No Garbage, No Wife

Lynne Rogers

Garbage Dreams
Directed by Mai Iskander
Iskander Films. 2009, 79 minutes

Mai Iskander’s new documentary, “Garbage Dreams,” delves into the lives of the  “Zaballeen,” the 60,000 Coptic Christians who live on the outskirts of Cairo collecting and recycling the garbage of Cairo’s 18 million people. Iskander’s deft camera keeps both the small picture in focus as she follows the lives of three young men and the larger picture as her lens floats above the modern skyscrapers of Cairo. The three teenage boys wake at dawn to collect the garbage and return to Mokattam, a suburb on the outskirts of Cairo to sort it.Their lives are spent surrounded by garbage yet dreams of matrimony alleviate their monotony and poverty.When Cairo’s Municipality signs contracts with Spanish and Italian waste removal companies and the upscale garbage trucks manned by men in uniforms begin appearing on the streets, the equilibrium of this unlikely paradise is seriously threatened.The Zaballeen can no longer recycle the garbage for their livelihood. The multinational companies claim ownership of this previously neglected “gift from God” forcing the Zaballeen into illegal scavengers and dashing the boys’ hopes for marital bliss.In an admirable grassroots effort, the Zaballeen community begins to mobilize their forces.They discover that their hand-method of sorting recycles 80% of the city’s garbage while the ultra-modern international companies only manage to save 20%. This engaging film captures global economic tensions of modernization through the endearing aspirations of youth and is a heartfelt asset for economic, globalization and urban studies.

This review appeared in Vol.16, No. 62, (2010).

Copyright © 2010 by Al Jadid