A village of rogues and bandits

October 10, 2009

Mohamed Abboud’s precipitate departure from Egypt left Sevinch a bit exposed. She had secured a modest client base, and she had orders to be executed. Fortunately, we had met on a social occasion a congenial young Canadian who by a remote coincidence was also making tassels in Egypt. And he put us in touch with another workshop.

And thence started our long and troubled relationship with the village of rogues and bandits. I am sure you will forgive me for not naming it, but vendetta has a long memory in this country.

The first swarovski fringe

The workshop owner was named Sabbagh, but rapidly became known, for reasons that will become clear during the unfolding of this tale, as Shithead. The man was hugely talented, experienced, and at the beginning cooperative and reasonable.

The village was almost beyond description. The main street an open sewer, running next to an irrigation canal choked with detritus, raw sewage, noxious chemicals, and the ubiquitous plastic bag. Half-finished houses are within mere feet of each other, separated by muddy lanes, with livestock and barefoot children cohabiting in tiny garbage-filled courtyards. And everywhere you move you feel the eyes upon you.

Sabbagh’s workshop was tiny, cramped, so badly lit, you could barely see the floor, let alone the work on the looms. The lines and cordage were wound on spinning motors out in the street, and the mountains of discarded yarn bobbins were stored on a flat roof with no parapet: one day (a year before our arrival in the village) one of Sabagh’s 11 children stepped on a bobbin, slipped and crashed to his death in the street below.

For all that, at the beginning, his work was good: well-executed, the colours spot-on, and delivered on time. Sevinch and her customers were satisfied with this at least. But all too soon, Sabbagh’s innate instincts took over. Delivery periods started to slip, the quality became patchy, and he would put up the prices halfway through production. Sevinch discovered that his workers had not been paid for up to 6 months at a time, and in desperation effectively took over the responsibility for financing his payroll: Sabbagh was all too happy for her to pay the salaries directly to the workers, whom he would then put onto production orders other than Sevinch’s.

In no time at all Sevinch was doing a daily commute to the village, and effectively running Sabbagh’s workshop for him. Did I say Sabbagh? No, no, no – by this time he was well and truly Shithead.

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