Bringing Life to the City of the Dead
The City of the Dead is a four-mile stretch of tombs and mausoleums in Cairo, Egypt. Tens of thousands of people live in the tombs, many without electricity or running water. It is a home for many who would otherwise be homeless. When I walked through The City of the Dead in December 2006, I was admiring some of the architecture and elaborate artwork dedicated to honoring the memories of family and loved ones. I was contrasting this with the smaller headstones set on grassy expanses behind churches in my hometown, adorned with flowers on the holidays. When I was in Jerusalem the previous spring, I had seen headstones sprinkled with rocks, placed strategically on the Mt. of Olives in hopes that those buried would be the first to greet the Messiah at His coming. Memorializing death seemed to tell as much about the living as it did about the dead.
At some point, a man approached me and said I had to leave because it was getting dark and tourists were not allowed in the neighborhood after dusk. It suddenly occurred to me that snapping pictures of families’ homes in a slum was probably offensive. Since many residents do not own or have permits to live in the gravesites their residence is extralegal and leaves them unsure about the future. Nonetheless, they have adapted their surroundings to fit their needs, using tombstones as desks or tables, running wires for electricity. In a country where the economy is heavily driven by tourism I wondered how often the financially underprivileged got left out and marginalized by society. Fortunately, for SAT-7, this neighborhood is just as reachable with our programming as any other.
According to the Executive Director of SAT-7 Studios in Egypt, a satellite dish is a common appliance for many of the tomb-houses in The City of the Dead. He says: “[It’s] strange because people actually, literally, live in the graveyards because they don’t have anywhere to live. But at the same time, they live in a graveyard and they have a satellite dish and a television because it’s free. And maybe it’s the only fun they can have…. So [they] get SAT-7 free. It would have been very hard to find these people, but through satellite, you can go right into their bedroom and reach them with the Gospel. So I think it’s a blessing and I feel God is blessing me and the staff with seeing the results.”