Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cities of the dead

Norte,the North Manila Cemetery is home to about 50,000 living residents in Manila's largest public burial ground. These impovershed residents happily share space with spirits and the dead.

For the living, Cities of the Dead are difficult: no running water or plumbing, no electricity. Buckets of human waste are dumped in the "streets." Still, it beats living in some of the itinerant slums, such as Tondo in Manila, where the destitute homeless live on top of a garbage dump run rampant with disease and crime.

In Cairo, more than 5 million living Egyptians live in Cities of the Dead. The historic belief in Egypt is that the cemeteries are an active part of the community and not exclusively for the dead. However, in contemporary Egypt, these cities are illegal. The living residents have no status.

Actually, Egyptians never call the sprawling cemetery at the eastern edge of Cairo 'City of the Dead.' Only Westerners do. Cairenes prefer to call it simply the arafa, the cemetery, and it is as much a part of the topography here as glass and steel skyscrapers are in Hong Kong. But what better name than City of the Dead to describe the four-mile-long walled necropolis that houses thousands of families and countless small businesses? Video stores, car repair shops and tile factories line the main arteries of the cemetery, and cramped buses deliver hoards of commuters at the end of each work day. Furniture makers ply their craft inside tombs and streams of uniformed children parade to and from school, stopping for a quick soccer game between the cenotaphs. The arafa is a necropolis turned metropolis, where the needs of the living have far outpaced the sanctity of the dead. Go with a local and see if he can talk to the swarms of children there and have one of them guide you to a house for a peek at the tombs behind the closed doors. Don't visit alone.

But back to Manila, and Norte. Year-round, Norte is a thriving city, teeming with commerce. There are makeshift neighborhood kiosks that sell noodles, rice and cellphone cards. Vendors wander the streets peddling ice cream and bottled soda.

The cemetery has its own taxi fleet: Drivers line up inside the main gate on motorized scooters, waiting to ferry commuters to their jobs as maids and restaurant workers. The cemetery is divided by class: Although no one pays rent, jobless squatters who do no work are at the bottom of the heap and are shunned. City Hall workers and policemen also live here.

In one exclusive area, paid caretakers of the gravesite of the family of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — an immense pyramid flanked by marble sphinxes — enjoy air conditioning, cable television and a washer and dryer.


Alicia said...

Wow - I love that picture. Speaking of pictures, I finally found my card reader, so I'll try to get some of our Saturday pix up.

Tina said...

Firstly: HAPPY BIRTHDAY Diva!! How cool was it as a kid to have a Halloween birthday? And as I said at my place, no wonder we click so well. You're a Scorpio (as is my dearest lifelong gay friend Bryan). I am a Pisces w/ Scorpio rising, and BabyGirl is a Cancer w/Scorpio rising. May the stars help my mild mannered Taurus hubby as he has to deal with us water sign women.

Secondly: I had absolutely NO IDEA AT ALL about people living in the cemeteries. I don't think I would have ever even guessed such a thing was possible. I like to walk in cemeteries. So peaceful and interesting to read the headstones... but to live there?... NO WAY.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

Love the pumpkin! It looks really cool, my dear. Hope you have some great plans for your birthday. Are you planning on donning a costume of some sort? And I too found your post informative. So many interesting and unusual cultures in our world.

sumo said...

Happy Birthday! A spooky one too! That was very interesting...I love to get facts like that...I often learn bits and pieces here...thanks. And don't forget a pic of the Bean for Halloween! When my youngest son was four I made him a hand quilted pumpkin outfit...the head piece was the best part I thought. Anyway, it rained like a fiend that night so he didn't get to wear it or go treating. I just keep it for a memory now.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

Hey sweetie - I forgot to tell you that I nominated your post: The Never Never" for a Perfect Post Award this month. The info's on my blog. The code for the button is available over at Suburban Turmoil, along with the list of other nominees. I have it as well- so let me know if you want to put the button up. Wonderful writing, my dear – as always.

betmo said...

happy b-day! this was a really interesting post. i had no idea- as national geographic and the history channel don't show programs like this :) thanks.

DivaJood said...

Alicia, what's a card reader? My camera just has a cord to plug into my computer. I'm blond.

Tina, thanks. I have to laugh, your poor hubby - he's got to be the most patient man on earth, eh? And yes, the Cities of the Dead are quite interesting, and in Cairo, on the "off the beaten path" tourist track. Don't go alone, though, that would be dangerous.

TFLS, thank you. I dressed as a witch, with the coolest hat and cape, went to work, then to dinner with friends, then to the Hermosa Beach pier where my costume looked like business attire.

Sumo, I wish you had put your son in the outfit anyway and taken pics. That must have been a gorgeous costume.

enigma4ever said...

great post so interesting...