Monday, March 29, 2010

Remember the outskirts of Cairo when visiting the wonders of Eygpt.

Cairo, Egypt for someone like me (an archaeologist) it draws thoughts of the Great Pyramids of Giza, the ancient Mosques of Old Cairo, and the Saladin Citadel (El-Qalaa). The land of ancient Egypt is breathtaking and magical, but I am reminded that it must always be balanced with the knowledge of the people who built the amazing world of the Egyptians, the working class/slaves. Like many great structures and societies all over the world, ancient Egypt was built by thousands of  'lower class' workers/slaves who struggled for decades in the extreme heat and harsh conditions. They worked for rulers like Khufu, Khafre, and Tutankhamen to insure their own survival and the survival of their families. Now, although some 4000+/- years separate the present from Ancient Egypt's past it is important to be reminded of places located away from the tourist spots and rich cultural attractions. We must look at the outskirts of Cairo. 

With a population of 18 million, Cairo, the largest city in the Middle East and Africa, has no sanitation service. For generations, the city's residents have relied on 60,000 Zaballeen, or "garbage people," to pick up their trash. In the movie Garbage Dreams an independent film with over 20 awards this year is airing PBS in April ( The film follows the Zaballeen collection of over 3,000 tons a day of garbage. Hauling the trash back to their villages they are the world's most effective and successful recycling program. Paid only a minimal amount by residents for their garbage collection services, the Zaballeen survive by recycling. While Western cities boast only a 30% recycling rate, the Zaballeen recycle 80% of all the waste they collect. 

The Zaballeen, who mostly belong to Egypt's minority Coptic Christian community, were originally poor and illiterate farm laborers. Drive out of the rural south due to a lack of work, these disadvantaged farmers saw Cairo's trash as an economic opportunity. They have created a recycling model that costs the state nothing, recycles so much waste and employees tens of thousands of Cairo's poorest. The Zaballeen earn little, but in a country where almost half of the population survives on less than $2 a day, it is a livelihood. 

Then in 2005, following the international trend to privatize services (think Iraq war) the city of Cairo sold $50 million in annual contracts to 'three' private companies (two from Italy and one from Spain) to pick up Cairo's garbage. Their giant waste trucks now line the streets, but the irony is that their contract only obligates them to recycle 20% of what they collect, leaving the rest to rot in the giant landfills. As foreign workers came in with wast trucks and began carting garbage to nearby landfills, 60,000 Zaballeen saw their way of life disappearing. 

The movie Garbage Dreams is stunning and should be seen by all, especially if you are planning to go to Egypt anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Magic Carpet Ride to Baghdad بغداد

When I was a little girl it was my dream to go to ancient city of Baghdad. Located on the Tigris River, I imagined my transportation to this amazing city would be via my 'magic flying carpet'. To me the land of the Persians promised unimaginable excitement and grand adventures that could not be equaled by any other city in the world. Little did I now that in the 8th Century Baghdad was built to be the 'perfect city'. I dreamed of the Arabian Nights, so many times that it seemed to become real to me. On occasion I would sit down on a rug in our home in Fremont, California believing that I could wish the carpet to fly me away to Baghdad. 

Baghdad was a Mesopotamian treasure where I imagined beautiful architectural structures reaching out to the sun, the welcoming smell of the spices at the market places, the sounds of the ancient language of Persia ringing through the streets and the soft, warm breeze blowing through my delicate loose linen clothing. At this time I had no idea the history of this region, nor what was to become of it in my lifetime. While studying anthropology and archaeology the Gulf War started, and it broke my heart to find out that many of the ancient cities treasures had been stolen or destroyed. At the time the people of Baghdad could do little to nothing to stop their cultural heritage from being lost forever. When the war ended I breathed a sigh of relief, but then came the Iraq War. The museums again were looted and destroyed. Soon there were many scholars and leaders fighting not with guns, but with the drive and passion to save Iraq's cultural heritage. 

It's important to remember our past because it shapes our future and it strengthens our communities. So keep a look out for these ancient artifacts and though I never took that magic carpet ride, I do still intend to visit Baghdad someday when the fighting stops. 

Oh ... and Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Celebrating Urban Farmer and Activist Will Allen...

Organic and Fresh is something that my sister and I have been striving towards since we were just out of high school.  Raising two girls on my own I think about fresh, organic and healthy all the time... while of course still tasting fabulous. While still on the search I ran across this amazing Film, Fresh: The Movie.

In July 2009: Santa Barbara Food Not Lawns and Hope Dance Films hosted a viewing of Fresh, the movie in Santa Barbara. It was a gathering of local Fresh enthusiasts including IV Food Co-op, Fairview Gardens, Avalon Farms, and Shepherd Farms.  At the gathering there was yummy and sustainable food along with the opportunity to meet local activists and local farmers. The film FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen , a 2008 MacArthur’s “Genius Award” fellow; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, the Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, who is creating a new market model for our family farmers. FRESH focuses on these inspiring individuals and their initiatives around the US providing inspiration for you to make the change in your own life.

Take a look....the beginning is a bit hard to watch, but the truth about of farming practices often stings a bit.

To FRESH families....