Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adventure in the Junk Souk in Amman, Jordan

I have a great belt.  It's really beautiful.  I bought it in Amman in 1980.  And like so many things, the memory of the adventure of buying it is the best thing about it.

I loved our first posting in Jordan.  I embraced the culture, the people, the food, the city, the climate--everything.  I was fascinated that everyone I met, including taxi drivers and shopkeepers, were so much savvier about world affairs than so many Americans.  And I loved exploring the Old City for old silver and Bedouin jewelry. "Shifty" and other entrepreneurs came to the house (see first blog), but I also wanted to explore on my own.  People told me I should visit the "junk souk" which was way down in the older central part of Amman, at "First Circle".   We lived at "Seventh Circle", and so I would have to take a taxi . The city was safe and I had no worries about hailing a taxi and making my way down to the souk alone.

I remember that I had to step down, to this place, as one steps down to a basement in New England.  It was dark, and filled with men working on metal—resembling booths of hardware and auto repair businesses. I had brought cash in my pocket, hoping to find some treasure in the form of a Bedouin amber necklace with silver beads, or coral, or lapis.  I had, if I remember correctly, fifty dinars in my back jeans pocket, which was the equivalent of one hundred fifty American dollars.  I walked slowly, peering right and left,  and visited several stalls.  What I found was not very different from the stuff on jebel weibdah, or jebel shmeisani, other neighborhoods in  Amman.  But then I entered one stall, and my eyes spotted a belt of silver and leather.  I had never seen one like it. Huge etched silver pieces adorned a 3-inch wide, worn leather belt.  In short, it was spectacular.  I asked to see it, and tried it on.  It could be worn at my hips and would  work with jeans,  skirts or dresses.  Heck, I could wear it with anything.  So I asked, "bikum hada? (How much is this?)"  My Arabic was simple but I got an answer. “Ktir” –a lot, I said, in my feeble attempt at bargaining.  I got them down from a hundred and fifty dinars to one hundred--still an exorbitant price.  Well, it was a wonderful belt I told myself.  I explained to the two guys there that I only had fifty in my pocket, but promised to bring another fifty next week.  They said okay: fifty now and fifty next week.  Then he said that I could take the belt home with me.  I thought that was more than fair.

I was teaching tennis lessons, at 10 dinars an hour, so after five lessons,  I had the second fifty within the week.  I got a taxi on the street, and made my way down to the junk souk again.  It was a little tricky finding them, but finally I recognized the shop where I found my belt.  I caught the eye of the same shopkeeper, and proudly made the final payment. The surprise in his eyes made me realize that I was one foolish girl. 

silver belt from Jordan

No comments: