He left his childhood home in Fayoum a quarter-century ago, setting out for Cairo where he was told laborers made big money. He followed welders, garbage men and bricklayers and helped build slums, one after the other. The shacks remain but the good money is gone; Hassanein's lucky if he works two days a week, earning a total of less than $9, not enough to patch his roof, fix the cracks in his ceiling.
He grabbed his cane and went for a stroll. There was no hurry; an idle man learns how to outsmart the hours. A woman cleaned vegetables on a stoop and young men smelling of splashed water and soap walked through the litter and down the hill, looking for a bus to take them somewhere.
Prosperity is like a match to gasoline, burning bright for an instant, then vanishing. Distrust of the government lasts much longer. Hassanein came upon neighbor Mohammed Osman, who once lived in a shantytown near the spice bazaars; the government forced him out to make room for tourists and he settled on these brittle cliffs geologists say should never have been built upon.
"The government told me I'd be here only six months. That was 13 years ago," Osman said. "I'm still waiting to be moved to a nice place."