"What can we do? There is no place else for us to stay," said Ibrahim Abdelazim, 20. "We would sleep in the streets, but it is too cold."
In Cairo, runaway population growth and a scarcity of housing have brought the problem of homelessness into an entirely new dimension.
By the tens of thousands, people live in graveyards.
The largest of these, the City of the Dead on the eastern outskirts of Cairo, has become a teeming city of the living as well, whose tomb-homes house Egyptians of every social stratum.
The people who live there, such as Abdelazim and his three roommates, know better than to expect pity. The spectacle of living Egyptians taking refuge in monuments to dead ones long ago ceased to evoke outrage or anguish here.
The tomb-dwellers serve as stock characters in Egyptian films, convenient for introducing a touch of social commentary or tragic counterpoint, and opposition politicians raise their plight from time to time in accusing the government of insensitivity toward the poor.
But as a metaphor for misery, Cairo's vast cemetery district has been eclipsed by scenes of even greater wretchedness elsewhere in Cairo.
That may be the ultimate horror of the City of the Dead, that millions of Egyptians - living in the plywood shanties and primitive mud-brick apartment blocks found throughout Cairo - would consider themselves fortunate to live in its dank reliquaries.
The necropolis was laid out 700 years ago by members of the Mameluke dynasty that ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1517. Emulating the ancient pharaohs, the Mameluke sultans, descendants of Turkish-speaking slave-warriors from Central Asia, built opulent domiciles for the dead - domed mausoleums with fountains, mosques, religious schools and dormitories for Muslim mystics.
Wealthy Egyptians maintained the monumental tradition into modern times, but on a more modest scale.
Until recently, the only living inhabitants of the necropolis were caretakers, stonecutters and others with work to do among the deceased. But as Egypt's population exploded over the last three decades, exhausting the supply of conventional housing, the City of the Dead became a recourse for the homeless.
Although precise figures are not available, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people are now squatting in its sepulchers.
Many of them were dispossessed when the buildings they were living in collapsed - a common occurrence in Cairo, where an informal and unregulated construction sector has built thousands of dwellings in recent years without regard for even minimal safety standards.
The government always promises new homes to the victims of these catastrophes, but in most cases the wait is measured in decades. Many of the homeless wind up in shanties and mud-brick hovels - or in the streets. The more fortunate live among the dead.
When their building toppled into the street 14 years ago, Karima Abdeltawab Goma, her husband and their young daughter moved into a tiny one-room apartment in a tenement near the City of the Dead.
Finding the space inadequate, they approached a caretaker in the necropolis, who arranged for them to live in the "resting room" of a mausoleum, a windowless chamber provided for relatives of the deceased to use when visiting the shrine.
Goma, 39, has given birth to five more daughters since then. She sees no prospect of escaping from the graveyard. Her husband is serving a prison term for using hashish. Her earnings as a domestic servant are just enough to feed herself and her daughters.
The mausoleum, though dingy, is free.
"What can we do?" she asked. "Our families won't take us, a whole family with seven people. There's nowhere else to go. It's all in God's hands. At least I'm sending my children to school so they won't have to live like this."
Like the rest of Cairo, the City of the Dead embraces jarring contrasts. Some of the mausoleums have been converted into comfortable and even luxurious dwellings, with fine furniture inside and expensive cars outside.
But the vast majority are bare and comfortless, with large families crowded into a single, dim "resting room." As elsewhere in Cairo, sanitary conditions are poor, and the dirt alleyways of the necropolis are filled with barefoot children whose faces are marred by open sores.
In some cases, the owners of mausoleums, arriving on feast or holy days to honor the dead, are shocked and outraged to find people living there. The squatters are unceremoniously evicted, only to return as soon as the proprietors have left.
Nor is life among the departed necessarily a financial bargain. Although the owners of the mausoleum occupied by Goma and her daughters allow the family to use the monument for free, other squatters are charged "rent" by caretakers eager to round out their wages.
It seems unlikely that the necropolis could ever be restored to its original function, even if the government wanted to do so. Its living inhabitants are too well entrenched.
Street lighting, public transportation and mail delivery have been extended to some areas. There are coffee shops, bakeries, barbershops and several elementary schools amid the monuments - even a maternity hospital.
Television antennae protrude from many of the mausoleums. Advertisements and political posters are plastered on their walls. Some of the more fortunate households have electricity, telephones and running water.
"It's quiet. It's peaceful," said Omar Mohammed Omar, 63, a caretaker, surveying the vast graveyard from the roof of a mausoleum. "If I didn't have such a big family, I might come here to live."
Not far away, Sabah Hussein, 56, sat on a tile floor, above the remains of her ancestors, boiling cabbage leaves over a gas flame and watching an Egyptian soap opera called I Still Dream of a Day.
Eighteen years ago, the small apartment building that she and her husband owned was condemned and demolished by the government. They moved to the City of the Dead, into a mausoleum that had belonged to the family for 50 years. They expected to find an apartment within a few weeks. They did not, and as rents continued rising, they stopped looking.
Instead, they put a roof over the burial courtyard, removed the gravestones and divided the space into three small rooms. In time, they added a second floor with three more rooms. Two sons grew up in this expanded burial chamber. One of them, recently married, is still living upstairs.
Hussein, 56, said she did not consider the family's situation tragic in the least.
"You don't judge people by where they live, but by how they live. Some people live in palaces, but they aren't happy. We're happy. We have our food. What more do we want?"
In their poverty, the inhabitants of the City of the Dead enjoy a kind of celebrity. Sociologists, journalists and documentary filmmakers regularly pay them visits, along with an occasional tourist straying from his or her guidebook itinerary.
Karima Abdeltawab Goma, stepping between tombstones to hang out her wash, said she understood their curiosity. As for herself, she said, she long ago grew indifferent to her silent neighbors. After 14 years, the dead inspire
neither dread nor deference.
"They're under the ground," she said with a shrug. "We're above it."