Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Do I Explain...

...what it's like here daily? I've had many friends who've lived overseas and they've expressed consternation at the inability to describe their lives to us back home. Well, I'm going to attempt it.

When you move to a new place you have to rent a place and furnish it. To buy furniture here at a reasonable price you head to the “balad” a.k.a. downtown. It’s literally the part of town that is down in the valley between a number of the hills. Along the two streets of the downtown area is a Roman amphitheater and a number of small stores selling a cacophony of different products. There’s an area at one end where a number of small shops sells new and used furniture. You walk past these stores, feigning indifference while trying to assess quality and style. As soon as a shopkeeper notices you showing interest you’re in for some coaxing, cajoling and bargaining. Once you’ve agreed on a price (possibly over some tea) then you hire one of the many drivers hanging around with their trucks. In your limited Arabic you need to direct them to the store (more likely many stores) where you purchased furnishings and then need to get him to your house. Sometimes they feel as though they haven’t been paid enough to actually help you move it in the house and are disgusted that you don’t have people there to help you move it in. 
Even if you do something very Western and purchase your appliances at a Walmart type store, there’s a very good chance that you’ll still haggle about the price and that the credit card machine will not be working that day. You’ll have to try and call your credit card company a half a world away and explain to them that you sent them all the right paperwork and you are REALLY living overseas and to please, please, PLEASE not freeze your credit card every time you use it in a foreign country.
Tired yet?  That’s a brief snapshot of what we did multiple days in a row to get the basic furnishings needed for our place.

Now, let’s talk about lighting. When you move into an unfurnished place, the light fixtures are not included. Luckily, we moved into the neighborhood where many of the light stores are located. The shopkeepers in the Middle East believe that the best placement for their store is right next to the exact same kind of store. So, our area has streets upon streets of light stores.  Over the last week we’ve bought one “fancy” light fixture and two basic fixtures. Since we don’t know any electricians (and wouldn’t know how to direct him to our house or explain what exactly we needed done), J installed the lights himself. No, he’d never done it before and thankfully didn’t electrocute himself in the process.

My guess is that many of my posts in the near future will be trying to give you a taste of the different kind of normal we encounter here.


DeniseR(Bear) said...

Wonderful blog entry, Sara! So interesting .… Funny about the same type of stores all lumped together. Makes for a dull shopping experience, by Western standards :)

Bebemiqui said...

Dull shopping maybe, but I think they believe it's better for bargaining price. "That vendor over there is selling the same light for 1 dinar less."

Alberta Einstein said...

Sarah- every snapshot into your life helps to visualize your current life situation. I wish you could send the sounds and smells too. I for one would like the side by side similar store idea. I must be a boring shopper. Do you generally "feel " you are getting good bargains or that your western looks cause the prices to be higher?

Bebemiqui said...

My Western looks are distinct buying disadvantage. They know they can charge me more (and do sometimes) since I don't know the difference. Though sometimes the guys seem a little charmed to have a nice foreign lady speaking sparse Arabic to them, which may work to my advantage.