A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Profile of a Cairo Zabbal

Peter Hessler at The New Yorker has a piece that Cairo hands may find interesting (or may find infuriating): "Tales of the Trash: a neighborhood garbageman explains modern Egypt."

In itself it's a decent enough profile of the zabbal who picks up the trash in Hessler's upmarket Zamalek neighborhood, but who lives in one of the ‘ashwa'iyat or "informal" areas (the article uses the word in plural even when referring to a specific area). The problem I have is that reductionist subtitle, "a neighborhood garbageman explains modern Egypt."  Oh, after 40 years, I finally understand it now!

Perhaps it's meant tongue in cheek, but it reminds me of the sort of patronizing reductionism often found among those still trying to figure the place out. On the other hand he does quote David Sims, who actually can explain a lot about Cairo.

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