Three Million Camels For the Baby!

31 Mar

Finn had his first trip to the Khan al-Khalili last weekend. The Khan is a centuries old bazaar and market that winds and spreads up and down alleyways, streets, stairs and tunnels in Islamic Cairo. Going to the Khan is an unusual and overwhelming experience. One’s senses are assaulted by the bright colors, teeming masses of people, the cloying scents of spices wafting out of their barrels, the sounds of men trying to get your attention (“lady, I don’t know what you want, but I have what you need!”).

The Khan has become a must-visit for tourists to Cairo, which means that a lot of it is filled with kitsch and crap. After visiting the Khan a number of times though, I think I’ve figured out which alleys to go through to avoid the stuffed camels and find the strands of turquoise and coral, the copper pots, and the person-sized burlap sacks filled with colorful spices. I’ve learned the art of bargaining since moving here and an quite proud of the deals I can get. Because of this, I now have more pashminas than any one person should own (but where else can you find them for the equivalent of $3 each?). Like I tell Patrick, a girl can never have too many pashminas.

The Fanning women and I hit the Khan several times this week, with Finn in tow the first time. Joni is a serious shopper and we spent a lot of time getting deals and seeking out quality pieces of gold jewelry and alabaster pots for her and pashminas and galabayyia shirts for me and Laura. Finn was the hit of the trip though. If there’s one thing Egyptians are crazy about, it’s babies. They were absolutely charmed by Finn. On the gold street, I needed to feed Finn and shopkeepers fell over themselves to offer me their padded chairs and rushed to bring kleenexes when Finn spit up a little. They all wanted to know his name and how old he was.

This kid is going to grow up with an iron-clad immune system, because everyone insisted on touching him, kissing his hand, patting his head. Egyptians are very affectionate with children, which can be a little disconcerting to Westerners who aren’t too comfortable with strangers touching their children. I just roll with it though, since it’s too difficult to tell people not to touch him without offending them. Plus he’s so darn cute, of course they want to touch him.

At one stall where Joni was picking out pashminas and scarves, Finn decided to throw a fit and started screaming his head off. His little face was scrunched up and turning red and he was inconsolable. I took him out of his carrier and danced around with him, to no avail. The Egyptian shopkeepers were all looking on with amusement as I tried everything to calm Finn down. After a few minutes, a woman came up to me and quietly gestured for Finn. I passed him over and kept a hand on him, just in case she was a baby-napper. She put him on her shoulder and started whispering in his ear. And then, like a switch had been thrown, complete silence. Finn stopped screaming, closed his mouth, and laid his head on her shoulder, totally content. My jaw hit the floor, as the Egyptian men in their stalls smiled and nodded knowingly. The lady wordlessly kissed Finn’s cheek and handed him back to me, then, like an apparition, she was gone.

What had just happened? I looked at Finn in amazement. A merchant finally took pity on my bewilderment and came up to explain. He said the woman had been reciting a blessing from the Koran in Finn’s ear to comfort him. He said that Finn wouldn’t cry like that again for a while. And indeed, the rest of the day Finn was perfectly content. I need to find that lady again and get her to write those verses down for me!

We pressed on through the Khan, with everyone asking Finn’s name and offering various amounts to buy him. One man shouted “three million camels for the baby!” In true bargaining fashion, I turned to him in disgust and countered “FIVE! I’ll take no less than five million!” At one point, a nut seller asked Finn’s name. Somehow that information worked its way down the nut seller network and as we were leaving the Khan, every single nut seller waved at Finn and said “bye bye Finn!” He truly was the hit of the Khan.

It’ll be a while before I take him back, as he was covered in a layer of dirt by the time I got him home. But now I know that if we’re ever strapped for cash, we know we can get quite a few camels for our baby. Good to know.


7 Responses to “Three Million Camels For the Baby!”

  1. Dre March 31, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    Okay, so what does it say about me that I actually bought the kitsch and crap and a stuffed camel and lots and lots of pashminas and galabayyias? I prefer to think of it as charitable aid for Third World country citizens. And for your information, if I see a parade of camels disembarking from the plane this summer, I’m going to be seriously ticked.

  2. Kay April 1, 2008 at 1:08 am #

    I can hardly wait to meet this 5 million camel baby!! Thanks for sharing all your wonderful experiences.

  3. Stacy April 1, 2008 at 7:19 pm #

    Wow. 5 million camels is a lot more impressive than 10 cows. I’m in awe.

  4. mom April 2, 2008 at 6:21 pm #

    If you’re bartering off the Finster, I’ll give you free orders of Zarape for the rest of your life in exchange for him.
    (P.S. I’ll throw in your brother as a freebie!)

  5. Chad April 2, 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    I completely understand how it can be when you’re in a different culture and people just can’t keep their hands of your cute little guy. Rachel’s learned to deal with it. But I’m still having a hard time adjusting to people kissing me, rubbing my head, and telling me I’m cute from 4 inches away all the time.

  6. tracy m April 3, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    That is precious. What wonderful stories you are creating for your family by experiencing life in Egypt. I’m really very envious of your adventures.

  7. Stacy April 4, 2008 at 4:33 am #

    Chad, you are a card!

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