I’ll admit it, I am a recovering market-a-holic. You set me free in a market somewhere in the developing world and a shopaholic previously unknown takes over my body and I’m like the hulk. I’m instantly feeling like a millionaire as I look through baskets of earrings, bangles and scarves for friends and family at home. And then I’m confronted with something else, something not made in China, something not mass produced and the traveler in me instantly thinks a-ha! This is it, this is the souvenir I want to take home. This will be an item I will always cherish and will always remind me of my trip to ____________.
Years later, even as it becomes harder and harder to remember where that item was purchased I look at it and I am transported back to the market or vendor’s stall. I look at the drum we purchased in Cairo at the Khan el-Khalili market and I’m reminded of sitting in a stall full of onyx down the street, debating for what seemed like ever on which items to choose, only to have many of them broken in transfer back home. “I package it well, I swear will not break madam,” I can still hear the vendor say. The drum is covered in abalone laid out in a geometric pattern. “Genuine mother of pearl,” the vendor said. I can still taste his sweet tea on my tongue, still remember the German couple that came in and proceeded to negotiate hard for small trinkets as we stood steadfast in our price for the drum. I remember how we walked out when we didn’t get our price and how upon a moment of reflection, the salesman came after us. I look at the drum and I remember.
Are souvenirs the best memories from a trip? Perhaps, if only because they bring us back to a time, a place and a moment which we would otherwise forget. The object itself might be junk (what did you expect for $1 genuine mother of pearl earrings?), but the memories it holds are priceless.