Buying a pot in Carthage

It is a hot day, like all days in Tunisia. The coach coughs us out at the dusty ruins of Carthage. We are here with 30 other people, trying to understand the Carthaginians and the Romans. Trying to add to the patchy history we remember from schooldays.

It is a sorry sight. Nothing to see, except more tourists and some old walls. The boy comes up to us. He has already identified us as English, but his patter would have been the same in French, German, Italian or Spanish. “Hello, good morning, How are you,” he asks with just a trace of an accent.

Knowing what is coming, I prepare to spend some time with the lad. He has a wonderful smile. Bright teeth made brighter by the African sun. A dark face with darker eyes.

He wants to sell us some souvenirs. Tiny pots, made yesterday. “Real Roman,” he tells me. I look at him with the hint of a smile and a raised eybrow, and say impressed, “Real Roman?” He grins and nods. We both know the game has started and how it will end, though neither of us yet knows what the conclusion will be.

He names a price, and I start to walk away, laughing. He follows, with a lower offer. I talk to my wife in Polish about what price we will pay. This language is new to him, and he is curious. He knows we are discussing the price, but he does not know what we are saying. This once, he is at a disadvantage, but he learns so quickly that you know the next Pole will not be so lucky.

We smile and walk, we mention another price. He smiles ever broader and we can start to see where the deal will finish. And now, as we approach the bus, I reach into my pocket and bring out some coins. It is just a bit lower than he had expected, but there is the coach about to take us away; there is the money, shining in the harsh sunlight, and he hands me the little pottery lamps, rewarding me with another huge smile.

I want to give him the pots back, because I have not enjoyed an hour’s sightseeing so much for years, but we take the pots home, and now they sit at the back of a drawer. I still smile whenever I remember those few hours in Carthage.