Today I got my first taste of the unique flavor of tourist and local culture…alone. That taste has shaken me. Upon returning home, I brewed myself a pot of coffee and put in the remainder of a carton of cream. Just try to convince me that I don’t deserve every calorie.
My intention was to get home from school and join some friends at the leather tanneries in the old city. They left before I got home. So I grabbed my camera, a little cash, and my phone and started after them. The brisk walk took me down familiar streets full of familiar vendors. The colors, activity, and smells are why I like the old city.
The tanneries are located at the bottom of a very long street. Although I had never been there, it was simple. I would keep walking until I met up with a group of white foreigners with cameras around their necks.
After shaking a few persistent vendors who believed that they were selling what I was looking for, I put it in high gear for the downward trek, dodging children as well as the elderly, carts, donkeys, and cats.
No, I didn’t recognize the area, but of course I wouldn’t since I’d never taken the street down so far. I was encouraged by the faint stench of the nearby tanneries. But then I came to a T. And then another T. I paled and stood up against a jewelry vendor to let the crowd press by me. The streets had disappeared into tunnels. At the call to prayer, vendors began closing up their shops with thick wooden doors.
I pulled out my phone. “Um… where are you guys?” As long as I was on my phone, passersby were less likely to approach me, right?
Fat chance. “Hiiii. How are you? What’s your name?”
The jewelry vendor tried to help me when talking with friends unveiled no solutions. Before I left, he told me to come back to his shop if I ever wanted earrings. I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.
I started back the way I had come, but the closing doors of the shops threw off my sense of direction. The landmarks were disappearing. I started down one side street, only to realize that it looked more like a public bath entrance than a street. I spun around and kept walking…and walking.
I turned down a promising street and marched onward. The overhead daylight was a good sign.
“Where are you going, madame? That street goes nowhere.” A schoolboy approached and promised to take me to find my friends. “It goes to the tanneries.”
I explained that I wanted to meet my friends at the tanneries, and the boy insisted on being my guide. I tried to shake him, but he refused to go…and I was beginning to realize just how lost I was. When I came face to face with a few haughty men who wanted to take me through deserted buildings to the tannery, I told the boy to take me back to the main street. I was going home.
He led me to the back streets, narrow alleyways between towering concrete walls. Something was dripping ominously. A few men wandered in and out of partially hidden doorways.
Look confident! Don’t act afraid! But if I would scream right now, who would hear me? I had no concept of how close I was to the public. This school boy was relatively harmless, but was he leading me into a trap?
It took many more little streets and uphill climbs for him to point me to the correct street that would take me home.
“Thank you!” I talked to him as I paid him and found out that he spoke several languages; what a perfect little tour guide.
I turned down his offer to go to coffee (perhaps he didn’t realize I could almost be his mother?) and scuttled toward the street. I wanted to kiss the familiar vendors and buy everything in their shops, but I charged uphill toward home.
I nearly collapsed when I stepped inside the front door. That’s why I made myself a pot of coffee. I guess I’m not cut out to be a tourist. No tanneries for me today. Maybe ever! At least without people I know chained to my wrist.