El mercado de Otavalo

It wasn’t my first time in the market.  I came with my list, knowing what to expect and prepared to find every one of my gifts for family and friends.  I swept through the aisles with a confident determination.  I smiled kindly at the vendors as they eagerly anticipated my business.  “A la ofrenda!”, they called out as I shuffled passed them.

At my booths of choice, I purchased following local style as best as I could.  I struck up conversation, noticing an item or two but faking an air of indifference.  The sweet Ecuadorian woman, downed in her layered gold beads and wide, bright smile, offered me a price.  “Es caro!  Bastante caro…”, I replied, implying that her price was a preposterous amount.  She played along, knowing the game I had begun.  She immediately defended her merchandise, discussed its detailed handiwork, and said she would only be able to lower the price by a few dollars, and even at that–I would be robbing her.

Here was where the game got more serious.  I couldn’t possibly agree to her price–it was way too steep (which of course it wasn’t).  In fact, I knew she was ripping her off, I told her.  The woman in the booth in the next aisle said she’d sell it to me for half that amount!  The merchant quickly feigned offense that I would tell such a story.  She gave me a new price, declaring it the most she could possibly extend her generosity, and only because I was the first sale of the day (was I?).  Stepping the game up another notch, I graciously thanked her, shook her hand, and said goodbye, a strong message that I would take my business elsewhere.

Not even a quarter turn away from her, and she called out to me, lowering her price to just a hair above my asking price.  I turned to consider it, but then stood firm, knowing that giving in then would end the fun too soon.  I began to walk away a second time, and she called out again.  This time, she offered just a dollar above my asking price.  The bargaining had no end.  At this point, I asked her, why not my price?  It’s just one less dollar, I thought.  She squinted her rich brown eyes and turned my own argument back on me.  “Un dolarcito!”, she whined.  Just one tiny dollar!

I couldn’t resist her pleading eyes, and knew it was time to give in.  I handed over the money and collected my merchandise.  She thanked me a dozen times and I promised to recommend her booth to my friends.  As I walked away, her sweet smile lingered in my mind.  Neither of us had won the game, or perhaps, we both did.  The truth is, I knew that we exchanged something bigger and more valuable than the simple goods we had bargained for.

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