The first time I did this, in February of 2013, he led me to the top landing of the fire escape of a building on my street.“This is Madame Heba,” he said, grabbing a black plastic garbage bag and tossing it into a huge canvas basket perched atop his back, Quasimodo style. He gives me only five pounds a month.” He heaved two big bags.He descended while engaging in a running commentary about residents, whose names I’ve changed. Mohammed,” he said, at the next landing, and then he climbed down another level. “He says he doesn’t have any money, but I see all the boxes and bags from the gifts that he gets. The landlord isn’t happy with her; there’s some kind of fight.

As a whole, Cairo’s waste-collection system is surprisingly functional, considering that it’s largely informal.

In a sprawling, chaotic city of more than seventeen million, like Sayyid have managed to develop one of the most efficient municipal recycling networks in the world.

In part because he can’t read, he’s skilled at picking up on subtle clues.

He hand-sorts all the garbage, and at one point he noticed that foreign women often throw away empty packs of pills whose number corresponds to the days of the month.

Usually, his clothes are several sizes too large, and his shoes flap like those of a clown, because he harvests them from the garbage of bigger men.

At my apartment, he produced a small red box decorated with gold calligraphy. This kind of thing isn’t good.” But talking about it seemed to make Sayyid happy. He had four million and forty-four dollars in his bank account.”The precision of this figure caught my attention, and I asked Sayyid how he knew.“Because it was on letters from the bank.”I made a mental note to be careful about what I threw away.My own field of expertise ranges from foreign things to sex products and alcohol.If somebody throws away a half-finished bottle, Sayyid checks with me to see if it’s imported and thus might have resale value.Sayyid concluded that they were an aphrodisiac, and he asked me if they have the effect of making foreign women desire sex on a daily basis.I explained that this isn’t exactly correct, although the assumption was understandable, because Sayyid finds a large number of sex drugs and paraphernalia in the trash.I wasn’t sure how he knew this—we had chatted a few times, but never for long.