I wrote this for the StoryLane site I've been trying out. Yes, the site where I now have 1,332 followers of which I think I know two. Apparently if you sign up you are defaulted six people to follow and I seem to be one of everybody's six. I feel like part of a brilliant spam operation. At least some of them actually read my stories. I liked this one so I'm sharing it here too.
I have been asked what are some things I was shocked to learn about the world when traveling abroad. I haven’t been to too many places overseas – a few islands, England, Scotland, Dublin, Paris, Spain and Morocco. This story comes from the kasbah in Marrakech.
The kasbah is a fortified village right out of medieval times. Winding streets take you past merchants selling everything from rugs to Nikes to spices to raw meat hanging on hooks. Many of the people living in the kasbah are dirt poor and it’s not a safe place to travel alone. Besides safety, a guide is good to get you out of there since it is built like a maze.
When I was in my twenties, my parents took my sister and I on a trip with them to Morocco. I was lucky to have this experience and therefore try not to complain that we were on a bus tour with fifty tourists all with blue, grey or no hair. My sister and I were at least 30 years younger than everyone else. Ahh, family bonding in foreign lands carrying red matching tote bags with a bunch of senior citizens…
My sister is two years older than me although she has always looked five years younger. She got the bulk of the easy-on-the-eyes genes as she is very pretty, tall and has long strawberry blonde hair. We all got a lot of attention in Morocco, but my sister and I stuck out a little more than the old frugal tourists that wet their pants with excitement to get to barter over the cost of mint tea. We were young, white and my sister was hot.
Part of the tour in Marrakech was to shop in the kasbah. Like all good cheesy tour operations, we were herded into a large rug merchant and locked in there for a good half hour so the locals could do their best to shake us for our dirham. Being 25, broke and male, I wasn’t into shopping so I wandered around saying “la (no) shokran (thank you) no shokran no thank you” hoping that my redundant Arabiclish sufficiently discouraged the merchants.
But then it got interesting. The rug merchant kept gesturing to my sister and then pointing to a stack of sweet rugs. La shokran didn’t seem to work and I tried to explain to him that I didn’t want to buy myself a rug, much less get one for my sister. But he kept trying to clarify and I finally figured it out.
He wanted to trade! Yes, he wanted to trade me a fine locally made rug for my sister!! I was shocked! Shocked at the brilliance of this proposition! My sister and I had finally become great friends but I grew up not liking her very much. This could be good payback and my studio floor in Chicago was bare and nasty.
I took the merchant by the shoulder and steered him over to a stack of fez hats and leather slippers. I asked how big the rugs are and he asked how big I want. I pointed to my sister and said she is very pretty. I need a big rug. He wanted to take me over by the rugs but my mom and dad were over there trying to talk a guy down on some junk from the equivalent of five dollars to two (why do old people always have to get a deal – five bucks would make that guy really happy!).
I said, no we gotta make this deal fast and we gotta make it over here. Those old folks over there sort of have more authority than me on this, so I’m willing to make you a good deal, but you gotta help me. I’ve got a hallway that could use a runner and do these leather slippers come in a twelve?
The rug merchant started ogling my watch and I had to remind him my eyes were up here buddy. He asked what kind of watch I had (fyi, it was a fake Rolex) and I said what about the redhead? He said n’aam (yes), zween (pretty) and how much? I said giraffe because I meant to say bezzaf (a lot) but I don’t know Arabic and my sister and parents were walking toward me and this deal was about to fizzle and I was about to continue to have dusty cold floors and a naked hallway back home so I began to take off my watch but the merchant was already running toward my sister with a pretty sick grin on his bartering face so I interceded and said, “Muhammad, no! La shokran!” and I decided to keep my sister.
Frankly, I’m shocked we couldn’t get the deal done. But the merchant was lucky. My sister is a handful. He would have been way better off with my fake Rolex.