(You can read part 11 here)
Dedicated to SOFREP family member sister Irene B.
First things first, obey your thirst. I dropped a couple of Dirham on a bottle of water, realizing I hadn’t had water all day. I didn’t know at that point how I was going to solve the water crisis because I couldn’t buy water all the time and to drink the water there was to commit gastro-intestinal suicide.
The food was going to be a problem enough. I was at some point to contract a mild form of irritated bowel syndrome that I took to thinking of as ‘modestly annoyed bowel syndrome’ in a desperate hope to cling to humor. I reasoned that I was gifted the condition from a morsel of goat cheese I had braved from a street corner kiosk. I learned to stay away from dairy completely while there.
Following my notepad checklist, I moved quickly to secure a room, an accommodation that was not to cost more than an equivalent of five US dollars. With luck, the first place I darted into was able to provide a room at that price. It was up a narrow and steep cobblestone alley that I spied what seemed to be enough of a hovel so as to agree with my budget
The alley was not totally devoid of charm; in fact beautiful with blue and white-washed walls, ornate doorways, and a final set of steep stone stairs that gave way to a generously arched door at the main entrance, which I learned was the only entrance. This structure would neither pass HUD beneficial occupancy standard codes in the US nor did it care.
I went right away to deposit by kit into my room to preclude perpetually lugging it with me. In a foyer between the front desk and the hallway, there was a chubby man laying essentially supine to the plane of the floor. He didn’t move. I looked back at the clerk who seemed indifferent to anything other than his ledger, and I wondered if I should check the gentleman’s vitals.
Deciding to be the bad Samaritan, I stepped over him and made way to my room, and a broad step it was! The air of my room made me give pause to my entrance. There was a mattress of sorts on the concrete floor, a sink on the wall, with a small plastic waste basket below. Oh, and there was a ~40-watt bulb hanging from a wire directly in the center of the room, the light of which barely reached my eyes.
How I longed for the good ol’ days in Frankfurt when I had a whopping five-thinged room, well worth the full five Dirham.
I had three things in my room. I was of the mind to return to the front podium and demand two of my Dirham back from the clerk. Back through the foyer, the man was finally sitting up, if at least on his knees, but he quickly fell forward again prostrate to the floor. By now I couldn’t stand it:
“Y a un pauvre homme qui se tend la su’la planche’e! (There’s a man lying there on the floor!)”
“Oui, ca prie la, vous voyez (yes, he’s praying there, you see)”
Yes, so several times a day there is a silent prayer to Allah among the people. That would take some understanding; I couldn’t run around all day hammering people with CPR that I see lying about. That resolve in mind, I again broad-stepped my fluffy friend where he lay slumped in the foyer, taking great care not to pull my groin.
I set about to locate my first assigned objective of my first day. It was essentially a waterborne ferry garage of sorts. I moved about in the general location and asked several people where I might find it. I asked for it verbatim by name. All who I asked shrugged and excused. Frustration mounted; WTF? Maybe all these people were all also on the same excursion I was on?
Finally, I’d had enough and dismissed the hunt as a mere red herring inserted to see if I would eventually blow my brains out. I headed back up the narrow cobblestone alley. My path was blocked by a young lad of apparently 14 years old. He spoke to me jubilantly in English. I replied in French, not wanting to tip my hand that I was American, though he could clearly tell by looking at me.
He answered in French with a wince and scratch of his head: “What part of France do you come from?” Not wanting to entertain the kid with my Cajuness I switched to Spanish. The kid was neck and neck with me in Spanish. Well, this was a tourist area after all. “Come one with me,” continued the boy, “I’ll be your tour guide; I know where the best carpets in town are sold!”
Somehow, continuing my track through the Emirates with a rolled up carpet across my shoulders just didn’t appeal to me as the thing that would best make me fit in. But my idle hands allowed me to follow the kid a short distance away. I was mindful to not let the boy lead me farther away than I could remember how to get back, and especially not into an old-school mugging.
We made approximately three turns and came to a hover in a carpet shop. I found myself facing the shop owner and the kid was gone. The owner was a well-spoken man of means who invited me to sit, at which point he clapped his hands summoning an assistant from an adjoining room.
The assistant brought steaming glasses of mint tea and a pot of refills. I have to say the tea was impressive. We made small talk, we two, and he began to quiz me about Spain. I offered that I was only in Spain for a limited time for work and that I was actually from Frankfurt Germany. The shop owner switched to German.
How I longed for my room… to be just lying there on my mattress staring up at my ~40-watt light bulb, and not fencing with this Arab bastard in German. I felt like were both vying to determine who spoke the best German to figure out who the liar was… then he began to deliberately down right test me:
“Yes well you know something, I like seafood; do you like seafood? I especially like those little creatures that are like little lobsters… I think they are called camerones in Spanish… what is the German word that they are called?”
Yeah… I got it. I know he means garnele in German but I wasn’t going to play his stupid game. Some more claps and the owner’s assistant began to pull carpets from large shelves and piling them on the floor at our feet.
“What do you think, my friend you?”
“Very nice, very nice rug indeed,” and the pile grew higher as I slammed glass after free-to-me glass of the man’s mint tea.
We lit cigarettes and studied each other through a tenacious veil of tar and nicotine haze. We stroked our beards, rubbed our chins, and cracked an occasional knuckle. It was all exquisitely macho. At one point, when his assistance laid a particular specimen of carpet on the pile, the owner bid me observe as he held his cigarette out over the carpet and let it fall on top. It bounced and sparked then lay still.
I looked at him somewhat alarmed as he so slowly reached down and picked up his cigarette from the carpet and resumed puffing. He gently brushed the spot where the cigarette had been and there wasn’t the slightest indication left behind.
“That amazing!” I applauded, “How can that be so?”
“It’s a magic carpet you see,” and he winked but proceeded to tell me that the carpet was woven very tight by the hands of children; so tight that the cigarette could not catch a thread to fuel a burn. Well, that was truly amazing I had to freely admit, but the evening was drawing long and I had a ~40 light bulb waiting for me to stare at.
“So then my friend, which carpet would you like?”
“I didn’t come here to buy a carpet. I never said I wanted a carpet, or to even see a carpet. You came up with this stupid charade all by yourself. You should consider coming to the States to sell used cars; that was the pushiest performance of my life.”
The shop keep’s face showed distinctive pissed-off all over it. He pushed back in his seat a bit, slide open his desk drawer, and pulled out a large ornate curved khanjar dagger that he laid slowly on his desk top.
I felt like a worm coming out of a Robin’s ass because he had to be shitting me. As the shop owner brow beat me in English now, several times he pulled the khanjar dagger slowly from its sheath, and just before the tip exited he slammed the dagger back into the hilt.
Don’t tell me, this toad would like to thank Allah, country, and especially the Academy. I should have been scared but wasn’t, because by now the situation had just gotten ridiculous. I stood and brushed the carpet fibers that had been airborne and came to lite on my lap. I excused myself to Omar and wished him luck on his tents, then took my leave, confidently turning my back to him as I left.
“How much for the khanjar?” I quipped in jest as I cleared his door jamb, only glancing back to catch the slightly more infuriated expression on his face; it was well-worth the effort. A picture merited a thousand words. It was good to be king, even if only just for an hour or so in Tangar Sur Mere of the Ba’ad Salaati Emirates.
Steep up my narrow cobblestone alley I darted in the only door of my sort-of-bed-and-no-breakfast, nodding in deference past the clerk at the front podium. I hurdled over my pudgy prostate pal prone to the floor like a penitent monk. More power to him; he must have had a hell of a wicked weekend I thought before I realized this was not even the same guy at all.
What on Earth were the odds of a second man that huge praying on the floor of my foyer?
Cracking my door just wide enough to snap my light switch on. Standing in the threshold I took note of the behavior of the photons of light emanating from my ~40-watt bulb. They did not explode out at me like regular light back home does. They rather lumbered toward me like a fat dog with bad knees giving me a crappy look for making them move.
Satisfied that I had stepped over the number one and number two largest praying men in-country I lay on my floor-bed and flipped through my notepad reviewing the tasks to come. It would be groundhog day certainly, but in the most peculiar way.
I set the alarm on my folding clock that ticked its ass off. I checked it, then checked it one more time. Good night light bulb; I would turn you off, but you’re just not bright enough to bother with.
By God and with honor,
(All photos courtesy of Wikipedia)