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One More Slum

Christine Cassar's picture

It’s been over a year, but hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about the slums of Cairo. Of course, the incessant talk of slums for no reason other than the cinematization of Mumbai’s own in Slumdog Millionaire may have something to do with this revival of my memories, although I found that its screening did little, if any, justice to the issues or indeed the people living the daily reality of abject poverty.

Some activity on the streets – on a hot summer morning people make their way out of often inadequate housing, many out of formal employment and wondering what the day will bring

There is nothing to be romanticized about slums—people living in such conditions long to leave. Walking along the narrow winding streets of Zabbala (literally: garbage area/village) in lower Mukattam in Cairo’s outskirts, it’s a commonplace occurrence for people to ask you to write invitation letters for them to come to your country. There is no solace in status quo, there is no smothering of the dream of self- or social development.

Men and women work—the luckiest have their own small shop in which they’d make bread, sell fish, clothes and other groceries. Women often buy a tray of bread and carry it on their heads to other areas where they hope to sell it.

On a balcony, garlic is hung out to dry; the sun provides all illumination required during the day, yet the streets are dark at night – nobody has bothered with the lighting for years…

The 100 least fortunate families line up once monthly at the door of the Missionaries of Charity to receive a bag of goods—rice, pasta, meat, oil. They know their family must make it last for an entire thirty days. In September, they wait in line for school supplies for their children—an annual event, the effects of which are usually short-lived because of the physical abuse children suffer in school, which leaves them uneducated and unskilled.

A rat died on the street one day—it lay there for days, letting off rancid odors until someone covered it with a sack. Undoubtedly it had decomposed in the sweltering summer heat. Nobody looked under the sack; children skipped over it and others walked around. Donkeys and carts indiscriminately ploughed over it.

This is life in the slum—a life of those remembered by few, and forgotten by most… A life which they seek to escape, because to lead a hand-to-mouth existence is so painful. For most, their only option is to collect what cardboard, plastics and metals they can, to sell to recycling plants in the hope that the next day will bring a transaction through which they may escape their cycle of poverty. Perhaps then they can pay the teachers’ bribes from school, or not have their five-year-olds sifting through the refuse of Cairo with them…

With hardly any personal space, the street is the workplace, where the waste of Cairo is deposited. It is here that barefoot women and children rummage through the piles of rotting waste in search of the valuables – cardboard, plastic and metals…


Yes... slums are just terrible and there shouldn't be any in our world. As a matter of fact, there shouldn't be any poverty at all in our world! But we do have slums and of course we do have poverty. It's important to get conscious about the harsh reality that billions of people face everyday, but I think it's more important to stimulate our creativity and that of others to tackle these problems. So, what can we do so that we don't have slums at all?

Submitted by Anonymous on
What can we do so there are no slums? It seems like an imposible thing to change. It's not like anyone can just go to their government and say "There Should Be No More Slums!" So what can we do? Can we go to Cairo and and just start helping the people there? It seems like a question with frustation, but with and eager ambition to respond, but just not knowing what the answer is.