Sunday, July 6, 2008

Portrait #31: Tourism Man

I just got back from a weekend of tourism. But since I'd already seen all the sites we were touring (in some cases, multiple times), I spent a good bit of my time hanging out with non-tourists. Guides, hotel workers, restaurant workers, drivers, sales people... It was a chance to remind myself of what life is like on the underbelly of tourism.

One character that my friend introduced me to owns camels and horses, and he rents them out to tourists. He also owns a store that sells Bedouin jewelry and scarves and the like. He also sells trinkets up at the top of the town citadel, which he reaches on his motorcycle. He also seems to spend a lot of time hanging out with his mates who also make a living off of their town's tourism industry.

My friend and Abu Muhammad go way back. She has watched his children grow up, so she took me to visit his family. His daughters are 9 and 2 and he has the happiest little baby son I think I have ever seen. His wife looks quite young, but apparently she had completed a degree before she married him. They live in a simple but well-situated home, one block away from the major sites. His oldest daughter is bright and doing well in school, and is already practicing her English with tourists who come through town.

But before we visited him in his home, we saw him in the ancient city ruins, where he and my friend made a deal to offer sunrise camel rides to members of our group. When he found a taker, he enthusiastically asked her for her hotel name, phone number and room number. A bit offput, the client asked him to just communicate with her via my friend, a suggestion he accepted but reluctantly. He let another member of our group ride his motorcycle while he chatted with my friend and he shook all our hands warmly.

Then we saw him again up at the top of the citadel where he must have been selling some trinkets or something. I didn't recognise him when he came up to me with a kuffeya (scarf) wrapped around his face, asking me to give him the baby rose I was holding (a gift from our most excellent driver). Even when he took the wrapping off, I still didn't recognise him, since somehow in the last 1/2 hour he had changed his clothes. Finally, he reminded me that I'd met him a few minutes ago in different garb. So then I relaxed and handed him the baby rose. He gave it back to me with some kind of flowery statement about how my beauty meant I needed to keep the rose. Then some blonde girls walked by and he whispered to me, "Those are Dutch girls. There's something special about Dutch women, they're beautiful."

And again, later that evening as I held his son in my hands and as my friend chatted with his daughter, he brought up his weakness for beautiful women. While his wife was in the kitchen making tea, he elaborated on how he just can't resist a lovely woman: he can't help himself, that's the way he is. He loves women.

This morning, after the camel ride, my friend mentioned that he'd been flirtatious as always with the camel-riders. And she told me that many of the European women who come to this isolated traditional town, which just so happens to host some amazing historical ruins, actually do fall for this man. After all, he is dark dark dark, with beautiful eyes. Many a European woman has been swooned by him, and he has been happy to oblige.

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