On that trip to Morocco where Primo and I both bought rugs and wasn't that a surprise, my first mission was to repair my old purse. Don’t laugh. My accessories are very important to me. I buy secondhand so I can afford to buy quality. A used high quality purse is a far better deal than a new poorly made one. But even high quality items wear out and then we must repair them if possible because we are of The Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste.
And this was the perfect purse. It met all my specs. My sister mocks me and my purse specs, but I know what I want and why should I settle for less? I want a purse with a strap long enough to go over my shoulder and leave my hands free because unlike the queen of England, who apparently carries nothing but a hanky in her purse and has people to do everything for her, I open my own car doors, pay for my own things, and carry my own grocery bags. I do not want to have to put my purse down just to remove my keys. But I also want shorter handles to hold in my hand in case I want to carry the purse that way.
My purse needs to have a flap or an easy snap closure so that when I toss it onto the passenger seat as I am getting into the car, the contents do not spill out.
I need room for things. I have prescription sunglasses and regular glasses, a Swiss army knife, a camera, a smartypants phone, a wallet, aspirin, bandaids, a handkerchief, a comb, a calendar, lip gloss, face powder, a small notepad, pens that no I will not lend you get your own pen, and emergency chocolate in my purse. Tiny little purses do not work for that much stuff.
Plus I want to have my stuff organized, so I want dividers and pockets. But I don’t want bling. I don’t want tacky.
The black snakeskin purse I had bought at a fancy consignment shop in Memphis met all my specs and had served me well for a few years, but now was getting worn on the edges. I had discovered the Rabat leather repair guy when my sandals broke on my first trip to Morocco. The leather guy, whose shop was three blocks from Steve and Megan’s apartment, had fixed them in two hours for about three dollars.
I had tried to have the purse repaired in Memphis, but none of the shoe or leather repair stores could do it. They claimed they didn’t have the equipment. Fine, I thought. I’ll just take this purse to a third-world country where they don’t want me to throw it away and buy a new one instead. I’ll show you.
I took the purse to the leather guy. He had a tiny little storefront with a counter that opened onto the street. When I showed him the purse, he looked back at his equipment and shook his head. “C’est pas posible, madame,” he told me. He did not have the proper equipment.
Crap. I had brought the purse all this way just to fail?
“Try Fez,” Steve suggested. “Fez is known for its leather works.”
Now we had to go to Fez, which wasn’t a hardship, as it is a very neat place and we had planned to visit anyhow. Primo and I took the train there. On the way, we met a young Moroccan man sitting in our train compartment. Ahmet spoke almost flawless English, explaining that he had been to the US for his heart surgery. “I love New York!” he said. “I love U.S.!” His voice dropped. “You know New York Yankees? My favorite!”
He offered to show us around. I told him we had a guide for the next day, but we didn’t have plans for the afternoon. It is necessary to have a guide in Fez to avoid being lost in the labyrinth of the medieval city. From the air, Fez probably looks like a few spiderwebs laid on top of each other. I didn’t have breadcrumbs or a big ball of string, so a human guide was the next best thing.
After we dropped our bags at the hotel, Ahmet gave us a great tour. We saw the water seller in his red costume and big red and yellow hat, holding out his tin cup from which many people would have drunk, which meant we went thirsty. We dodged the medina taxis, which are donkeys, and their leavings. Vendors beckoned to us from their stalls of raw meat, sheepsheads, and spices. Cats sat resolutely in front of the meat stands, looking up at the counter and hoping for a handout.
He didn’t take us to an expensive restaurant and then abandon us as the guide had done when Steve and I had gone to Fez during my August visit and he didn’t even take us to a carpet store, which seems to be standard operating procedure for Moroccan guides. You think used car salesmen are bad? Try a Moroccan carpet dealer. They are pros and we are amateurs, as Primo and I learned later.
I asked Ahmet to take me to a leather guy and showed him my purse.
“I take for you!” he said eagerly.
I was reluctant to entrust my precious snakeskin purse to him and demurred, but Primo said, “I think it will be fine.”
I hugged the purse to my chest. Was it safe? Would I be abandoning my purse to an uncertain fate? Even when I was employed and had money, I had an unnatural attachment to my shoes and purses, probably because they are the only items of bodily adornment whose size is constant regardless of if my size is constant. No matter what, I always take an 8.5 shoe and purses have no size limits.
Now that I had no income – and with every dollar Primo spent on me, I was even more painfully aware that I needed to rectify that situation – I was really concerned about my accessories. I didn’t want to lose them because I could not afford to replace them.
“No, really, I take,” Ahmet insisted.
“How much?” I asked.
“Not very much,” he promised. “I bring back after supper.”
I reluctantly handed my purse to him and gave him 100 dirhams, which is about $12. If the purse couldn’t be repaired, it was worthless to me anyhow, and if Ahmet absconded with the $12 – well, we had gotten that much at least out of our tour with him.
We walked around the hotel and watched the sunset from a hill overlooking the city. The fields were a mixture of green and brown and were dotted with sheep. Three little boys unsuccessfully tried to herd one group of sheep. The stone walls of the city glowed golden as the rays hit them as the sun descended, then fell into shadow.
Where was my purse?
Primo and I found a small café where we got real Coke, the kind with cane sugar, and these fabulous sandwiches of ground lamb and onions fried on a griddle with an egg cracked on top at the last minute and then piled onto a fresh baguette. The only time we got sick from eating the food in Morocco was when Primo had salad at the American club. None of the other food bothered us.
I fretted that my purse and money were gone, never to return, but Primo assured me that Ahmet was trustworthy.
As we walked back to the hotel, ready to surrender for the night, two hours after I had given my purse to Ahmet, we saw a figure running toward us and waving. It was Ahmet. And he had my purse.
“I go in hotel to find you but you were not there!” he said. “Here!” He thrust the purse at me. “And it cost only 50 dirhams. Here is the money.” He handed me the change.
I looked at the purse. It looked brand new. Ahmet’s guy had repaired it perfectly. And in two hours.
I had been wrong to doubt him. My purse was perfect.
I opened my wallet and looked at Primo. He nodded. “Keep that change,” I told Ahmet. “And here’s some more for your great guide services.” I handed him another 100 dirhams.” I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing – he hadn’t asked for any money – but he had shared his knowledge and time with us and hadn’t tried to cheat us. It was worth it.