Should have taken the camera. What was I thinking?! Who knew it was going to be such an experience.
We're having a cook-out, pool party. I decided that I wanted the table-cloths and napkins made out of "ghutra" material. Ghutra's are the red and white checkered head-coverings men wear:
How clever I am. I'll just go downtown and buy a bolt of ghutra fabric and whip 'em out on my serger. Wrong. I call a dear friend and say, "Where am I going to go to get a bolt of ghutra fabric?" and she said, "You can't buy a bolt of ghutra fabric. You have to buy individual ghutra's." Okay. Well, then where do I go for those? We decided a couple of days ago that we'd go downtown this morning to get ghutra's. She has make neckerchiefs for the Boy Scout troop here, out of them and she knew just where to take me. Great. What a good friend. Willing to give up her morning to go downtown to shop for ghutra's.
Who knew there are a gazillion different kinds. Some "cheap" [both in price and in workmanship] and many not "cheap." Like really not "cheap!" Well, since I'm doing this as a one-time party theme, there is no way I'm going to buy any ghutra but the "cheap" kind. The least expensive one was SR20 [$5.36]. It is the biggest size they have, 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters. Great. "I'll take twenty of them, please." And, that is where it became really, really tricky.
Big language barrier at the little shop we went to. Not the man's fault working there - he spoke a heck of a lot more English than either friend or I do Arabic. The Saudi man sent his worker - a young "imported" worker - to go collect my ghutras. There were only six of them - the ghutras that I wanted - in the shop. We were told, "You wait. Five minutes." No problem. During our five minutes [which was no less than fifteen] the shopkeeper tried to sell friend and me a variety of other things we did not need [men's shorts - underwear - "Calvin Kleim." Yes. "Kleim." As in knock-off "Calvin Klein's"]. We both politely declined the man's efforts to sell us socks and shorts and shirts. After our wait, the imported worker came running in with an armful of the ghutras I wanted - along with a bunch that I didn't want. The problem was that they were not all the same. Two completely different manufacturers [completely different shades of red] and variety of different sizes.
I cannot even begin to explain how long it took us to explain that I wanted twenty pieces all identical - the same, ALL the same. "Ohhh. Yes. Same same." Right. "Same same." Imported worker, somewhere along the way, collected a couple of other imported workers, and they got their new instructions - the three of them - and they scurry off again, while we are instructed "You wait. Five minutes." Mr. Shopkeeper offers us stools to sit on and we had the exact same conversation that we had had while we were waiting the first time for "five minutes." No we do not need socks or shorts, today, thank you. Imported workers return and have the eleven more ghutras I need to make twenty items of the same thing. But wait! They are not the same size. I can tell by feeling the packaging, then realize they have a size written on them. No. These are 48 and 50 and 55, but not 60. I need twenty size 60.
There was a great deal more to the conversation than that, although that was the gist of the conversation. "Same same," apparently does not mean same same insofar as size is concerned. Friend with me was giving it her best effort to help me to explain that we had to have the same sizes. We are taking them out of the packages to show that some are much smaller than the size 60 I need so that I can sew two of the ghutra's together to make the table cloths. I need six table cloths. I need 40-something napkins so my plan is to cut each ghutra and make six napkins out of each [when I can actually make nine from each - but that was my mistake - I could have gotten by with only 17 of the ghutras]. It was just a little more than amusing when Mr. Shopkeeper held up one of the smaller ghutra's to the large size I want, and folded the large size down to make it the size of the small ghutra and said, "See? Same same." No! It is NOT same same. I must have same same. As if we wouldn't have noticed that he was folding the big one at one end to make it smaller. Whatever.
As my friend and I are taking the smaller ghutra's out of the packaging to show that they were not "same same" we are attracting the attention of other imported workers. A couple more are now in this little shop with us - there are probably eight of us now - all together - in a teeny, tiny shop that has no air conditioning. Finally the shopkeeper got it and said, "You need twenty pieces. All same same." Yes! "All men same the size?" Dear friend with me started to explain that we needed to be able to cut them into equal sizes - and I cut her off and said, "Yes. All men are the same size." [Like I have several husbands or something!] Again, and for the third or perhaps fourth time, all of the imported workers go scurrying off. I turn to my friend and say, "There has got to be another shop, right?" Here is what she says to me: "That is where they are going to get you the ones you need. Either you can let them go to the different shops and collect them, or we can go and do it on our own." I had no idea. I guess I thought they were going to a warehouse or storage area or something. Sure enough, come to find out they went to some fifty of the little shops to collect all the ghutras that I need so that I can make the table cloths and napkins.
So, what I thought would be a quick in and out at a ghutra underwear sock store was an hour. No biggie. That is, after all, what I went downtown to buy and in the end, I have twenty ghutras that are size 60. They are all "same same." The imported workers were all very nice and helpful. The local man, the shopkeeper, did what he does - tried to sell us more things than we needed, but was very nice about it. [The whole while we were there, every few minutes he would pull something off of his shelf and say, "You need socks?" "You need shirt [men's undershirts]?" "You need shorts [men's underwear]?" Have to give him credit for trying. And "same same" is probably something that can be interpreted differently [!??] in different parts of the world, right? As we were leaving he said, "Come back for when you need more things." We will. Shukran jazeelan! [Arabic for "Thank you very much!"]
Tonight, I have a blog post to tell about ghutras - and it is something I never ever thought I'd have the opportunity to be blogging on. And the Saudi shopkeeper can go home to his wife, and in Arabic, tell her that two Western women were at his shop for an hour [or longer!] this morning looking for twenty "same same" ghutras for "all men same the size." The imported workers, who will have their only day off of the week, tomorrow, can sit around wtih their friends and explain that they had to run to every ghutra shop in the entire souk area looking for twenty "same same" ghutras for two blonde-haired women who were getting quite frustrated at not having "same same." And why would two blonde-haired Western women need twenty ghutras, anyway?!!