From the archives: August 6, 2016, Perspective

Sara Leikin Sara Leikin

1000 Words

A photograph is worth (at least) a thousand words. Here are my thousand words to describe photographs, techniques, and the moments that make the image.

From the archives: August 6, 2016, Perspective
From the archives: August 6, 2016, Perspective

" Looking out from Mokattam Mountain towards the Cairo, Egypt neighborhood of Manshiyat Naser, you'll notice something beautiful. There, in the center of the neighborhood often referred to as Garbage City (named so for its trash-lined streets) is a painted mural that spans more than 50 buildings. From any other perspective, the swirl of orange, blue and white is beautiful but illegible. But from this mountainside, a quote from a 3rd century Coptic Bishop clearly reads in Arabic calligraphy: "Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eyes first". Read the rest of the article here.

When I read this article, I made it a mission to find the mural on my next trip to Cairo. After inquiries at the office, myself and some colleagues made the drive to Manshiyat Naser. There is a complicated history behind why this community exists, both political and religious narratives that intertwine and weave through history. But when you are here, it is hard to think of anything except the immediate assault on your senses: the narrow roads, shared by large garbage trucks, death-defying tuktuks, slow-moving horse carts, running children; piles and piles of colorful bags of garbage, two and three stories high in places, spilling out into the road and filling up the ground floors of buildings; and the acrid smell of burning plastic and decay and the incessant flies it attracts. 

There are NGOs at work here, helping recycling efforts. There are initiatives to build bricks from recycled plastics and glass and cardboard are also recycled here. And it would be easy to see and smell only the trash. But there is life. As the muralist says, the people here "don't live in the garbage, they live from the garbage". This community has found a way to sustain themselves. Beautiful children and families call this home. Shrines hang above every alley. When you emerge from the narrow streets at the top of the mountain you are immersed into the Church of St. Simon, an amphitheater built into a cave and accommodating nearly 20,000 people for mass. There are smaller, more intimate caves, too, that remind me that where there is faith, people will find a way to observe it. 

In the carpark, across from the church there is a building with a small restaurant and several floors of meeting rooms. Climbing the stairs to the first floor, a waitress unlocked one of the meeting rooms that looked out over the city. There below us was the eL Seed mural. Much like this place there is duality in the quote. Is he referring to the sun or to The Son? Perhaps both. It is appropriately titled, "Perception". As I sit in the setting sun, I am struck by how often my perception, and my perspective, are challenged here. Off to the left, on the horizon is Muhammed Ali Mosque silhouetted against the sky. Surrounding the mural are buildings full of trash. Behind me is a site of Christian relevance. eL Seed originally thought he was bringing beauty to this neighborhood. It was already here, but his words remind us to look for it.

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