Everything in this world is forged. Deception is everywhere; in the streets, at work, on TV and in families. No one will give you the whole picture. We are all covered in lies and wrong values, standing in a quagmire of good intentions, false hope, compromises and half-truths. We are looking for fulfillment in success and “comfortable-life”, sexual relations, drugs, entertainment and religion, while trembling with fear. And we fail, instead making our footsteps through life like living-dead. We think we are living times of enlightenment in this so-called open, transparent and free world, while instead we are living in bondage in a dark age, without even realizing it.


The Zabaleen has not learned to protect himself by layers of cultivation and grandeur, the way one does where I am from. In many ways he is naked and stripped of everything that is not himself. The Zabaleen is not imprisoned by comfort. Instead his physical poverty is a gateway to poverty at heart. Childhood and poverty, in both states nothing possesses you, because you possess nothing. I have seen how one can live life like a prince in Paradise as a garbage collector, while one can live a defeated life as a lost soul in bondage in Zamalek, one of Cairo s wealthier neighborhoods. When you spend time with people who embody truth and reveal rivers of life, you start to find a reflection of the same inside yourself. You start to see yourself as more and more transparent, who you really are.


At the age of 30, leaving behind personal failures, betrayal and self-deception, I set off on a pilgrimage on foot. I left everything I had in my past life, carrying with me only a sleeping-bag, a violin and a Bible in my rucksack. I spent 20 months on the road, walking from Vienna, Austria where I was born, to Axum in Northern Ethiopia. When I arrived in Cairo I met the Zabaleen, Cairo’s informal garbage collectors in their area in the Moqattam hills, and my life changed forever. Among pigs and donkeys, smoke and fire, children eating from the garbage, copulating dogs, rats chasing cats and animal excrement everywhere, I found something that I had lost many years ago. In people’s faces, shy gentle handshakes, curious and radiating smiles and laughter, I found real life. When I continued my walk south along the river Nile towards Ethiopia, I knew that I was called to return one day to start a new life.

Every day the Zabaleen makes the trip from his enclave to town, collecting garbage which he brings back to his wife and children who await him, ready to segregate the waste, and feeding their pigs and goats the bio-waste. In a society where facade and exterior appearance is everything, the Zabaleen is disdained and loathed, not very differently to how the “untouchables” are looked down upon in the streets of Mumbai and in other Indian cities. Most people in Cairo do not recognize the professional capacity of the Zabaleen. Moreover, seeing only the human miseries, even less people are aware of his great spiritual blessing.





I wanted to catch those glimpses of revealing truth with my camera, when Man loses himself, and his inner self mysteriously comes to surface in moments of eternity, revealing who he really is. I had a burning heart to photograph the human experience on my journey through the Cairo garbage areas, searching for bits and pieces, looking for the whole picture.