The Tourist Market

“A special deal for you today. What are you looking for?” The vendor speaks louder than necessary as I try to inch past him. We have entered the giant maze of the Cairo tourist market after threading our way past restaurant proprietors pushing for business. I lead the way down the narrow aisle. Colors of every shade scream at us from the left where the scarves hang from racks reaching two meters above my head. Cluttered shops with souvenir trinkets loom to our right. Vendors call from either side.

“How can I take your money today?”

“Come inside and look, no charge.”

“Good prices, right here.”

Two of my children hold onto my arms, turning me into a larger, lumbering elephant through a narrow passageway. I glance back to make sure the youngest child follows with my husband. She’s there, touching everything she passes and calling out for her siblings to look. My teenager hangs right at my heels.

We make our way like salmon, against the current of tourists moving the opposite direction. I try not to jostle anyone with my backpack as I turn to see what my friend has stopped to consider. The crowds push against us and the vendor entreats us to come into the store.

“Thank you,” I say forcefully and we keep pushing forward. Looking at all the possible purchases, my mind struggles to remember what we came for.

A thin young man with a tray of tea glasses weaves his way through. I frown as I consider the improbability of carrying a tray of tea through these crowds.

We make a left through the kiva with the lanterns and candle holders. We pass the antique stand, where old rotary phones, ancient radios, and a couple record players sit on display. My kids all talk at once, asking questions or telling me their observations. I nod in happy confusion. Our destination lies up ahead, if we can just reach the slightly hidden alley that will take us to the camel bone shop. But there is too much to see on the way. The kids point to chess sets. My friend shuffles through a stack of decorative boxes, weighing her options of which will match her home décor most closely. I continue to fend off vendors with my polite and serious “thank you.” I keep an eye on the child who touches everything and nod my head at the continuous chatter of the others.

Ten more steps. Past the handing display of colorful cotton pants, dodging the table of delicate glass, and into the slightly dark alley. The noise dies away as we wind our way back to the shop and greet the camel bone man.   

The loud, the lovely, the slightly chaotic. I love the market.

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