Last summer we found a home for Maki, an abandoned house cat that we rescued from the street. Maki conquered a couch, a cat tree, a king sized bed and more from an expat teacher from England who, like many others, came to Saudi Arabia looking for new challenges and better earnings. It turned out we really clicked from the start, and we continued meeting up, not just for the occasional visits to Maki.

Janey mentioned to us that she wants to furnish a guest room, as she is expecting another family member or friends every now and then in addition to her husband’s visits. Her villa in a so called compound or a gated community for school employees, is fully furnished, except for one extra room next to the master bedroom. Although Ikea is also very popular in Jeddah, we proposed a better option: let’s all go to the well-known furniture district, where local carpenters make and sell beautiful pieces at two or three times cheaper (than Ikea and similar stores).

And so we went. We waited to pick up Janey first in front of her compound. “Oh no,” we muttered in unison when our new friend was walking to the car. No abaya, but a dress with a considerable neckline. No scarf. Before anyone gets upset, saying “yeah, SO WHAT,” take it easy. Saudi Arabia is changing, and Jeddah has been in the forefront for some time now, where the dress code is being “less restrictive.” But sometimes it’s still good to think twice about where you’re going.

Our mission was clear: to buy furniture at the best bargain price. With our female passenger in clothes that scream “I’m a foreigner,” the challenge was made a little more difficult. I don’t know why, it didn’t feel right to mention anything to her, not before or after. If we might have known each other for a longer time, I would have hinted to her in advance.

We attracted quite a bit of attention at the “Mahmoud Saeed” Market. A tall Sudanese man with long hair in a bun with a pale-faced woman under his arm and an Englishwoman with the widest smile next to them. An extravagant scene for all mustachioed and bearded furniture sellers from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

“Don’t look so excited. You have to seem completely uninterested,” I kept reminding Janey at every other store. She couldn’t help it. This is Jeddah, the real deal when it comes to Arabian markets, uncontaminated by global trends of uniform minimalism. It dawned on me. Janey is me three years ago. Janey is Misha in the first months after arriving to Saudi Arabia. Misha, who wanted to see, hear, smell everything that such authentic places in Jeddah have to offer.

Bargaining in an Arab market is a form of art, and my husband is an artist. Despite all our challenges, with a tenacious negotiating spirit, he bargained his way to a bed, two nightstands and a dresser with a mirror, as well as a mattress and all the bedding for outrageously low prices. Janey was practically skipping after each successful deal. She especially had fun at the dealer from Azerbaijan, from whom Tamer and I also bought a mattress and pillows back in 2019. Tamer has known the man for quite a few years, and the gray bearded Azerbaijani has a special regard for him, as they can chitchat in Turkish, which my husband is also fluent in. So Janey got a damn good discount from him too.

All is well that the guest room is furnished well. As a thank you, Janey invited us for dinner again soon.

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