This season, consider buying a piece of trash.
Today the NYT ran a story about a pair of women in New York who sell handicrafts made by the Egyptian zabaleen. The zabaleen are an extremely poor community of Coptic Christians who live in Cairo and make a living collecting, selling, and recycling the city's trash. Fifteen years ago the two Egyptian-American women who sell the merchandise stumbled on a workshop of zabaleen women who were turning the trash they collected into handicrafts. They began bringing these goods back to America and selling them at craft fairs.
The zabaleen are a remarkable community, who have somehow managed to figure out a way to scrape together a living in both a hostile and squalid environment. They had a particularly rough year in 2009, when the Egyptian government (in all of its wisdom) decided the best way to combat swine flu was to kill off all the country's pigs -- many of which are used by the zabaleen to dispose of trash (Michael Slackman wrote a good article about this here).
If history serves as a guide, the community will figure out a way to survive, despite their recent hardship. Still, it sounds like the zabaleen could use a little boost from some socially-conscious, Middle East grad students (it is, after all, a down economy and demand is sagging). The article says they'll be selling the merchandise at the Calvary Church next to Gramercy Park until Saturday. Might be the year to finally buy Mom her first rug made of trash...