Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ibrahim – a PET collector like many

The compound is rectangular: in the middle, there are a swimming pool and a restaurant, and the apartment buildings are set around. The compound is well maintained and clean, at least considering the local conditions.

Outside of the compound, daily Egyptian routine prevails. There is a single trash barrel (some months ago, there were three) that should contain all our rubbish and our neighbour’s as well. That’s not possible of course, and late in the evenings, heaps of waist lay also beside the trash barrel. The wind eddies everything all over the place to where it does not belong. Once per day, the HEPCA guys come to empty the trash barrel.

But before, some others are interested in our remains. I always thought that they were only cats and dogs as well as poor adults who ransack the trash can. Several times per day, men and women living in the nearby shanties carefully ransack bag after bag to find anything usable. Although it is a daily view, I am shocked about it every time. The consequence of the ransacking is a big mess each time around the trash can.

Late at night something else is moving beside the trash can. Amidst of countless open plastic bags scattered around, there is a small boy sitting quietly. Not an adult man, no, a small boy with black curly hair. Due to a lump in my throat I can hardly articulate in Arabic asking what he was doing there. “I am gathering plastic bottles to earn money.”

In the following night, I walk along the uneven way that is lined with garbage and already from far do I see: there he is sitting again between opened garbage bags, calmly throwing used plastic bottles in a huge, strong bag. Again, I have a lump in my throat but after hesitating, I head towards the boy and talk to him.

 „What’s your name?“
„Ibrahim“, a clear child’s voice answers, like a well-educated pupil who answers his teachers questions assiduously.
„How old are you?“
„Thirteen and a half.“ I can hardly believe it.
„You’re so small! Where do you live?“
„Over there!“ and he points towards something in the dark that I can’t see. Over there, there are only bare brickworks and shanties.
“Do you still go to school?”
„Why not?“
„We don’t have the money for books“.

I tell Ibrahim that I might see him again the next night. But this night, I can’t find sleep for a long time – too many thoughts assail me, among them memories of other countries where I saw such misery.

Next morning, I call my Arabic teacher to whom I’ve already spoken about the boy. She meant that we foreigners as well as the better-off Egyptians usually believe that help can be brought to such a child and his family by offering food or money. She’s right: it’s the easiest way and silences the conscience, isn’t it?

Yet, it would be better to make it comprehensible to the child that it should fight for going to school; that it is worth to bite through it in order to get out of the misery and not to have to continue as an adult the life of a garbage collector; and to make him understand that he is able to achieve this. The expenses for the books are not the reason – the books in public schools do not cost a lot.

My Arabic is not good. But if I see Ibrahim again, I’ll try to talk to him about school and about life. Although he is only one of hundreds of thousands living in this misery.

1 comment:

  1. An empathetic and compassionate intrapersonal dialogue which is the result of living voluntarily in a country where the majority of its population struggle to survive with 2 $ per day income


Thanks for your comment. I very much appreciate your active participation. Freedom of opinion is guaranteed. However, I reserve myself the right to delete impertinent and insulting comments.