We received an invitation to visit a small farm in the Nile delta about thirty miles north of Cairo. The delta and its small towns have long fascinated us and, of course, we accepted. The farm is located close to the town of Abu Ghaleb. Our proposed route would take us out of the city along the Alexandria Desert Road, then eastward to the town of Abu Ghaleb and from there another three or four miles south to the farm.
We passed the Dandy Mall (blogged about it back in 2013) and then Smart Village near the toll plaza for the Alexandria Desert Road.
Smart Village is worth a few comments. Any time you head out via this route, you notice the large gleaming buildings for Oracle, Microsoft, KPMG and the like. These are a part of the 450 acre business park known as Smart Village.
Back in 2009, Emily Yellin wrote a book titled, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives. Let's link to her book on Amazon and quote a bit from it. She describes the environment better than I could.
About ten miles from the famous ancient pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, on the edge of Cairo, lies one of Egypt's most ambitious forays into the modern world of high-tech global outsourcing. Rising out of the dusty poverty-laced landscape, just off the desert road to Alexandria, is a vast 450-acre gated oasis of green grass and sleek office buildings constructed from blue glass, gray metal, and white concrete. It is a corporate office park called Smart Village—a mecca of Egypt's budding information technology and contact center industries. Cars have to be searched for bombs by the stern guards at its entrance before anyone is permitted into the fenced enclave. But once inside, by design, the Smart Village resembles any other well-heeled office park in California, Texas, Europe, or India. It is meant to feel safe and familiar to a Western businessperson or one from Dubai. Its buildings are four or five stories high and flanked by serene man-made ponds, fountains, palm trees, and lush, manicured lawns. The government ministries of Communications and Information Technology are there. The Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange is there. So are many software development outposts and call centers of familiar American and European multinational technology companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Intel, HP, Oracle, Vodafone, and Orange.
The Smart Village also houses the largest home-grown call center in Egypt: Xceed Contact Center. Started in 2001 as a division of Egyptian Telecom, it first answered calls from Egyptian customers. But Xceed expanded in 2003 and began to take calls for foreign companies. By 2007 it had more than 1,600 call center stations and employed about 2,100 agents. Its employees answer phones for the European and Middle Eastern customers of Microsoft, Intel, and other companies.Smart Village remains a thriving place, as far as I have been able to determine.
Well, that gets us to the toll plaza for the desert road. I have complained vociferously about the desert road in the past. The road to Alexandria has been the worst road I have ever traveled in Egypt. Pot-holes, speed bumps, detours, barricades and delays. But it is now finished - four lanes in each direction and a 120kph (72 mph) speed limit. President Sisi is definitely getting the infrastructure fixed up. Even the toll plaza is first class. Videos of the tourist sights of Egypt play on a giant screen above the toll collectors. It looks great at night.
After about a half hour on the tollway, we exited at the road to Abu Ghalib. The delta is filled with these "small" agricultural towns, and they are quite different in character than the Cairo metropolis.
Since we had come a good thirty or forty miles, it was time for tire repairs. We pulled in at one of the town tire shops. This one was well equipped with the usual bathtub of water and an air hose out front. Our right front tire had apparently been losing air and since the spare was already flat, why not get the two tires fixed before continuing.
The tire guy didn't really need the bathtub for this job since the source of the problem was readily apparent.
Silly me, I had put the camera back in my pocket just as tire guy got out his Bic lighter and torched the excess tire cement around the plug he had applied. I don't recall this technique being used back home, but I don't see that many tire repairs there.
While our driver, Roshdy, supervised the tire repairs, Linda had noticed some young ladies across the road waiting for their ride. She proceeded to strike up a (very limited) conversation with a couple of them. It turns out that they were from the nearby village and had been harvesting crops in this area as day laborers.
Of course we took pictures, they took pictures (camera phones) and soon everyone was well-acquainted. It looks as though they're camera shy when in fact they are all gathered around Linda to make sure they miss nothing.
We have noticed before that there is a lot more color out in the country than in town and that is part of the fascination.
With the two tires patched, (30 EGP - a bit less than $4) we were ready to resume travel. The next milestone was crossing one of the canals as we continued east. There are three competing car ferries across the canal here. Competition keeps the price down and we only had to pay two pounds, which is about twenty-five cents.
We followed a truckload of Yousef Effendi (think tangerines, you won't be far off) onto the boat and soon were on the other side.