Thursday, May 08, 2008

A visit to the chipsy factory

When Norman and Michael visited the Saqqara Step Pyramids a few months ago, they asked for directions to the microbus. Abu Khalid, the man who helped them, invited them to a wedding party. He introduced himself as the chief of the chipsy (Potato Chips) factory in 6th of October City, a suburb of Cairo. He invited them to the factory for a tour anytime. They operate 7 days a week and never take a break. They exchanged phone numbers and Norman returned to his Alexandria classes. So, last week, Norman and Michael decided to head out to the factory to look for Abu Khalid. The microbus ride took about 30 minutes to the suburb. The roads were surprisingly new and clean. Many new developments are cropping up in and around the city.

After we arrive, we hitch a ride with a man in a pickup truck. We sit in the back of the pickup truck like migrant workers. A few minutes later, we are at the factory gates. Norman and Michael explain to Said, the security man, their purpose in visiting the factory. He is friendly, but a bit wary of our story…until they describe Abu Khaled: a bit on the heavy side, a beard. Said completed the description: going bald, right? A big stomach, about this tall?

“Yes, that’s Abu Khaled,” confirmed Norman and Michael.

“He’s not the mudeer (director) of the factory. He’s the chef in our cafeteria!” explained Said.

We realize the problem: chief versus chef. Of course, what a simple mixup.

On our way back to the bus station, I sit inside the truck with Mohammed, our driver. He’s lived in the area 20 years, the same age as the city. He explained that the city is full of factories: BMW, Mercedes, Suzuki, potato chips, pepsi, coca-cola. You name it, they got it. China—number one! (with thumbs up) America—number bottom!

This was a gentle comparison. Once before, a taxi driver praised China as a great country and the Chinese people as “haboob” or lovable people. However, when he mentioned America, he spat out the window.

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