Mailbox Chronicles no. 2: Tales of the Trash (Peter Hessler for The New Yorker)

The writer Dan Chacon once said that when you’re writing (he meant really writing, not just thinking about it or imagining that you’re a famous writer), the whole world conspires with you. Images appear, snatches of overheard conversation find their way into your manuscript, metaphors jump out at you from every source.

This week, The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox. In it there’s a story called “Tales of the Trash” by Peter Hessler. Two weeks ago an extract from my novel (see earlier posts) was published in ‘Mission at Tenth’; the extract is named “Trash Wars”. See what I’m saying? Trash everywhere.

Sayyid Ahmed: photo by Rena Effendi, from The New Yorker, Oct 13, 2014
Sayyid Ahmed: photo by Rena Effendi, from The New Yorker, Oct 13, 2014

Hessler’s excellent piece, about a garbage collector named Sayyid, is set in Zamalek, Cairo. This also struck a chord. When I was in my twenties, for two years I lived in Dokki, Cairo, just down the road from Zamalek. I know the area well, and used to watch with fascination as the garbage collectors went about their work. I now know they live an extraordinary existence.

Egypt’s garbage collectors rifle through other people’s possessions in search of treasure: things they can recycle, things they can sell. As Hessler’s piece illustrates, what they find is stories.

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