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Sook in the Souq

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Once in Doha I found a shop selling Palestinian solidarity memorabilia. However, it was lunchtime, and the shopkeeper was gone. I walked around the block, and came back half an hour later, but still the shopkeeper was nowhere to be seen.

The hole-in-the-wall store was left wide open, spilling Persian carpets and plastic scimitars all over the pavement. I couldn’t help myself. I dove past the clutter and started fishing out anything Palestine related from between heaped piles of random tourist kitsch. To get to the Palestine shaped keyrings and badges sporting solidarity slogans, I had to rummage through a jingling mass of ‘I heart Doha’ bangles, plastic camels, Alice band mounted Qatari flags and fake jewelled chains.

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Who doesn’t want a tat of the Qatari Emir?

I was desperate to find souvenirs for my family. After being away for months I hadn’t brought anything, and this was my last stop. Only a few minutes earlier I was contemplating stocking up on rub on tattoos of the Emir of Qatar for my brothers and mothers. I had browsed burqas for my (awesomely feminist) girlfriend. Yeah, I really suck at presents.

But now, at last I found something half worthwhile. I imagined how great it would be to adorn everything my family and friends own with made in Taiwan pieces of tin proclaiming freedom for Palestine. I briefly considered the possibility that maybe (just maybe) my acquaintances who aren’t activists might not want political souvenirs forced upon them. I think Moshe Dayan once poetically articulated his approach to this kind of dilemma.

My thoughts were interrupted by the return of the shopkeeper. By the time he found me, I had arm-fulls of carefully selected bits and pieces. I tried to ask how much it would be for the lot, but he ignored me. Instead he just started foraging for more. Then, on autopilot, he plucked an item from my hands, and meticulously wrapping it in paper and placed it in a shiny gold pouch. He tightened the drawstring, then tied it into a bow. One by one, he relieved me of my loot, taking his time to artistically wrap each one. I tried to ask how much all this stuff was actually going to cost, but he just smiled into space, ignoring me. Eventually, I pressed him, and he gave me a price roughly equal to US$200.

I gagged.

I tried to negotiate. He wasn’t interested. Then I tried to figure out which items were dragging the most price, but it seemed like everything was expensive.

I tried taking things out of my pile, but the price didn’t change. I think he had simply arbitrarily decided he wanted $200, and wouldn’t settle for any less. I gave up.

“Fine!” I exclaimed. “I’m not buying any of it. Now, I’m going straight to the airport, where I’m going to stock up on duty free booze.”

He looked at me apathetically.

“Yeah, that’s right. Instead of forcing Palestine solidarity crap on everyone I know back home, I’m going to buy alcohol, and it’s all your fault!”

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Or…I could have brought some of these from a store on the other side of the souq.

 

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