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My Scholarship entry - A local encounter that changed my life

WORLDWIDE | Tuesday, 24 April 2012 | Views [517] | Scholarship Entry

Cats with dirt-clotted fur sift through mounds of garbage haphazardly discarded next to a suburban road. I can hear the clapping of sandals on marble stairs as the call to prayer stretches over Madinat Al Nasr. Soon I will soon see kufied-men hurrying down the street to make evening salat, their learned feet avoiding the bagless rubbish as they hop curbs and weave patterns through the scarce unlittered patches of road. They know, unlike I, that even before the sun begins to rise on the thousand minarets, boys on bicycles will descend from some unknown place to collect Kit Kat wrappers smeared the remnant chocolate and mango juice cartons sucked dry. And once the racks on their cycles are bloated with the refuse, they will go back to the place from where they came and leave the streets empty, waiting again to be filled with the afterthoughts of a bustling people for whom trash cans are mere suggestions.

This is how I had arrived in Garbage City. Wondering about this unknown place. Curious eyes peeked out at my from behind doorways. The odor of decay clung to my clothes, my skin, seeped into my lungs. My eyes watered as I blinked in the acrid air.

Houses were like recycling bins that had come to life, filled to the brim with trash, overflowing into the streets where children kicked plastic bags full of empty cans. Wrinkled fingers sifted through wet paper, determining what could be reused and what had been missorted and what could be given to the children for their make believe.

I was witness to intimate moments of life not intended for consumption by the public. This did not have the contrived charm of Khan El-Khalili or the supposed authenticity of lunch with Bedouins. This was a life that was not on show for me. The shame I felt looking into homes and seeing stoves and food and beds among trash was a construct of my perception. I was a mere visitor, and soon I would pass and life would still exist. Trash would still be collected.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2012

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