For Dave's birthday this year, I booked a babysitter for the day (it fell on a Saturday) and got us into an organized tour of Mokattam, an area of town that most know as Garbage City. The Zabbaleen are a group of Coptic Christians that have been the city's garbage collectors for years. There are about 20,000 residents in the tiny, narrow, garbage-filled streets. Unlike western recycling centers that recycle about 20-30 percent of their garbage, the Zabbaleen recycle about 80 percent of their trash. I think it's crazy that the Christians are treated so poorly by the government, but many choose to live this lifestyle, because of the payout. I am glad they do, because the garbage in this city is horrific, and I'm glad someone is trying to do something about it. Recently they slaughtered the pigs in the area, which consumed the organic waste, because of the "swine flu" fear, which was a huge loss for these people. I had to take the pictures from our moving van, so they aren't great, and the streets were so narrow it was hard to get any good angle.
It really is an interesting sight, but this really wasn't the main reason I took Dave here, but you have to drive through Garbage City to get to the Cave Church.
There are a series of 8 churches that are literally carved out of the Mokattam hills. They are located on a significant spot of land, which has roots back to the miracle of moving the mountain. Apparently, a Caliph, a Jew, and a Pope were debating religion (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke). The pope got the upper hand in the debate, and the Caliph quoted the Bible verse, "And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matthew 17:20), and demanded that the Pope prove that his religion is right by moving the Mokattam mountain.
Pope Abraham went to the hanging church (see previous blog post) to pray and had a vision of the Virgin Mary. She told him to go outside and find a one-eyed man, and he would perform the miracle. So he did, and came across Simon, the Tanner, a humble one-eyed man who carried water to widows. He was very pious, as he gouged out his eye because of the verse in Matthew 5:29 which says: "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
Simon told Abraham to go out with his priests and all his people to the mountain with the caliph and all his soldiers. Simon then told Abraham to cry out "O Lord, have mercy" 400 times (a hundred in each direction), and each time to make the sign of the cross over the mountain. The Pope followed the words of Simon the Tanner and the mountain was lifted.
The first and biggest cave church probably holds about 5,000 people. The remains of Simon the Tanner were found near the Hanging Church in 1991 and they have removed them to this spot.
So, because of this history the Coptic Christians now have a community of churches here. They are recent buildings, constructed in the last decade or so. They are carved out of the limestone rock. A polish Christian is responsible for all the carved artwork, which is everywhere on the rock face. They are beautiful. There is a stark contrast when you walk out of Garbage City into this beautiful area, and I am glad they have a place like this to worship.
After we finished touring the churches here, we went back into Garbage City and to a recycling center for paper and fabric. A group of women work here and recycle discarded fabric. I bought a rug and a purse for Maya from their little shop. We also watched the process of recycling the paper.
I thought these two kids were so cute. They are drinking what looks like soda out of plastic bags with a straw.