Once a month, Mr Ahmed guns his old land cruiser over the sand in front of my house and knocks on my door. He always greets me in Arabic, living in the hope that one day I will finally remember more than how to say “hello”, “beautiful” or “god willing”. He takes my hand firmly, and pulls me in for a big cuddle. He’s only about 5 foot 4, so it’s not too overbearing, and he smells like frankincense and camel wool so I can stand it when he cheekily lets the contact go just a little too long. I doubt he tries this move with any of the local ladies, but he knows us westerners are a pack of crazy wenches just gagging for a touch of the exotic.
Before I have time to ask him in, he has slipped off his sandles and sauntered across the threshold with a 6-foot bundle on his shoulder, exclaiming “Hilwah! Hilwah! You will love this one, lady.” And though he knows I probably won’t buy anything, he tosses 4000 dhirims worth of silk on my lounge-room floor, and asks me to observe the quality, the style, the fineness of the weave. He looks at my face, and misjudges my reaction. He thinks I don’t like it, and he bustles back out to his truck to find a different colour. But I adore it. I love them all. The mini-cringe on my face is because I have to tell him that as much as I like all those beautiful carpets, I can’t buy them now. And then I know he will ask me why, because deep down, he knows I love them.
“I can’t afford it right now”
“No problem, it is gift.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Heh heh, no ok, I give you good price, best price. It will be nothing to you. You are my favourite customer. I will sell at cost price to you because I like you so much”
“But we just came back from a holiday, we have no spare money now”
“No problem, you pay me later. Six months, OK?”
“But my husband will be angry if I spend his money without consulting him”
“No, lady, you are the boss. He will not be angry, he will have beautiful carpet, AND beautiful wife.” Accompanied by another cuddle.
“We have many carpets already”
At which point he begins Operation Floor-Covering, and starts wandering through my house laying rugs on all the spare squares of shiny tile. And when he is finished, it looks amazing. Antique camel-wool rugs in browns and reds sit alongside silk in pinks and greens. I see geometric patterns, the Tree of Life, Arabs on horseback brandishing pistols, and tiny birds and lizards all over my cold boring floor, acting exactly like they belong there.
“You see, never enough carpets!”
Right about now, I usually give him that look that makes him say;
“No problem, I come next month.” He leans in closer and places his hand heavily on my shoulder. “You want Pashmina, cushion covers, antique jewelery?”
But today is different. I have seen a brown and mushroomy-pink woolen carpet, about 8 by 5, and I have to have it. He says it is 100 years old, and flips it over and says, “There, you see!” pointing at something – I don’t know what. I have no idea whether to believe him, but it has got that gorgeous wonkyness that suggests it has either been made by people with very poor sense of perspective, or maybe that it has been lugged around for a while. He leaves it along with two others he thinks my husband will like, and says;
“Love them for today, lets see if you can let them go tomorrow…”
And he gives me another too-long cuddle and slips on his chunky leather sandles and saunters next-door to make carpet-love to my neighbour.
Dubai. What’s not to like…?
You could also check out my other blog, which is a series of photography lessons for dummies. sandpitdiaries.blogspot.com