In the market for crap
There are isles of the stuff–trinkets and “soufeneers” as the Iraqi signs say outside.
In my quest for finding gifts for family, I am inundated with mountains of touristy junk.
It’s like the cheesy, cheap snow globes and such back in the states, except more on the cheap side. You go out to these local merchants to grab a little taste of Iraq and find “made in China” on almost everything. Well, “local” merchants as in those who are allowed to sell things on the camp. And even most of them are Indian or Pakistani.
The same statues and pictures are at everyone’s booth. I suppose everyone gets by.
Also, my merchant friends seem to think that Americans are just interested in something “foreign,” African, Egyptian and Asian pictures and statues are prevalent. Nothing says “Iraq” like a Buddha or Cleopatra statue.
Then there are the shady cats who sit in the back, without all the gaudy, plastic nonsense. They usually brood over a glass case or two, watching a staticy Arabic prayer broadcast on a nearby 13-inch. Their displays are of spoons, a plate or two, and a few dozen tattered bayonets or other Army stuff. All of it looted, of course, but strangely tolerated and amazingly overpriced. $75 for a plain spoon?
“Is Saadam. Yes. Is Saadam,” the merchant explains as I frown at the paper price sticker.
“Saadam used this?” I ask.
“Yes. Is Saadam.”
Some guys have personal pictures of the former dictator, in stacks of unorganized piles, taken with personal cameras. It’s creepy to see things peddled like that…former relics of the old order thrown to the conquerors. Would people break out their old flags and pictures of presidents to whoever eventually takes us down? Would I be saying “Is Bush. Yes. Is Bush,” in scraps of some other tongue while manning a booth on a military post?
What were these guys before the fall of Saadam? Still merchants? You read of engineers and doctors who become laborers and shop owners to earn enough to feed their families. These guys endure hours of searches and lines to get into our base. It’s definitely not for the love. I guess we throw them enough scraps to make it worth their while.
And what about the Indian guys? Money must be pretty good for them to leave their families and travel thousands of miles to open up a gaudy watch and plastic paperweight stand on Camp Taji, Iraq.
My final stop for the day is the jacket stand. Racks of dusty leather jackets fill a booth, the shopkeeper sits outside. I’ve found that the Middle and Near East may have been the originators of the high-pressure sale.
“Sir, sir, you want to try?” the jacket vendor said as he leaps up. I guess it was a slow day.
“I’m just looking, thanks,” this response, while adequate in America, has no meaning here.
“This is good for girlfriend, yes? Sheepskin. Very nice! You pay thousands in America. I give you for $425.”
I had no intention of buying a jacket, nor did I plan on spending 1/3 of my monthly pay.
“No, thank you. No girlfriend.”
“Then for you! Try this on. You’ll like. You like brown?”
And before I know it, I’m looking at myself in a brown leather sports jacket from a shard of broken mirror the merchant is propping up on the floor. Still, I’m not feeling it. After three jackets, we had finally given up on working zippers and went with buttons.
“I give you good price. I give you both this and sheepskin jacket for $550.”
It may have been a good price, but, again, I didn’t need a jacket. I had to refuse again.
Saying no to guys here breaks your heart. They are so excited to see you in their shop and when you finally put your foot down, their faces just drain and they look so sad. Somebody doesn’t beat them if they don’t make quota, do they? Jeez, makes me think I just took away their son’s dinner. But, then again, maybe I did.