Goodbye for now, Cairo.
Let me first apologize for the radio silence that has come over the Zabaleen Project. The last few days have been the busiest, most emotionally and physically draining days that we have had so far. I’m fairly sure that on Thursday, we all reached our breaking points.
Thursday morning, we had an appointment scheduled with A.P.E. to go shoot some footage and interviews with some people at the school. Somehow some wires got crossed, and we were only able to talk to one person, and even that was a quick interview. We saw the beginnings of a bad day on our hands, but it was brightened when we picked up our FANCY NEW BUSINESS CARDS. Earlier in the week, when we visited A.P.E., we placed an order for some cards, and by Thursday, they were ready to be picked up. Because of the thickness of the recycled paper, they cannot print them in town here, so we’re going to create our own screen print and have them done in Doha. Wait til you see these little gems. Not only are we excited to have them, but it means a lot to us that we had them printed in the very neighborhood that we are filming. So stay tuned for those…when they are done, we’ll put a sample up on here for you all to see.
So then, after A.P.E., we planned to go and shoot some more stuff with the second family we’ve been meeting with. This family, if you recall, are living in much worse conditions than the first family we’ve been with. We spoke to the mother, in-depth this time, and shot some more footage of their living area. Justin crossed all language boundaries and bonded with them by showing his tattoos (as always) and Lauren let one of the girls put her hair up all fancy in her scarf. Also, a highlight of the day was when Lauren was holding one of the women’s little babies. She was only holding him for probably 5 minutes when he decided to wee all over her. It soaked through her scarf and shirt (which by the way was Justin’s) and she had to change into her sweatshirt for the rest of the day. Oh man. Her track record of holding babies in Egypt are as follow: 1 pooped on her and 1 peed on her (the last time we were here, she held Hanna and Sabah’s little boy, and he pulled a stinker on her lap). If only to make the situation better, one of the boys was going to show her the room where she could change her shirt, and she made me come with her so she wasn’t alone. Standing inside, the rats were jumping around us (and geckos too) and all we could do was giggle/scream.
After finishing up with them, we headed back to our “second home” and spent the rest of the day there. We met up with them after lunch time, as we were going to film them cooking a big dinner. Turns out, there wasn’t much cooking – just really throwing a whole chicken (head included) into a boiling pot for a few hours. It was shortly after this that we discovered we were staying for dinner. We spent the day shooting some time lapses, teaching the boys how to spell and write our names in English, and learning how to say all of the items found in the kitchen in Arabic. We played games, shot some more interviews, and all-in-all, just hung with our family. Heba was joining us later in the day, so it was a bit tough up until then, because despite the fact that we were learning some Arabic, and they were learning some English, it grew frustrating not being able to communicate. Soon enough, it was dinner time, and all three of our little tummies did somersaults because we were certain it was going to be our doom. Believe it or not, we all made it out with flying colors. On the menu: these little macaronis, some green goopy stuff that Lauren insisted I had to try (but didn’t like), bread, and chicken. Lucky girls – Lauren and I got the legs of the chicken, so we had the pleasure of gnawing on the fatty chicken drums. It normally wouldn’t be a big deal, except the fact that the chicken you were eating, could have possibly been the one you tripped over on the way up the stairs that morning. Not only that, the diet that they must have is probably not the ideal choice of food. Oh well, we ate it. We survived. And our family loves us all the more.
The frustrations of the day were building, as the boys were really hyper and getting them to understand something like “don’t rip the camera out of Justin’s hands as he is trying to film a time lapse” was difficult. Totally understandable, because we were having lots of monkeying around time with them, and they are just kids, wanting to have fun. It was harder to interviews with individual boys, because the rest of the kids wanted to come up and make him laugh and giggle. As the day was winding down, it was getting tougher and tougher. The three of us took a break, walked down into town and got a soda, and sat down for a few minutes. We met up with Heba (super translator shoutout!!), who was on her way in to meet us. We chatted with a few people, then headed back up. We sat down for an interview, which proved to be difficult as I became the bouncer, holding the door closed so kids wouldn’t barge in and interrupt the filming. I got poked in the foot with metal rods from below the door, had little slippers thrown at my feet, and lots of little giggles, as I was trying to keep them out. We wrapped the interview, finally, and it looked great (another shoutout to our fearless camera man, JK – who also doubles as a set dresser, too).
At the end of the day, we were all so physically exhausted, that we decided the best thing was to not have Justin stay the night with the family. We know they were probably a bit disappointed, but we were out of battery, completely pooped, and there wasn’t much he was going to able to actually film with the kids being so rowdy. It’s ok, they’ll forgive us. We headed home and passed out.
Friday morning, we got up and started to get our preparations ready for translating the interviews we’ve done. Heba came to chill at the Carlton crib, and we knocked out the majority of one of the interviews. You wouldn’t believe the time it takes to sit and transcribe these things. We had to cut it short, because we were helping out a friend of a friend (LanaShamma shoutout!) film a few things outside of town. We hopped on the metro and made our way out to the site. It was in another garbage collecting community, which was way more underdeveloped than Moqattam. We were told that Helwan, which is where we shot, was what Moqattam was like 30 years ago. They have no electricy, no running water, and most of their “homes” are like tin shantees. A handful of people have generators that they can run things off of, but for the most part it is just darkness. Seeing dogs on the side of the road, gnawing on donkey spines in the shadow of headlights, was pretty eerie.
By the time we got back from Helwan, all we could think about was food. We were all so hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. Chili’s was the choice of the night, and we took advantage of the “home delivery” once again. Hey – if you find something that can fill you up and not rip your stomach to pieces, then we go for it. We couldn’t afford to have one of us come down with a stomach problem because of some sketchy shwarma. 🙂
So Saturday, we intended to spend all day doing translation. We really needed to do this, because, as I said, it takes a LONG time to do. Most of the people we have in the film are speaking Arabic, so this is a tedious but very important task. I spent the afternoon subtitling and transcribing the piece we shot at for Lana’s friend. They were short clips, but it took a long time. Justin and Heba worked on translating some more of our interviews, and Lauren met with one of the key people we wanted to speak to while in Cairo. All of this was going down at the Carlton Hotel. We were a little busy group of bees, and it was great – only it made the day disappear like that and then it was time for me to finish packing and head home.
JK and LM took me to the airport, and then comes the hardest part of these trips – the goodbyes. Only, it’s not goodbye, it’s clearly a see-you-later. In any case, it was difficult, because the three of us have been through more than we imagined these last two weeks. The things I have seen, the people I have met – I know I won’t be the same – and that’s kind of exciting. That’s the point of all of this, right? Exploring the world, learning about other people, sharing stories. You can consider this trip a big, fat success – full of warmth, joy, and of course – lots of dancing.
We will continue to post updates here, so don’t think we’re going to fall off the face of the Earth now that we’re returning home. We are not nearly finished, and will be returning to Cairo in a few months. We have plenty to keep us busy in the meantime, that’s for sure. Justin, Lauren, and (hopefully) Heba will be posting their reviews/recaps/thoughts about the trip, soon – so you don’t have to listen to my ramblings as much. 🙂 We also have millions of pictures to post, and I will be working on a few more “behind-the-scenes” videos as well.
I just want to say a quick thank you to all of you – your comments, emails, and all-around warm wishes have kept the fire within us burning bright. And I know that sounds cliche, and I’m ok with that. It’s true. Thank you for maintaining an interest in the story we want to share. I really think you’ll love what we have been able to find.
I write this from a chilly Paris, France – where I will await my flight back to the States. And while I’m sad to have said my “see-ya-later” to two of my favorite people, there is not a chance that you can erase the smile that is on my face.
To the people of Moqattam. Thank you.