved idol. Bizarre rumours surfaced alleging that he had committed suicide onstage during one of his failed performances, either by shooting himself or by setting himself on fire.
Rodriguez's legacy never died, even after the struggling apartheid years were long over. Often referred to as the 'prophet of the people', devoted fans, Segerman and Strydom, set out to undertake research, only to discover that their search only marked the beginning of something greater than initially imagined.
Well paced and cinematically striking, the film doesn’t fall back on simple on-camera interviews and narration, but rather, Bendjelloul adds a sense of intrigue and beauty using an evidently thought-out structure to his storytelling. Dazzling shots of Cape Town's skyline and striking animatics of Rodriguez walking the streets of his hometown play a big part in the story development; as a result there isn't one dull moment.
Rodriguez's songs play throughout the entire film and there is no denying the fact that this man – who was constantly compared to the likes of Dylan and Donovan – was unjustly disregarded. His soulful tracks and profound lyrics score the film and even though there is a sense of melancholy, the story still manages to find room for the positive, ultimately proving that it's never too late to fulfil your dreams.
Searching for Sugar Man is a truly fine documentary and a significant work of art. Although we would have liked to see a little bit more of the live-concert footage, and perhaps gotten to know a little bit more about what's hiding beneath the dark mysterious exterior, Searching for Sugar Man is still highly insightful and thoroughly entertaining.