Today, Barack Obama takes office and gets to work solving the myriad challenges that face America. But the 44th president has already been hard at work making change in Morocco. And that’s without a stimulus package.
Wandering through hundreds of tightly packed food stands on the main square in Marrakech, the economic downturn is evident. Typically packed tables are often empty at dinnertime, and hawkers clamor for tourists’ business more aggressively than ever before — though always staying friendly to a fault.
While most hawkers drown one another out with banal pitches (“I give you best price!”), the manager of stand 123 won’t let the financial crisis cramp his style.
As we wandered through the food stands, this rotund middle-aged man stopped me in my tracks to show off the Obama-Biden campaign button pinned to his jacket.
“Yes we can! Yes we can!” Ahmed bellowed in the square. “It’s time for change! Obama-Biden 2008!
“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America, there’s the United States of America!” he proclaimed, grinning as he gently placed a menu into my hand.
While my friend and I were absolutely baffled by his uncanny ability to mimic Obama, Ahmed led us to a little plastic table at his food stand. Just like that, with a little smooth talking, he got our business.
But Ahmed didn’t stop with the 2004 Democratic Convention speech; he had an impressive repertoire. If Obama said it on the news, he seemed to know it. From the president-elect’s election night victory speech to his 2007 Springfield, Ill., candidacy declaration, Ahmed quoted from speech after speech.
Why quote Obama? Why not extol the virtues of your food? Where’s the business sense in that?
“Tourists from all over the world love Obama. Everyone knows him,” he explained in English. “We love Obama because he is a good man. Good ideas. Better than Bush.”
Although he lives thousands of miles away, Obama has allowed Ahmed to transcend the awkwardness of hawking his food to wary tourists.
“I don’t like to bother people, but I have a business and family,” he admits. “When I say ‘Obama,’ people smile. Not just Americans, everybody! Moroccans love him too. He is like us.”
Then he boiled it down to the bottom line.
“Then we make good business together. Hope! Change!”
Obama Price vs. Bush Price
Ahmed isn’t the only one putting Obama to work before his first day in the Oval Office. Across the square, I met Rabi, a jewelry shop merchant, who said Obama helps tourists get better deals.
To find out if this was true, I conducted an experiment.
After extensive haggling over the price of earrings and no agreement in sight, Rabi looked at me, heaved a melodramatic sigh, and leaned across the glass case.
“Ok, you are American,” he said as he scrutinized my face. I couldn’t say no so I nodded.
“Well you are lucky, miss. America is very special now,” Rabi said. “Barack Obama is president.”
Smiling with his whole face, he declared, “So I give you Obama price! Obama…good man, so I give you good price. No Bush price anymore.”
What was the difference between the Obama and Bush prices?
“Bush price? Very high,” Rabi said, raising his hand several inches above his head. “For eight years, I charge Bush price.” “But for you, we are friends and Obama is a special president. He will solve problems. He will be fair. So, I give you fair price,” he said as he lowered his hand to his belly.
“Good family too,” Rabi smiled, conceding another two inches. “This Obama price is my last price. Final.”
Although that was not actually the last price when the earrings were purchased (we finally reached my Obama price), the invocation of the next president definitely made what is normally a long, exhausting (even hunger-inducing) bargaining process fun.
Plus, with the money I saved at Rabi’s shop, I returned to Ahmed’s food stand to buy a post-haggling snack.
Now, how’s that for an Obama stimulus package?