Shoe makers, money laundering , prostitutes and the FTA Part 1
Shoe makers, money laundering , prostitutes and the FTA
Written by : Cypher.
One afternoon I was walking through Eastern Amman, in Alsharafeyeh to be specific, it was late afternoon and I was upset with myself because I had started shooting late that day and the sun was slowly disappearing away. Looking for anything to shoot I pointed my camera towards a mosque there and began to shoot, I was then approached by two young kids, must have been 15-17 years old and they began to hassle me; what are you shooting? Why are you taking pictures of our friends? I took both my Leicas out and showed them that I was shooting the mosque and not their friends. The kids did not apologize or say a word to me they just began walking towards their friends. Sensing trouble I though to myself “ I better get out of here “. As I was driving away I saw something that caught my eye and was thinking to myself I have to stop and shoot this, what about the gang of unruly teenagers staring at me from distance? I made my decision to go down and shoot in the hope that cooler heads will prevail. Little did I know that I was about to walk into a story.
The place that caught my eye was a shoe making shop, with the right approach I was certain that the workers and owners would allow me to shoot, and what was interesting to me was the fact that the building was so badly constructed that one can see the workers on the second floor through a huge crack and that’s all I wanted to shoot really, here is a picture of what I am talking about
The guys at the shop were much friendlier than I thought, their first reaction when they saw me take a picture of this guy was “ Man why are you shooting him, he is so ugly his image will ruin your camera”, their attitude really helped break the ice. Then they began debating why I was present there, the funny thing is that they talked as if I was not standing right there in front of them. One suggested that I work for one of the national newspapers, another speculated that I work with the customs, or the income tax department, one guy said” Guys he is cool, the likes of him don’t come around these areas, they marvel from West Amman about how cool the view of our part of town is from there” I did not know how to react to such a statement but it was true, I was there to experience a life that frankly is foreign to most of the “ elite” in Jordan, East Amman is not another part of Amman, it’s a different planet all together.
One thing I love about my people, is how generous they are, two minutes into the conversation the guys swore that I wont leave until I have dinner with them. No matter how little they have in terms of possession, this generous attitude is very common in Jordan.So the guys got me something to drink and began to chat.
I told them that I was just shooting and exploring East Amman, and that I really had no reason to do this except that I am a curious to see how people in these areas are living.
We eventually got to talking business and I asked them how were things going , and that’s when things really got interesting, the conversation suddenly became very serious and gloomy, the owner did not want to talk much, but there was another guy, a shoe wholesaler who used to get his shoes from this shop and he was more than willing to talk.
This is the story that he told me, the shop , as recently as October 2009, employed around 15 guys, now they have 3, they import the raw materials from Syria and China then manufacture the shoes and sell them to the wholesaler who then either sell directly to the public or to other shops, this industry was protected, in the sense that imported shoes had an import tax on them that kept our local product competitive in the market.
Four months ago everything began to change, the government decided to lift the protection off this industry, because of trade agreements it has agreed to , and so the Chinese products became very competitive, but this was not the real problem.
The real problem as I would learn from these guys and others I have met since was that the Chinese products were being sold cheaper in Jordan than they are being offered in China. As a businessman I knew that there was something wrong with this, how could it be I asked?
There was a minute of silence as the guy lit up a cigarette and exchanged gazes with his friends as if to check if he should proceed. Then he asked, “ What do you know about smuggling?”
Before I answered him, he continued “ You see in Syria or Lebanon when you hear the word smugglers you think of drugs and weapons, right? Well here in Jordan we have been relegated into smuggling shoes” I was not sure that I understood. So he continued talking “ When Chinese products are cheaper in Jordan than they are in China it means that money laundering and smuggling is involved”
This is the end of part 1, I will post more of the story over the next few days, I will just mention the following before posting pictures. This decision to lift the protection of the industry has effected the lives of thousands in Jordan, workers who have no other skills are jobless, the shoe makers are in huge debts because they cannot afford to pay rent, their workers and certainly cannot pay for the raw materials , most of their production is given away for free to help pay for debts. On a personal level , these workers and owners are not meeting their financial needs , they can not pay rent on their houses, some of them have taken their kids out of school in order for them to join the job markets and generate some sort of income for the family.
“We are hungry man , do you know what that means”
He smiled and said ” No you don’t ”
For those of you who cannot read Arabic, the writing on the wall states ” Here , Lions die of hunger”
Stay tuned to find out what prostitutes have to do with shoe makers.