Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shopping in Aswan (international incident adverted #2)

The photos will take a week to come back to me, so I will just post some of them later. Again this is out of date order but it is funny enough that I really don’t want to forget it.

If you have ever been to a country that barters or haggles, or even if you’ve been down a carnival strip of side show tents you should know exactly what I mean. Walking down a street Aswan is somewhat like a gauntlet, with the barkers calling out to you and often stroking your ego. If you spend just five minutes in their store, they hope that you will leave with a gift in your hand and money in their wallet.

Turkey and Morocco were much the same as Egypt so I was quite prepared for the funny sayings, propositions and general flattery the barkers throw our way. I wandered the streets of Aswan with two blondes, so I expected the interest in them to be much greater than in me. I also dress conservatively even if it means dying of heat. The more respect you show for another culture really does go a long way and the treatment you receive reflects the respect they have for you respecting them. I wore a long sleeve, loose fitting royal blue shirt with a pair of jeans. Throughout the evening, several spice shop owners were quick to point out how my shirt matched the indigo dye they had in with the spices. I also wear not only my wedding rings on my left hand, but the Claddaugh my mother gave me as the only ring on my right hand. It leaves little room for confusion that I am a married woman.

I can’t do real justice to explaining what a street looks like in the middle of a suhk. It almost looks like the movie set of Aladdin exploded onto this narrow, winding street filled with a multitude of goods. The streets are narrow, with the buildings rising up beyond you into the darkness, making you feel more like you are indoors than out. Just above you are wires, ropes or strings that carry clothes, baskets and other light objects on display and it just ads to the crowded, cluttered feeling of a suhk. Those that don’t own a shop, set up tables and stands on the empty spaces of building walls not already occupied with the building owner’s goods. The smells that waft in your direction are from the spices, coffee houses and flavoured tobacco the shop owners smoke sitting in the doorway. As you walk down the uneven streets, the barkers call out to you practicing their best English, flirting or making you laugh in any manner to gain your attention. I was offered 50 camels (a donkey is worth $250) to give to my husband if I would divorce him and marry the barker. My second marriage proposal (of about 10 total) for the night was an owner who asked if I wanted to own his shop. Playing into the game a little, I bit on his line. He saw my hands and told me that after divorcing my husband if I were to marry him, his shop would be mine to do as I please. Being a little devilish, I asked him if it were not possible to change the Koran to allow for a woman to have many husbands and not just the man with many wives. He chuckled at my jest and told me that alas Allah was not a woman and it he who set down the Koran.

All the time we wandered through the streets of Aswan, not a single barker touched you. They may flirt horribly, but they will not lay a hand on you, especially if you are married. This is pretty much true for any area that is not covered with tourists. The everyday life, the normal store owners will not touch you and would not touch a married woman of their country either. This is not the same in the tourist stops, by any stretch of the imagination.

To walk through a shopping district close to a tourist site is like walking through the shopping district of Korea. They will take your hand or your arm and lead you into their store in the hopes of getting you to buy their goods. They aren’t trying to be rude necessarily, but if you aren’t used to this style of salesmanship or are a female it can be quite disturbing. I made sure that when I walked the tourists sections that I went with a man. I am not fond of being touched, and am really not fond of being grabbed, shoved or pulled. Going through these areas with a guy helps to keep the touching and pulling down a bit.

Unfortunately one vendor was not that wise and grabbed a hold of my wrist. I faced him, looking directly into his eyes and asked him politely to please let go. He continued his sales pitch and did not let go. I pulled a little and again looking directly into his eyes asked him a second time to please let go. He then started to pull me into his store with a little jerk of my arm. At that point I stumbled a little and my instincts kicked in. I placed my free hand on top of his and put him into a simple wrist lock, applying pressure ever so slightly. Most people would not have even known what I was doing, as you both remain standing, it almost appears like I am holding or shaking his hand. Again facing him and looking directly into his eyes, I asked sternly yet politely to please let go of my wrist. The pressure I was applying showed slightly on his face as he said, “Yes, yes, yes. I let go.” I released him from the lock and he stepped back two steps. I smiled and said thank you and kept walking. Not a single man down the rest of that street, laid their hand on me. I was proud of defending myself and laughing at the initial look on that mans face when I put him into that lock - boy was he surprised!

As I got back onto the bus, I asked the tour guide if I could get into any kind of trouble for it. He stated that first of all he would have been chastised for touching a married woman and that secondly he would probably volunteer to go to jail as he wouldn’t want to face his friends after being “beat up” by a girl.

I was very good the rest of this trip. This and the air marshal were the only two things that could have been considered international interest. At least I didn’t get mad at paying a $1 more than my friend for a bracelet and insult not only the vendor but the tour guide for exclaiming that they were nothing but a bunch of cheats. Some people don’t understand bartering and haggling – it’s a fact of life sometimes you don’t always get a better deal and sometimes you get one better than your friends.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

I loved reading this! Made me feel as if I were there, too. Hope you're having a good week. :-)