“Hey, you look like Alibaba,” the owner of the souvenir shop said, stroking an imaginary beard on his face to signal that he was talking to me as I walked past. This was not the first time a stranger in Morocco had used the line on me. From Tangier to Marrakech, vendors have tried to get my attention by shouting “Hey, Alibaba!” a reference to the Arabian folk hero who outsmarts 40 thieves and wins their treasure with the help of a clever servant girl.
And it’s a moniker that I’ve come to accept from the hustlers and salesmen of the medinas and souks of Morocco. I’m flattered to be compared to the wise, humble, and clever Alibaba.
I walked around Jemaa el Fna with some friends, searching for a one-year anniversary gift for my girlfriend Victoria. “Hey, Alibaba, come look here!” one of the vendors said from the opening to a shop overflowing with carved wooden objects. I decided to peek inside.
Immediately my eyes landed on a wooden carved camel. I knew it was the perfect gift, but the salesman had already jumped into showing me his assortment of magic boxes.
“Do you know about the magic box?” he asked me.
“Yeah, I’ve seen them but. . . ” he cut me off.
“My friend, do not worry, I will give you a good price.”
“Yeah, well that’s cool and all, but I really. . . ”
“I will show you how to open it. Look here. . . ”
This time, I cut him off. “How much is it for these camels?” I gestured to the carvings.
Without pausing, the merchant began placing various carved camels of different sizes and materials into my hands. He continued talking, but I tuned him out as I tried to decide which camel to get. I settled on a medium-sized one made of smooth, dark brown wood, then asked him the price.
“We do not have a set price here,” he told me. “You will have to name what you think is a good price first.”
My anxiety flared, as I was no expert on souvenir camels and did not want to undervalue his handcrafted art. “What do you think is a reasonable price?” I asked him.
“For that one, 350 dirhams.”
“Hey, that’s a lot, maybe I’ll just…” I was about to ask about the price of a smaller one but he cut me off.
“It is expensive because it is made of cedar wood.”
At this point, my friends traveling with me jumped in. Mitch began, “Three hundred fifty is too much; how about 150?”
“Too low,” he replied. “Make it 250.”
Khelin jumped in with a hard stance. “No more than 200!”
The salesman continued to bargain with Khelin over my purchase, but she would not budge. Two hundred is where she drew the line, and she refused to move it.
“Fine, 200 dirhams,” the merchant agreed. I bought the cedar camel, shook his hand, and was on my way, thankful to be with friends who were better negotiators than myself.
“Goodbye, Alibaba,” the salesman said as I left. I turned around, rubbed my beard, and winked.