Over steaming Beghrir, hot coffee, and honeydew melon sweet enough to render a honeybee diabetic the following morning, Jack and I rehearsed our well-researched strategy for bringing home a magic carpet. After all, I did not travel to Africa in 40º weather to bring home just any old rug.
I prepared to haggle like it was a dissertation defense; I committed to memory, “How to Spot a Fake Berber Rug,” articles. I drilled myself on converting Dirhams to Euros quickly in my head during the haggling process, and polished the “qalilan” of Arabic that I think I know. I devoured 1.001 blog tales of buying a rug (a few of which did not end well.) I needed just one final piece of data (well, that and a stack of Dirhams): the “hard sell” prices on which to base my negotiation, and for those we walked over to the Ensemble Artisanal, the government-sponsored workshop where carpet weaving is learned. The Artisanal complex is pretty in its own right and worth more than the time we spent, but I was a woman on a mission now, with no time for idle shopping.
Pleased to discover that what I had learned about rug prices was within an acceptable margin of error (that being the imagined height of Tony’s raised eyebrows when I messaged him the cost), we left the Artisanal and walked confidently toward the Carpet Souk, via the Bankomat, naturally.
Rats. The Berber in the lane recognized the two of us from the afternoon before, and we were whisked inside to the back room to meet, “Mustafa,” a roundish Ali Baba-looking gentleman with turban but no pointy gold slippers, just sandals. The room had the same aroma of one of the weaving workshops at the Artisanal, a good sign, I thought. Warm greetings were exchanged, and we were gently peppered with questions. “Where are you from?” (Always tricky. Mustafa assumed we were German, so we ran with it. In fact, not once on this holiday were we addressed as the Americans we are.) “Is this your first time in Morocco? What kind of rug are you looking for?” And here I made the one and only rookie mistake. “A large rug,” I answered, and in the periphery could see his two attendant’s eyes twinkling over the roast lamb feast they would prepare with monies from the commission.
Mustafa ushered us to comfy seats and asked my color preferences, waving to one attendant and then the other to unfold rugs before me. Jack and I had rehearsed our spiel well, and the decision about an hour later came down to two rugs the attendants patiently held up for me to examine. Then the real business began. Mustafa offered the predictable exaggerated price, complete with stories of how his grandmother’s tears had helped to dye the wool. I countered with how much I loved the rug in my heart, but not so much in my pocketbook, and offered the expected lower price. The faux shock-and-outrage went back and forth. I held my ground and Mustafa eventually relented. We shook hands and the adrenaline rush hit me: I JUST BOUGHT A RUG IN MARRAKESH!
Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or perhaps hiding Durhams in every zippered compartment of my pocketbook and tote was not the most brilliant of ideas, but when I stepped aside to count my cash, I had come up short! I slipped Jack my Bankomat card and told him to make haste. Suddenly Mustafa looked alarmed and asked to where he was going. I replied, “Oh, just to get some air. He is a little bored.” But Mustafa thought Jack was up to something and ran out of the shop after him! I will write that a 20-something in Bermuda shorts is faster on the move than a pudgy Ali Baba in a long robe and sandals, and the chase ended quickly. Within this amusing interval I recounted my Dirhams and found that I had what I needed, thankfully. By the time Jack had returned from “catching some fresh air,” Mustafa’s attendants folded the rug and had hand-sewn a burlap-type cover over my one (and only) Moroccan souvenir, even adding a handle.
The Dirhams were handed over. Hands were shaken. I had just bought a rug in Marrakesh. And even Clayton Theodore approves!