You see, back home in the United States we have a rather sophisticated and quite successful recycling system that is supported by local governments across the nation and widely used. However, here in Egypt the recycling system is somewhat different.
In most neighborhoods there is, outside the front of each apartment building, a large plastic trash can for residential use. These trash cans do more than collect trash though. In fact, these trash cans provide a livelihood for the poor.
That's right. You could just as well say Egypt has professional trash collectors. These are poor men, young and old, who go around from trash-can-to-trash-can sifting through the refuse looking for whatever is salvageable that can be resold or recyclable's that can be turned into an actual recycling center for cash. Now, I fully realize that this is not a practice exclusive to Egypt, but it happens to not be something I grew up seeing.
It is usually during the early morning hours after fajr that, if you are still awake, you will hear local trash recyclers drifting through the neighborhood. But the one that always gets my attention is the little old man who collects discarded empty water bottles (among other select plastics).
I regularly hear the man who works my neighborhood, because as he finds his plastic treasures, he turns to deposit them into his huge canvas bag, and the squished sound of plastic as he pushes the top of the pile down to make room for newly collected bottles, isn't easy to miss.
Personally, although I am well aware that these trash collectors are quite used to their work environment, the thought of rummaging through trash all day long to make a living just seems wretchedly dreadful.
So, I collect my emptied plastics to be able to deliver them without this neighborhood's plastic collector having to rummage through the trash to find them. And sometimes my collection gets rather big as I don't always catch him before he wanders off to the next building! But this morning I caught him!
"Pssst. Pssst," I called to him. Finally he looked up. I smiled. He smiled and turned from the trash can, dragging his canvas bag along behind him, to get closer to the balcony where I was standing from above. I let the box I held fall from my hand and it landed on the ground beside him. He watched it fall and then looked up, looking for my signal. I held up an index finger and he knew to wait.
By the time I returned again to the balcony, he had already bagged the first batch of bottles. I dropped two more boxes down. He looked up with a bigger smile. I imagined him thinking, "Wow! The mother load!"
Holding up my index finger once again, I returned inside my flat for two more boxes. Masha'Allah he was so happy! And subhan'Allah, after topping off a bag that could hold no more bottles, he bent to begin collecting the empty boxes and he flattened them so they would fit neatly into the trash can -- for the card board collector man.
As he prepared to carry off his bag of plastic bottles, he looked up to the balcony where I was still waiting and he held out both of his arms as if in dua and smiled again. I called out to him, "Ramadan Kareem!" and off he went.
There isn't anything within my power to change the fact that this is a poor man; but there was something within my power that I could do to spare him from having to dig into one less trash can today.
May Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala reward our fasting, worship and good deeds in this Ramadan and beyond; and may we always remember those less fortunate than ourselves.