10 March, 2006

My apparent target audience

Music of the moment: India Aire's "Strength, Courage, and Wisdom" (my new theme song) and "Beautiful", Krach (anybody know where the Turkish characters are?)

Yes, I am alive and well and working my tail off. Two jobs and school doesn't leave much free time. I did get some tasty baksheesh from one of the girls I teach. She said she remembered from our discussion of foods that I love maamooul, these great date-filled cookies, so she brought me a big box of minis from Nabil Sweets. I asked if this was a bribe (baksheesh) to get out of the mid-term and she giggled uncontrollably for a bit before insisting it wasn't. Anyway...

Occasionally we all wonder about things that others might find attractive about us. While I am certain there are men out there over the moon for intelligent, strong, stubborn, women they seem to prefer staying home because I have yet to hear from them. Not that I am seeking anybody or anything these days!

However, this week I was reminded of the one group who always seems to have plenty of love for me - old men in developing countries. I received a fumbled "marriage" offer from a farmer in rural Honduras, a hand on my thigh from a very friendly old Berber man on a bus in southern Morocco, an offer to move to a Kurdish village from an old man who asked me several times if I was married. And now an offer of free cab rides from an elderly, toothless cabbie in Damascus.

A bunch of us from the second level classes met in the old city for dinner. I had to catch a cab all the way across town from work. This can be a challenge in that meters seem to be a decorative rather than useful item in many cabs here, especially when the fare is an ajnabi. Sometimes a fare could be 50 liras (with meter) sometimes 200 (without meter, but with plenty of smiles and shrugs from the driver) for the same trip.

As a rule, I am unfailingly nice to taxi drivers. Trust me, it can be very useful in many ways, from tips on places to eat to simply not wanting to rip you off because you treated them like human being. I started this trip with a pleasant "Kayfak?" to see how the old guy was doing. He had to be pushing 70, or else he's had a really hard life. He spoke more Amia than Fusha, but understood me enough so that we cobbled together a halting conversation about Damascus and what I am doing here. To add to my difficulties with his Amia, the guy had not a tooth in his head. It was a pleasant enough conversation and it's a long drive to Bab Touma from Mezza. Every now and then he would ask if I was married or where my husband was. I was busy trying to conjugate verbs in my head to keep the conversation going to really notice.

As we pull up in front of the police station at Bab Touma, where our group arranged to meet, I thanked him for the talk and asked how much the fare was. "Heesabee," he said, which I believe means "It's on me," because he waved away my money with a shy smile.
To have a Damascus cabbie turn down a fare is, as far as I know, unheard of.
I tried to insist, but he said it had been his pleasure and that he would never take my money.....
if I would just give him my phone number!

The intensely hopeful look on his face sort of gave my elderly Romeo away. I used my standard line that my mobile was from work and that I couldn't give out my hosts' number. I told him I was certain I would see him around Mezza in the future. Sensing an imminent loss on this one, he shrugged, sighed, and said there were no guarantees since he wouldn't have my number. Time being what it was, I thanked him again, passed him 100 liras (more than the meter) and slipped out. I waved to him as I joined my friends and he waved, rather excitedly, in return.

My friend from South Africa was rather shocked when I told him I had been offered a free cab ride. Of course, he burst out laughing when I explained the offer.

"How old was this guy?" he asked, amazed.

"Old enough," I said.

So, I guess everything has a target demographic, including me.