Photography by Rania Helmy
Dirt, disease, ignorance, cruelty and inhumanity all describe the daily lives of Batn El Ba’ar residents who are piled up in a slum behind the pottery market located at the end of Salah Salem road. We were there distributing charity bags, medical supplements and money and we were shocked by the picture we saw. We thought it might make a change if we shared our experience with you to think out loud for a solution to those people’s disastrous living.
I’m sure that you’ve heard about Cairo’s slums and how the people there live inhuman and merciless lives, but one thing is to hear and to see is a totally different thing. Filmmaker Khaled Youssef once said that the slums he brings on screen are merciful and beautified when compared to the slums that exist in real life and I’ve always doubted that until we went there to capture the real picture which left us devastated with non-stop ‘hows and whys’ running inside our heads.
As we first arrived to Batn El Ba’ar, we were escorted by Iman, a 30 year old woman who is living there with her husband and children. She introduced us to the rest of the families and provided us with a short brief on every family and its story. Of course, the dirty atmosphere there is beyond words as well as the dirty smell that kept hanging in our nostrils through the whole visit, “we have no sanitation here. When we flush our toilets, all the waste comes up flowing in our rooms and we pay 20L.E a week to get someone to remove it for us. We call him ‘Taranch’ and he collects the waste in buckets and throws it outside Batn El Ba’ar”, Iman tells us.
“Residents there are living not only in an unhealthy environment on the physical front but also on the mental one.”
Residents there are living not only in an unhealthy environment on the physical front but also on the mental one. Most of the families there suffer from cancer and Virus C due to the unhygienic, contaminated living they share. Lots of families also suffer from various types of long-term disabilities. Due to the very narrow space provided for them, families there live in very small rooms with one or two beds maximum which makes children witness their parents’ sexual practices on regular basis, “my husband got married to another woman across the street and he only comes for the purpose of intimate encounter which happens 2 or 3 times a week. We do it in the presence of our children and after he finishes, he leaves us to go to his new wife. It’s disastrous as my kids used to be very clever and were at school but now each one of them has Enuresis (involuntary urination) due to watching us having sex that resulted in psychological problems on their side” Sabah, 27, with three kids tells us. “I work as an incense seller; I go to people sitting in coffee shops and sell them incense for 1 or 2 LE. My daily goal is to collect 10 L.E as this is the maximum amount of money we spend on food here, but I can’t work extra hours as I have uterine cancer that results non-stop bleeding”, Sabah adds.
“My husband got married to another woman across the street and he only comes for the purpose of intimate encounter which happens 2 or 3 times a week. We do it in the presence of our children and after he finishes, he leave us to go to his new wife.”
Religion, laws, civil rights don’t exist in the public of Batn El Ba’ar. Due to the ignorance spread between residents as well as harsh poverty, people there don’t live a civilized living. There are no laws or regulations protecting their rights or even punishing them if they act against the law. They know that their voices aren’t heard and they never care about breaking the law, and if they did, no one will come to punish them. A very common and shocking thing which takes place on regular basis is that husbands flee without divorcing their wives and the wives get re-married without even getting a legal divorce. Apparently that is so common to the extent that they don’t find it odd or against the law and talked to us about it openly with no fear of any judgment.
“A very common and shocking thing which takes place on regular basis is that husbands flee without divorcing their wives and the wives get re-married without even getting a legal divorce.”
We visited a room where an 80 year old woman is living with her 3 grandchildren. She’s known there as ‘El Gedda’ (the grandmother) and she’s raising her grandchildren as their father died few years ago and their mother fled away leaving her children to the 80 year old woman to raise. Everyone there collects money for this underprivileged family and charity activists collect to pay their school fees. When there is no money coming from charity, the children quit their studies.
Lots of devastating stories were told to us and one story left us with deep heartbreak. Only 14 years old, Abeer got married, and like all the girls there she experienced her wedding night with cruel rituals, “I was forced to lose my virginity not only in the presence of my husband, but also in the presence of members of his family who wanted to witness the moment I prove to be a virgin. I was really young and I couldn’t get what was going on. I was terrified and I passed out on my wedding night and got into a coma that lasted for 3 days. I’m pregnant now and I suffer from anemia and I have terrible health issues”, she tells us.
The people there aren’t optimistic about the future, even after the revolution, residents of Batn El Ba’ar feel that the negative impact of the revolution is much bigger than its positive impact. As a matter of fact, there is no positive impact on them. Ever since the revolution started, men there suffered from the lack of work, “everything is down and no one has any jobs to offer us. We don’t have a full time job and we make living from day by day jobs. We have ponds of mud here in which we extract the substances to make pottery but other than this we are jobless”, some of the men there told us.