This weekend, the kids went to a sort of party that involved most of their English-speaking friends. The woman organizing the event planned a scavenger hunt. In teams of 3, they had to scour the sand looking for things such as a goat’s horn, or a braid of false hair. No problem—those things are readily to be found in the dusty alleyways of this capital city. She also gave each team 30 ougiya and told them they had to buy steel wool at a local boutique. The trick was that steel wool costs 40 ougiya a pad—the kids had to bargain them down. I wonder what the boutiquiers thought of all these white kids proffering two coins in sweaty hands while trying desperately to get them down 10 ougiya, just under 4 cents. One of Ilsa’s friends cried real tears while saying her mother would beat her—a story which is all too believable to locals. Apparently, she convinced one of the guys in the shop, but the other said, No way.

I’ve mentioned before that my kids aren’t tall. Ilsa just turned 10, but if you just saw her you’d probably think she was about 7 or 8. Sometimes this is a hindrance, but sometimes it’s an advantage to be thought younger than you are. She was the first of the kids to go into one of the boutiques, which I’m sure helped. Her friend Hanna told me how she just stood there, holding out her 30 ougiyas, making this face she makes whenever she’s trying to persuade me to let her do something. She opens her eyes wide, pulls down her mouth into a sad little bow, sometimes quivers the chin a bit, makes the eyebrows puppy-dog, blinks hard.

It worked. They found her charming, practically gave her the steel wool for free. She was the only one out of 6 teams to manage it.

“Congratulations,” I told her later. “You finally found someone the face works for.” Because, of course, it doesn’t work on her own parents or brothers.

I wonder how the face would work on the IRS?

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