A Magic Carpet

Our next stop was Ali Baba’s Cave of Wonders. Or so it seemed to me. I gawked at all the wonderful items for sale: the beautiful Moroccan lamps, the copper and leather goods, the silver jewellery sparkling from every corner. As soon as we’d set foot in the shop I knew I was going to blow the budget. But little did I know by just how much.

We didn’t get time to peruse the shop’s wares, but instead were ushered upstairs to the carpet showroom. Gareth and I looked at each other and smiled. Before we came on holiday I told him I wanted to buy a Moroccan carpet, if they were at all affordable. While walking through the alleyways earlier, our guide had asked everyone what they wanted to buy on this trip and Gareth had promptly declared we would be buying a carpet. I quickly stated that it depended on the cost, but I could see from the sudden twinkle in the man’s eyes that he had found his target for the day. He promised to get us a good deal, for a small commission, of course.

So there we found ourselves in the carpet showroom, listening to a man wearing yellow pointy-toed shoes explain how the rugs are made and that the designs are all uniquely Moroccan. He told us that they were duty free as well, because of a free trade agreement, and that they were magic carpets, because you buy them in Africa and then fly them across the ocean back to your home. The more he talked, the more my spirits sank. I knew they were going to be too expensive for us.

When his little demonstration was done and everyone was free to browse, the guide quickly introduced us to him. Before I knew it his helpers were unrolling carpets left and right and we were discussing colour schemes and the size of our living room. We found one that Gareth and I both really liked. I thought to myself: “R3000. That’s a reasonable price. Okay, maybe R5000, but that’s it.”

“Madam, because you are from Africa too and we Africans should stick together, I give you a good price. I will give you this lovely carpet, the one you picked out from all the rest, for the very good price of €5000.”

My first thought was, “Oh, that’s almost what I had in mind” and then I realised he was quoting me in euros and I had to multiply by eight. R40,000!! I think I might have gone visibly pale because he immediately assured me that it was only his starting price and I must tell him what I am willing to pay for it. He said the worst that could happen is that he’ll say no. I exclaimed in Afrikaans: “Dis te veel, dis te duur!” and to my surprise, the Moroccan merchant replied, “It’s not too expensive” and said that he understood some Dutch. And so the negotiations started. I knew from my previous experience bargaining in Thailand that I was no good at it, so I left it to Gareth to haggle with the man. As it turns out, he’s no good at it either, but he eventually managed to beat the price down to an amount that I could barely fit across both of my credit cards. Before I had a chance to intervene they had shaken on it and the deal was done.

My hands shook as I swiped the credit cards, hoping that I had enough credit left while wishing that it would be declined and I didn’t have to spend this ridiculous amount of money on a rug. Even one as beautiful as this one. But no, the sale went through. The carpet seller asked us if we wanted to send it home via courier and, after hearing that would cost another €400 and almost suffering another heart attack, I said no, we would take care of it ourselves. So he got someone to wrap it up in a waterproof canvas bag for us, for which we had to pay €20 and then asked for another €20 to give to the resident holy man so he could pray for our safe return home, which we handed over dazedly. He then took us downstairs and had me pick out three silver bracelets as a gift for myself and my mother and, as he gave us the wrapped carpet, thanked us profusely and assured us that we had made a good purchase and we wouldn’t regret it.

And then our guide came up to us and said he knows we got the carpet for a good price and it was because he put in a good word for us, so perhaps we should give him a little something for his effort. At that point, we only had a €50 note left, which is R400 and a very decent tip if you ask me, but he looked disappointed and shrugged as he ushered us to the next stop on our itinerary, which was the silverware shop. We had no money left, not even coins, and could do nothing more than look at the pretty jewellery. Because we had taken so long in purchasing the carpet, the other members of our group had already moved on to the next destination, so we went to join them at the apothecary shop, where we listened half-heartedly to the man explaining the use of traditional medicines and was glad when it was over and time to head back to the ferry that would take us back to Spain.

As we sat wide-eyed in the ferry, many people from our group came to congratulate us on buying a carpet, saying they really wanted to as well but couldn’t afford it, and we laughingly joked that it was indeed a magic carpet, because “it makes half a year’s pay magically disappear”. By the time we reached the continent however, we’d made peace with the expense and was happy and excited about our purchase.

And when we arrived home, the carpet was the first thing that got unpacked and put in its spot. And I absolutely love it! The merchant was right, I don’t regret it at all.

For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.

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