Dagger Riots in the Souq

20 06 2008

Twice this week, on Tues. and Wed., I have been party to a near-riot in the souq. On Tuesday, I went with Miloushka to buy a couple of jambiyas—the curved daggers that most Yemeni men wear (mainly as a status symbol). I helped her decided on two nice ones. When they began attaching all the leather bits to the belt, Milushka had to decide what size to make it so it would fit her friend. To help her, I put the belt with the jambiya attached around my own waist and asked her to estimate how much bigger her friend is than me. It didn’t help much because she still couldn’t guess. However, we attracted a lot of attention! All the Yemenis around stopped to look at me — a woman! — wearing a jambiya. They thought it was hilarious, probably not just because I was a woman, but especially because I was in a black abiya and veil, almost like a Yemeni woman. I think if I’d just been in pants and a shirt, unveiled, like a western tourist, I would have a attracted a bit less attention. A huge crowed actually gathered to look at me, and one Yemeni man pulled out his camera and asked if he could take my picture. He also tried to get his little daughter to stand by me for a picture. She was quite young and shy and wouldn’t do it. Realizing that I’d filled the street with spectators, hugely embarrassed by the attention, and seeing that it wasn’t doing any good anyway, I quickly removed the belt and gave it back to the workman to finish attaching the buckles. The crowd quickly dispersed once there was no longer a show.

The next day, Milouska and I were again passing through the souq together. I saw a man selling little daggers (which I later learned are actually Omani not Yemeni) and I wanted to find out how much they cost. It turns out they are about 2000 YR (~ $10, much cheaper than a jambiya) and they are really nice. I was debating about buying one but didn’t have enough cash on me. However, Milushka decided they were nice and bought one. Just as she was making the purchase, another old man and a boy who were also selling the same daggers came up to us as well. He tried to get Milushka to buy one from him. They were both yelling prices at her and trying to force daggers into her hands. It got totally out of control.

I asked Milushka if she wanted to buy another one, and she did not. So I forcefully handed back an additional dagger that one of the men was trying to get her to take, grabbed her hands so they couldn’t keep shoving things at her, and  moved her away from them and down the road back towards the school. I thought that would be the end of it, but both men were apparently desperate to make a sale. They followed us, walking on either side, still trying to convince her she should buy another one and trying to tell her how good a deal she could get. After a minute or so we lost one of them, but the second followed us several blocks, half way back to the school. I have never seen anyone from the souq be so aggressive! It was insane when they had us mostly surrounded, shouting and waving daggers. It was overwhelming and almost threatening (though we were in no danger except from being pressured into spending more money). It did give me an idea about how low I could try to barter to when I go back to buy one myself one day.

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One response

23 06 2008
Mark

Wow, and I thought shopping across the line in Nogales was high pressure.

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