The streets of Old City Jerusalem wander and stagger through the covered souks of various quarters – Armenian, Muslim, Christian, Greek Orthodox. This rabbit’s warren of never-ending stall-lined streets sellis anything one could possibly want or need and has been in existence in this place, in some form or another, for literally hundreds of years. Down one lane, the same family has been selling kosher meats since before the Crusades. Down another, I bought a black fig that filled my palm and took five lusciously sticky bites to finish. Dark eyed men of various girths and religions called out as I walked by “Lady, plees, I haff a question for ju”. I was quickly learning, thankfully in part to hefty Zayed of the twelve fingers, (who helpfully volunteered the idea that if I went to the gym and worked out more, perhaps I could find a man and get married) that I didn’t have to satisfy their curiosity or drink their tea. And if I avoided eye contact, I could more easily avoid becoming engaged in conversation.
I tried a different turn that afternoon, ready for adventure after a particularly languid nap on the roof of the my hostel, down a quiet residential alleyway and suddenly was face to face with a cheerful man who smiled at me disarmingly. The gap between his front teeth endeared him to me immediately and I accepted his offer of mint tea. Conveniently enough, his rug shop was two steps away. I entered an Ali Babba cave filled with rolled up magic carpets. He told me that they fly only once the credit card number goes through. I was sure he’d used that line on every woman to come through his shop, but I was enchanted and laughed freely with him at this witticism.
Ahmed was clearly delighted to have an attentive audience, and over the next hour, he explained to me in precise detail the process of rug-making. He showed me rug after rug to illustrate his points, reds, golds, jewel tones of green and blues. One of these rugs could take a family three to four years to make. Children are especially prized as rug-knotters because their tiny nimble hands are perfect for such precise work. You only walk on them with bare feet. They become more beautiful and supple with time and appropriate wear. They never depreciate in value. If I want to invest money, rugs are the place to do it.
I spotted a woven wool carpet that captured my heart. Brilliant blues, hot reds, creamy white. And only $800. In a cave of rugs costing upwards of $30,000 apiece, this amount was pocket change. I asked if I could take a picture of it to dream about and he agreed.
“Ahmed, I don’t have $800, but how about if I send you my first born child, once I have one?”
“Nah-Omi, ju are in Holy City. Why ju not make for yorself holy baby in Holy City? Matter of fact, I make holy baby for ju for free!”
I told him that I was very moved by his generosity and would consider the offer. He twinkled his eyes at me merrily and herded me part of the way down the street to his brother’s jewelry shop where I evaded the ubiquitous offer of tea, quickly admired his wares and headed off down the nearest alleyway to see what awaited me there.