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The Graveyard Neighborhood at Cairo's City of the Dead


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Author Topic: The Graveyard Neighborhood at Cairo's City of the Dead  (Read 88 times)
Heba E. Husseyn
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« on: January 06, 2018, 02:30:36 pm »



Image Al-Waght



As-Salam Alaikum and peace dear folks.  This is a rather unusual story but it has its comforting side too, if you reflect. 

City of the Dead is a graveyard in southeast Cairo, Egypt, located below the Mokattam Hills.  Its original name is Al-Qarafa Cemetery.  It's at least four miles long.  Many of the graves here are a thousand years old including the tombs of the Mamluks.  Egypt's King Farouk is also buried here.  Some of the tombs are inside covered rooms, some in the open.   It isn't only a cemetery any longer.    It's a neighborhood.

Many segments of the poor in Cairo cannot afford rent above USD 5/month; that is around 90 Egyptian pounds.  The only 'home' available for them is a 'tomb-room' in the City of the Dead.   Most of these tomb rooms don't have proper doors that can be locked at night and the cemetery has a very low fence.   Though there has been hardly any reported incidents of crime in this neighborhood, the poor residents who live here fear attacks from thieves and other criminals every night.  One may wonder why would thieves come to the poorest neighborhood in Cairo?  Perhaps to swindle a poor man's daily wage they saved for buying food the next day or to dig up a fresh grave for organ trafficking.   Whatever is the reason for apprehension, these poor residents work hard during the day as street vendors selling food, clothes or mending shoes, and stay awake half the night in fear.  The only "neighborly" activity they get to watch is the occasional funeral ceremony when someone rich dies somewhere in Cairo and family and friends bring the coffin for burial.






"An Egyptian woman prepares a meal next to a mausoleum.  She has lived in this room in Cairo's City of the Dead for 40 years."  - National Geographic.



Whether or not it may sound true, gratification abounds in this neighborhood more than many others.  Many graveyard residents of the City of the Dead have been living here for decades and have begun to like the solitude and serenity it offers.  Neighbors are like a family, cooperative and helpful.  Single residents never feel alone.  Hardly anyone is eager to move to other parts of Cairo.   Writes AlWaghat "Children play hide and seek behind the tombs, others maneuver a football to score past the invisible goal line demarcated by two graves. Women hang laundry across strings that extend across rooftops, sometimes from one gravestone to another. Some men bake bread for a living, others enjoy watching TV upon returning from a long day of work. Welcome to the City of the Dead, where among the graves there is life.

In 2011 when Cairo's Tahrir Square was bustling with protests, a resident of City of the Dead said about this neighborhood, "Life here is peaceful.  Living with the dead is a good thing for an old person. They donít talk, and they are very still.Ē





Al-Haj Mohammed Abdel Naeem, a resident of Cairo's City of the Dead in his tomb room with his humble belongings.  Image source Medium Corp.



Though they do have electricity and use of cell phones isn't uncommon, no one in the City of the Dead has a fridge.  They say they don't need it.  They buy food and cook on a day to day basis, just as much as they require to eat for a single day.  They cannot afford to cook extra and there is never any leftover food.




A little 7-year-old boy read on top of one of the old tombs in the City of the Dead.  Image source Medium Corp.



Sneak peek from the capitalist standpoint would call it a "slum" but in reality the City of the Dead is not a slum at all.  It's very different.  The unique factual portrayal of co-habitation between the living and the earthly remains of the dead, and also the historical and architectural fabric of the place, the tranquility of the atmosphere and contentment of the residents, make it an unusual spot with the usual characteristics of slums or shanty towns completely absent.

However, the humility of these poor residents of Al-Qarafa Cemetery cannot be accepted as an excuse for the  negligence and insensitivity of the successive modern governments.  Since the past four decades, Egypt has been getting an annual financial package of nearly $2b from the US, only to be divided among the brass and the senior bureaucrats.  In Egypt's Youth Forum early 2017, President Sisi said "we are very poor, very poor."  In the Youth Forum of 2016, he said he had nothing except water in his fridge for 10 years.  But for the inauguration of Suez Canal expansion in 2015, the government spent a whopping $14 million.  Same year, Economic Development Conference in Sharm al-Sheikh cost over $7 million.  Needless to mention, millions are spent on motorcades of the bigwigs, their luxury private jets and bulky salaries.

The President says "we are very poor" but is silent on the question, who is "we?"





Tombs of the Mamluks in the City of the Dead.  From Getty Images.
Difficult as it may sound at present,  in the middle ages Egypt was one of the great Muslim lands, among those that shone the brightest.  The Abbasids (750-909 AD), Fatimids (909-1171 AD), Ayyubids (1171-1260 AD) and the Mamluks (1250-1570) constituted the Golden Age of the Islamic Empire and the most prosperous and educative era of the period in world history for 8 centuries.


 
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« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2018, 01:51:57 pm »

Such a sweet piece.  It truly felt blissful going through it.  A perfect example of contentment at the root of peace of mind & heart provided one continues leading a Halal life as these folks are. 

I'm sure we have far more daily worries to handle than them.  But you're darn right that their fulfillment and gratification are no reasons for the heedlessness of the corrupt government.

A really, really nice piece .. and those excellent images with loads of lessons for all of us ..... the lady cooking in her tomb room relaxed as ever ..  the little boy reading with the utmost of peace and comfort on an old monumented grave (like rich man would read on his thousand-dollar couch) and the man riding off on his bike.  I'm sure those stray doggies must be more efficient than the police in guarding the residents here. 
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« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2018, 02:35:51 pm »

Me too like this post.   A very pacifying lesson for making peace and restfulness less elusive in our lives.   They also teach others the excellent lesson on viewing earthly life pragmatically over its temporary nature.   The images are exhilarating for those with the right perception.



One may wonder why would thieves come to the poorest neighborhood in Cairo?  Perhaps to swindle a poor man's daily wage they saved for buying food the next day or to dig up a fresh grave for organ trafficking.



Organ trafficking is  rare in Middle-Eastern and Muslim lands, and rarer by desecrating graves.  The only country known to indulge in it in the region is the illegal non-Muslim Zionist state of Israel by killing Palestinians.    And as you correctly expressed, crimes by intruding thieves and thugs is also very rare in this  particular neighborhood.  But the place can be a potential attraction for petty thieves.  Though a poor graveyard neighborhood where the people may not be interested in having bank accounts, many residents here have enough cash in their humble dwellings collected from their daily wages to attract petty criminals.  Furthermore, they do own items like televisions, cell phones, motor bikes, bicycles etc.  for burglars, prowlers and scavengers to pilfer who know that apart from the stray dogs living in the neighborhood, there's no security or police protection for these people.  Of course only petty robbers may decide to pop in once in a while, not the professional gang robbers with big plans.


The reason why the residents of this humble neighborhood display such admirable down-to-earth values and live a life based on cohesiveness is because they're poor.  Give each family a million dollars each and they will get just as creepy and selfish as those despicable galore around this world.  And again right, that's no ground for the government's indifference.  The disgraceful government is not ignoring these poor folks to promote human values.  It has turned its back on them because it (including its recent predecessors) has no human values. 
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« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2018, 02:45:27 pm »


hmmm .. good points brother.
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« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2018, 02:58:43 pm »


Many thanks for the useful input, sister and brother.   

So true that we see such down-to-earth lifestyle in the City of the Dead because of their poverty.   If any one of them hit the jackpot, it won't simply be dumping a humble life for a plush villa. It will shape out of them a whole new creature, much more insensitive, much less human.
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« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2018, 03:04:07 pm »

That's exactly it Sister.  Human nature inherently has blurry vision.  It takes little for them to trip and fall;  and sometimes tough situations can really work wonders keeping us on track. 

That reminds me.  I showed this adorable picture to my parents, on poverty is generosity.  They loved it but my dad added something interesting .... that humans will share apples much more readily than the big money if ever they hit the stupid jackpot, even if they don't need all of that money   Grin     

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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2018, 03:12:12 pm »


Ahaa ha ha  Cheesy   Couldn't agree more with your dad on that jackpot bit.  I suppose it's something to cry upon just as much .... that humans tend to chase precisely what robs their humanity.
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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2018, 03:13:21 pm »



Exactly, that's what my dad meant ....
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