As many of you know I have spent quite a bit of my life in the Middle East or on the fringes of the region. Shopping in the local souk or market is a unique experience. In the souk price is no object and the stickers advertising said prices are merely a suggestion. I have shopped in large souks in Istanbul and Morocco as well as small markets in Egypt, Iraq, and Turkey. I have bought mother of pearl inlaid jewelry boxes, refrigerator magnets, fish skin drums, leather backpacks made from camel, hand-carved wooden faces, and painted plates. I have seen trained monkeys, snake charmers, goats, and hundreds of street urchins begging for " just one dollar" or candy. I have eaten cheese, goat, "kabob shish", flat bread and green salads. I have drank chai and coffee so hot you couldn't hold the cup.
Shopping in the souk is always fun most conversations with local vendors go something like this:
My friend please..please my friend I have watches. Beautiful Rolex, you come see.
I can't afford a Rolex
For you my friend 10 dollars
Let me see it, This isn't a real Rolex I will give you 3 dollars
My friend, you are taking food from the mouth of my children. It is an insult my friend. I will sell you the watch for 8 dollars.
I just watched you sell the same watch to that guy for 3 dollars
LIES who tells you these lies? My friend you are no longer my friend. It is lies
I just watched you myself,sell that watch to him for 3 dollars. I will give you 3 dollars for the watch.
But my friend, it is not possible
Ok then forget it, I don't need a watch anyway
My friend, it is making me poor but I will sell the watch.
And so it goes..
I once got a henna tattoo in the plaza of the Grand Souk in Marrakeesh Morroco, while watching a snake charmer make a cobra dance in a basket. All I could think was, how the hell did I get into the middle of this episode of Jonny Quest? I spent an entire day in a similar souk in Istanbul. I bought myself a reversible jacket which is lost somewhere in the shadows of time and a small polished stone jar that at this very moment is sitting on my night stand. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Iraqi version of a gunshow when I went with some of our Kurdish allies to a market that sold everything from AK-47's to RPG's. All that armament was laid out on tables like so many loaves of bread. I would like to go back someday and do some more shopping in one of the souk's but chances are that will never happen. So I will just keep my memories and laugh with my buddies about the times when we did visit the Souk.