Earlier this month, a screening of Garbage Dreams (the directorial debut of Egyptian American documentary filmmaker Mai Iskander) made its way into the SXSW film festival. The documentary, filmed over three years, follows the lives of three young men who live in a suburb of Cairo called Mokattam, which is known for its residents living among tall piles of garbage. Mokattam is home of the Zabballeen, a Christian minority group of around 60,000 who have served the city of Cairo as garbage collectors for 150 years. And although Cairo’s government has finally begun paying these collectors a nominal fee for their service, it has not always been this way. Mokattam’s young garbage collectors are known for being the most efficient in the world, reusing and recycling between 80 and 90 percent of what they collect, but their way of life is rapidly diminishing — the government has been trying since the late 1980s to replace them with modern European waste collection.
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