I was picked up at by two guys who were contacts of my father's contact. Neither could speak much english, however one slightly better than the other. He ended up being my translator for the day. Once again, I know this is awful, but I forgot their names. In my friend groups, I am sadly famous for this.
We drove to his factory. A shoe factory, one of about 20 that I saw today. Yes, 20 shoe factories within one city, in Palestine. Each and every manufacturer is independent, often family run.
I spent an hour with him in his family run factory. They had only moved into that building a year ago. Brand new machines, capable of 100s of pairs of shoes daily. It was impressive. Very impressive, with a view as great as any.
This did lead him into a topic which was continued through the entire day. The great quality of the shoes produced in the West Bank, the great quality of workers and the great quality of the materials. Their problem was that officially they are only allowed to export to Israel and nowhere else. This meant that overall only around 30% of the workers had jobs, and the rest were on leave as they don't have the market. Due to this, they aren't able to accomplish what they had hoped for. It led to a huge PR tour, which seemed to follow throughout the day. However I understood why every factory manager did this. They had by no means lost hope, however they take every chance possible to promote their products.
Throughout all the factories there was only a single one, which had made it into the international market. They had found an investor in Israel, who then distributed it throughout Europe. You really could see the difference. All the machines were in use, all the work stations were full and there was a real sense of passion. Whereas some factories were truly empty which hit me more than expected because there was just this huge sense of loss.
The owner had lived in countries throughout Europe and Asia. However, he continued to state that for him Hebron was the best place in the world. Something that I found culturally interesting was that he introduced his father to me, who was working like everyone else. This didn't surprise me, yet he was so very proud that his father worked like every other person. This in my opinion, said a lot about fathers in the average family.
Continuing on the cultural principles within families, the children had incredible respect for their father, the owner of the factory and my translator/tour guide. We had an Arabic tea on the rooftop of the building which house both the factory as well as apartments where the family lived. He offered me a tea, and I gratefully accepted, to which an approximately eight-year-old came running with a pot of tea and two glasses.
A man named Youssef (at least one name) shook my hand, and we left. I wasn't told anything, I just followed. We drove, without functioning seatbelts at 70-80 km/h through a chaotic city. The first ride was nerve wracking, but after 3-4 trips it really just seemed normal. Them two showed me around many a factory, all producing one single product. Shoes. Soles of Shoes.
We continued throughout factories, and I continuously noticed that I got some strange looks. People working in the factories were clearly staring at me. I tended to ignore it, until Youssef told me it was because I looked strange. I looked hugely puzzled, and he said it's because in Islam tattoos are banned. I happen to have 2 half sleeves and a nose ring. He made sure however to emphasise the fact that Palestinians are very nice people. Again making sure that I would have a good impression.
The thing that struck me in the total of approximately 6 hours within multiple factories, was the concept that some shoes were labelled "Made in Vietnam". The fact that the Palestinian people who are incredibly proud, would label it as such, shows just to what measures they are prepared to go to in order to achieve success.