I've Moved!

My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, in order to acknowledge that we no longer live in Maadi and that we are, in fact, global nomads, not staying in one place longer than two or three years. Please join me at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Street Cleaning

Yesterday, I attended a street-cleaning event organized by the Maadi Environmental Rangers (MER). The MER is a group of women, mostly Egyptian women who have lived in Maadi for most or all of their lives, who are committed to bringing Maadi back to its former beauty. Apparently, Maadi was established by a group of four families and was governed by a set of rules designed to make Maadi a haven just outside of the craziness of Cairo. Each piece of property had a villa, a garden, and a wall. Outside the wall, there was a hedge and then a green area, or small lawn, next to the sidewalk.

Nirvana, one of the ladies in the MER, told me about how Maadi was run when she was growing up here: a private company, Sherka Maadi, ran the city. There were strictly-enforced regulations about cleanliness and water use. The presence of rubbish on the streets led to immediate fines; the wasting of water by allowing it to spill onto the sidewalks and roads also resulted in a fine. Trees were trimmed annually, so they provided beauty and shade, but did not interfere with use of sidewalks, which was common in those days.

Now, when walking through Maadi, rubbish is a common sight; I barely notice it anymore. Water frequently runs freely over the sidewalks and roads, as lawns and gardens are over-watered. Many sidewalks are un-useable, partially because of disrepair, but often because the trees and shrubs are so overgrown that there simply isn't room for a person to walk on them. The mission of the Maadi Environmental Rangers is to change all of that.

The Rangers have been on a long, slow campaign for change in Maadi. As with many projects for social change, they have found it wise to start with children in the schools. At first, they educated teachers and students about the importance of cleanliness in their classrooms. Then it expanded to the other areas of the school grounds. Now, the campaign is expanding to the streets around the schools. Eventually, the campaign will encompass all of Maadi.

One interesting subtext to this campaign is the reaction of the municipality and the company it has hired to clean Maadi. The current mayor of Maadi is new; he's been in office less than a year. His predecessor, however, signed a 20-year contract with a company that has not been diligent in fulfilling its obligations. The new mayor supports the MER's efforts and has begun imposing fines on the company in accordance with the contract. So far, there have been 28 fines of LE500 (roughly $100) each. The company cleaned some of the targeted area the day before yesterday's event, possibly because both the media and the mayor planned to be in attendance.

Yesterday's event was held around two public schools: Hadaek el Maadi el Qawmiya and Hadaek el Maadi el Tagribeyya. Twenty students from each school participated, ten from grades 4 and 5, and ten from grades 6 through 9. The students were divided into groups of three: most groups had two older students and one younger one, although some groups consisted of one adult volunteer and two younger students. Each group received a broom, a shovel, and a trash bag. Each student also received a t-shirt, gloves, and a mask.

The event ran from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students from Hadaek el Maadi el Qawmiyah arrived when expected and were put to work on Road 82, Road 5, and Share' al-Sadd al-'Ali. Students from Hadaek el Maadi el Tagribeyya arrived about an hour late; there were inoculations they had to receive that morning. When they arrived, they were put to work on Road 82 and Road 3. The mayor arrived shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, I was photographing children near Road 5, and the mayor was speaking near Road 3, so I didn't know he was there until he was done. But I did get some pictures of him, and one of the organizers introduced me to him briefly. I wasn't expecting it; I was flustered enough that I even forgot to say "Forsa saida" (Happy opportunity, i.e., nice to meet you). Instead, I said the English equivalent, and Maggie translated.

I stayed until around 12:30 p.m., roaming around, taking pictures, and talking to a few of the children and adult volunteers. The children mostly said "hello" and that they love Maadi. They were more interested in asking me questions--"Where are you from? Do you know (insert name here)? He is from America too"--than in telling me what they thought of the clean up. But they loved smiling for the camera! The adults were eager to tell me about how beautiful Maadi used to be, how they want it to be that way again, and how important it is to teach the children--and their parents--about throwing trash away properly. I also met three newspaper journalists who were doing the same things I was doing--two of them young Americans working for English-language papers--and I saw three sets of TV journalists, although I didn't interact with them.

So why was I there, talking to people and taking pictures? It's simple: Debbie Nell, the editor of the Maadi Messenger, asked me to be there. She wants an article for the Messenger, but she had other obligations and couldn't go herself. So I was being a reporter for the first time in my life. I felt a little lost as far as what I was supposed to be doing, as evidenced by the fact that I missed the mayor's arrival, but the American journalists were encouraging. They told me who the mayor was; I didn't even notice him at first, because his bodyguard was dressed in a suit, too, and looked more imposing. I think I did too much photo-taking and not enough talking and listening, though. I probably should have interviewed people. I was lucky to see a couple of ladies that I've met through the Guild; they approached me and gave me information about what was going on. It'll be interesting modifying this blog post into something that passes for an acceptable "reporter-esque" article for the Messenger.

So, about those pictures--here are some more of my favorites. The rest of them are posted here.

Here are before/during/after shots of the corner of Road 5 and Road 82:

Here are some other random photos of kids, other volunteers, and the streets of Maadi:

But now, it's time for me to go. All this talk about cleaning has reminded me of something: just how badly I need to clean my own home!


  1. Hi Deborah

    Thanks so so so much for doing this for the magazine - I really so wanted to be there, but, as you know, I couldn't. Great blog entry and I'm looking forward to seeing the article!


  2. That's brilliant. Toby (The tall guitar/trumpet player) and Helen's appartment overlooks that corner! Next time, see if you can entice them up to road 6 :-)

  3. Thanks a lot for this article. I am an American Egyptian trying to attack this trash issue and I want to get in touch with MER. Can you give me any leads? Thanks in advance.


  4. Mohamed-I believe I have a phone number for my MER contact, but I don't want to post it publicly on the blog. Email me at ReflectionsFromMaadi[at]gmail[dot]com, and I'll send it to you. It may be a week or so, though, as I'm leaving this morning on a trip and may not have regular internet access.


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