Carol Kaufmann

Writer, Editor, Wine Merchant

Mama Cat (National Geographic magazine, January 2006) September 24, 2009

Filed under: National Geographic — carolkaufmann @ 3:45 pm

Growing Up Cheetah @ National Geographic Magazine

By Carol KaufmannPhotographs by Anup and Manoj Shah

Vigilant mother cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve must fight the odds—and stronger predators—as they raise their cubs on the run.

How do you stay alive in a landscape filled with stronger predators, where lions or hyenas will kill your offspring, and jackals or vultures will steal your food? You keep moving. Binti, a new mother, gently nabs one of her ten-day-old cubs by the scruff of the neck. Although mother and cub are protected from human harm in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, they must still combat a harsh world. Binti, whose name means “daughter” in Swahili, learned maternal skills from a peerless teacher—her mother, Amani. “Amani’s practical, cool, efficient,” says Anup Shah, who documented and named her growing family over three years.

Binti owes her survival to Amani’s faithful routine. At about six months Binti actively began learning how to hunt. So will her offspring. Cheetahs like a fresh kill and must pursue and catch their prey. Cubs are good observers, watching their mother whether she’s scouting for prey, sharpening her claws, or stalking potential dinner.

When the family needs to eat, Amani climbs atop a nearby termite mound to survey the undulating plain. A Thomson’s gazelle has strayed from its herd. Amani focuses her amber eyes. The gazelles continue to graze. Amani crouches, shoulders hunched, ears flat back, frozen. A few steps propel her into a run. Her speed builds, and within seconds she reaches full sprint. She sails across the savanna, often airborne, a symphony of speed and grace.

But the gazelle has a head start. Clocking speeds nearly as fast as the cheetah’s 60-plus miles (100 kilometers) an hour, the gazelle makes quick turns intended to throw Amani off. Despite being the world’s fastest land animal, a cheetah snags such prey only about half the time. This is one of the good times. Amani trips the gazelle with an outstretched paw. With one last bleat, the gazelle goes down. Amani goes for the throat, her bite suffocating the prize. Over the next several months the sharp-eyed cubs will try to emulate Amani’s behavior—and fail miserably, mainly because their prey notices their awkward approaches. So mother makes them practice, over and over.

“Successful mothers seem to produce really successful cubs,” says Marcella Kelly, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University who has tracked female cheetah lineages for up to eight generations. “They’re nervous, excitable, vigilant. In the wild they need to be jumpy. Cubs most likely pick up these traits.”

Once young cheetahs are on their own, it can take months for them to become skilled hunters. Some adolescent cheetahs start out hunting impossible prey, including buffalo. Those who learn from their mistakes survive. Among Amani’s successes is her daughter: Binti had her five cubs in the same area where Amani gave birth to her.

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And That’s My Final Offer (Washington Post, Travel section, February 8, 2004)

Filed under: Freelance pieces — carolkaufmann @ 3:40 pm
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And That’s My Final Offer . . .
In Morocco, Shopping Can Be a Hassle Unless You Know How to Haggle

By Carol Kaufmann
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 8, 2004

We tried not to look American. We covered our legs and arms, despite the oppressive heat. We didn’t wear tennis shoes, T-shirts or baseball caps. We even had our “We’re Canadian” routine ready. Since 9/11 and the war on terrorism, we were prepared for a less-than-welcoming reception in a Muslim country. Nevertheless, our pasty-white faces and the Rough Guide to Morocco gave us away.

But here, Americans need only fear an irresistible sales pitch — and getting all the purchases home. Our anticipated introduction to Moroccan culture quickly morphed into a mini-seminar on perfecting the haggle. The start-up phase, however, wasn’t pretty.

Three hours in Marrakech and I was eager to take my new husband, Kevin, shopping, souk-style. We meandered to the Jemaa el-Fna, the square where locals gather to hear a story or watch a dance — and tourists gather to watch them. North of the square, miles of stalls organized by trade cover the ground.

We wasted no time getting hopelessly lost, and asking a local for directions, we learned, costs money. In our case, it meant a detour to the family spice stall. After buying two scented soaps for $15, we were shown familiar territory — for $5 more.

Our adopt-a-guide experience was a typical introduction to Marrakech, but it hardly compared with the first carpet sale. To escape the afternoon sun and the onslaught of donkey carts, motor scooters and carcass-lined butcher shops, we ducked into the Artisane di Tapis, an official-looking building with smiling hosts.

Inside, carpets, furniture, jewelry, brass, leather and pottery brush the tops of cathedral-high ceilings. We had entered a shopper’s nirvana, one of the largest craft stores in northern Africa.

A sharp-dressed man named Ben Allal explained that all employees were paid by the government regardless of sales. We could walk away with nothing, he insisted, and he’d still be smiling. His rapid-fire Arabic summoned glasses of sweet mint tea deftly poured a foot above the rims — “Tea with a turban,” Ben called the frothy brew. Carpets unrolled before us as Ben explained how to tell a rug’s origin by color and how Berber women can weave in tribal tales.

One hour and several mint teas later, Ben had gathered before us the five carpets we liked most. We were giddy from the sugar and caffeine and air conditioning.

“I give you one price for all.”

I knew what was coming. But like riding past a car wreck, I couldn’t turn away.

“36,000 dirhams.”

About $4,085. I had a price in mind for one carpet: $300.

“We can’t do that,” I said. “No buying today.” Ben would be fine with rejection; he was paid either way.

“For you, special price. Global price. All of it . . . the Berber, two small Arabs, the large Arab . . . ”

“How about just one shaggy Berber?” I asked.

“But I like the two smaller Arabs. And the big mauve Arab is gorgeous,” said Kevin. A man who never notices dust bunnies and clothes lining the bedroom floor has an opinion about carpets? Perhaps this was worth a haggle.

“Okay for all . . . I give you all . . . and this is truly special. 30,000 dirhams.”

I stared at him, not breaking my gaze. It was still too much. “Honey,” I said. “It’s great that you love these. But we can’t buy them all. One, maybe.”

“Yes, but when are we going to be in Morocco again?”

I sighed. That line always works on me.

“Ben, look. We love them but can’t afford them. Plus, we have a small house, there’s not room for all. How about the Berber and maybe two small Arab ones?”

“But someday you will have a bigger house, Inshallah.”

Inshallah: God willing. We would come to know the ubiquitous phrase well during our stay. Kevin looked at me hopefully. “True. Someday we’ll have a bigger house.”

“I know the manager. I’ll work it out with him. 25,000.”

“I’m so sorry. We have two weeks in Morocco.”


Kevin and I looked at each other. $2,250. “Deal.”

“Inshallah!” Ben exclaimed, bursting into a big grin and clasping our hands together in a firm shake. “You don’t take them right now on your travels. They stay here and you come back to get them.”

We watched Ben’s men roll our prize into tight burlap-covered bundles with my name on them. Receipts secured, we told Ben we’d be back in two weeks. Inshallah.

We left Marrakech in the dust for Ouarzazate, the gateway to the desert — a 350-curve trip on the Tizi-n-Tichka pass through the High Atlas Mountains. Along the way, villagers sell geodes and fossils on tenuous-looking tables along the cliff’s edge. Rustic cafes offer tagine, a Moroccan version of a blue-plate special cooked outdoors, and a bathroom stop, generally the hole-in-the-ground variety. Rising from the terra-cotta land are unpainted sandstone buildings, identical to the earth’s color but with sharper angles — a Berber version of “Where’s Waldo?”

We stopped in Agdz, an oasis along the Draa River. At a cafe, we asked if we could buy luggage, since our carpet purchases exceeded suitcase capacity. We were led to Hassan, a Berber merchant who spends nine months of the year traveling through southern Morocco, Mali and Mauritania bartering goods for materials to trade with big-city buyers, who then sell to customers like us.

Chest-high piles of folded carpets outlined his modest shop, about the size of our living room. In a closet-size back room hung daggers, leather pouches and silver boxes with inlaid stones that were filled with necklaces made of lapis lazuli, turquoise, coral and amber. I didn’t see any luggage. But the carpets’ indigo, saffron and henna colors had their own allure.

“Come. You will be Berber,” Hassan said to me. Over my head went a dress fringed with rainbow-colored baubles and a deep blue veil for my hair. Hassan gathered it beneath my chin and twisted it up around my head, so it looked like a giant doughnut. The end of the cloth draped across my face, leaving only my eyes visible. He adorned me with traditional Berber jewelry — a chunky sundial for the wrist, stone necklaces, a heavy amulet. The little room was warm without air conditioning and with added layers, but I liked my outfit.

Hassan eagerly displayed his wares, every new showing preceded by a “No buy — it’s okay! This from the heart. Look!” He held a flame beneath a carpet’s silk threads, woven so tightly that no air passes through.

For two hours, Hassan’s almond eyes danced and the lines of his desert-worn face broadened into smiles. With body forward and eyes locked, he frequently offered his handshake when we understood each other’s jokes. I didn’t want to leave his floor — or my Berber dress — and miss tales about his Saharan caravan. The longer we stayed, the more we wanted to retain a piece of his stories. Surprisingly, we had to ask if we could buy. We left with two carpets for $400, our best deal in Morocco.

Was he trying to sell to us the moment we walked through the door? Or did he really just want to chat away a hot afternoon? Perhaps both, but it didn’t matter. He made his living by talking and had offered a private tutoring session. Maybe purchases are also signs of gratitude.

Hassan clapped his hands. “Wait! I give you this. A wedding present.” Hassan put in my hand a silver and coral necklace I had admired. I thanked him with a double-handed handshake, hoping he understood my appreciation.

Kevin came down with the Moroccan flu in Zagora, the last stop before the Sahara begins. After surrounding him with bottled water and dehydration salts in air-conditioned hotel glory, I set out to discover whether an American woman alone would be a recipe for disaster.

A simple question or a stroke of the display gives a merchant permission to begin the dance, so I let my eyes shop and kept my mouth shut. With my hands full of scavenged goods from my suitcase, I went in search of a little horse-trading. I found Himi, no more than 25, happy to drown me with tea. Deliberately, I showed little interest in his jewelry, shaking my head and grimacing the whole time.

“One ring.” I held up my index finger. He showed me fistfuls of necklaces draped with jewels. “Just one ring.”

“Have anything to trade?”

“Yes, I have some things.” I glanced nonchalantly at my bag.

He gathered pieces I looked at longer than most. I fingered the lapis lazuli necklace. Mistake.

“How much for each piece?” I asked.

“No, I give you global price,” countered the Berber. “Then you give me yours.”

The “global price” topped $1,000, a deal going downhill fast.

“What would you take for these?” I held up my khakis and T-shirts.

“600 dirhams.”

Sixty-seven dollars seemed more than fair, but it still wouldn’t make a dent in the collection.

“I can’t afford it. I’ll be going.”

“No! How much?”

I understood. It was culturally unacceptable for me to have shown a hint of interest, say prices were too expensive and walk out. I must bargain.

“I have only 600 dirhams in my pocket. That’s it.”

“But how much for all?”

“600 dirhams.”

“No. How much?”

At the risk of completely insulting the fledgling tradesman, I took most of the jewels away, save two rings, some material and an amulet.

“Just this.”

“950 dirhams,” Himi said. We were getting somewhere, but $95 was still too much.

“600, plus the clothes.”

“Clothes are part of global price. How much for all?”

“I told you — 600 dirhams, plus clothes for all.”

“No, how much.”

“I’m leaving. This is a fair price.”

“You’re leaving?”

Just like that, the hand clasps mine.

“600 dirhams! Deal!”

I couldn’t stop smiling on the way back, thinking my broken-in khakis and faded T-shirts would be making the rounds in the Sahara. And my ailing husband would get a ring.

The afternoon before our flight back to the States, we returned to Marrakech and tried to navigate our way back to our bundles and Ben. The walls of the city finally gave way to a familiar arched opening and we recognized the chaotic mobbed street.

We crept up to the Artisane di Tapis drenched with sweat, frazzled, ready to leave everything Moroccan behind. Except our carpets.

“Ben. Is Ben here?”

“Yes. He’s waiting for you.” Bet they say that to all the girls.

Ben walked over to me, arm extended. Two men followed, with our bundles in hand. “I was worried about you. Glad to see you, my old friend,” said Ben. “Where’s your husband?”

“He’s staying in the car.”

“Come. We park car. Drink tea. Tell me about trip.”

We retrieved a damp Kevin and made our way to the room with the carpet rolls. Mint tea was on its way. All was well.

“Morocco good to you?” Ben asked.

We launched into our surprise over the kind reception.

“Ah, yes. After 9/11, Americans stopped coming to Morocco,” Ben said. “They’re afraid to travel to Arab lands. But we don’t hate Americans. We know it’s politics. We’re all just people.”

Then, like every ideal salesman, Ben closed the deal.

“You come back to Morocco?”

I nodded with sincere enthusiasm.

“You tell all your friends?”

For general information on Morocco, contact the Moroccan National Office of Tourism, 011-212-48-846277, Kaufmann is a writer in Alexandria.

How to Haggle in Morocco
• Read guidebooks about shopping in Morocco before you go.

• Don’t ask about or touch an item if you’re not interested.

• Decide with your spouse, travel companion or inner shopping demon exactly how much you’re willing to spend on a piece.

• Master the currency conversion rate before you venture out.

• Don’t dress in your Sunday best if you want a good deal. Conversely, don’t wear shorts or sleeveless shirts, no matter what the temperature. Respect for the culture breeds respect for negotiations.

• Take tea when it’s offered. It’s polite, and the tea is fabulous.

• Don’t walk out if the merchant offers an absurdly high price at first. Suggest an absurdly low counteroffer. Then the fun begins.

• Bring extra clothes for bargaining purposes. Jeans and athletic shoes are a big hit.

• Don’t let the constant catcalls pitching “good deals” dissuade you from experiencing famed Moroccan hospitality and the game of negotiating prices.

• Act vaguely uninterested or uncertain on items. Be ready to walk out if the price isn’t right.

• Never pull out a wad of cash.

— Carol Kaufmann
© 2004 The Washington Post Company


THE MAMA TRICK | The Well Mom September 22, 2009

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 7:25 pm
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By Carol Kaufmann
Let me guess. You’ve given birth for the first time in your thirties, maybe forties, during a successful, all-consuming career. You used to consider yourself fairly together: a well-used PDA, food in the fridge, and regular plans, like dinner and yoga. Then, Precious Baby came along and that life vanished.

The initial heady period of motherhood sustained me for a good three weeks. During my two rounds in the maternity ward I spent virtually every hour holding my Precious Babies (PB), smiling down at chubby folds in skin and every exquisite gesture. The prescription drugs kept me from feeling the c-section’s incision and the realization I wouldn’t be sleeping for more than three hours straight for a very, very long time. But eventually, the well-wishers and food-bearers trickled to nothing and my husband and I were left with unwashed piles of laundry and the guilt of unordered baby announcements. Maternity clothes looked stupid and, after nine months of wear, bored me, though none of my other pants would rise past mid-thigh. I was grumpy and eating way too much dark chocolate. Worse loomed the nagging question: Would the rest of my years be a blur of washing bottles and stolen catnaps?

Can you relate? Maybe right now you’re wondering, with a sinking feeling, if you, too, will ever get back to normal.

Yes. And no.

I’m learning, slowly and painfully, how Motherhood requires a major mind shift. Obviously, prioritizing your children is paramount, but equally so is adjusting your own world view. I call this the Mama Trick.

Your home, personal calendar, car, yard, Blackberry, office files, gym locker, refrigerator, whatever space used to feel like your own is never going to be up to the par that once worked for you. Par is history. But it’s ok. It’s OOOOOOO KAAAAAYAYYYYY. Each day, if you and your children’s basic needs are met, you win. The rest is gravy – even that daily shower where you use soap, shampoo, AND conditioner. You’ve taken on the most important responsibility in the world: the care and nurturing of another human. If you succeed at that, what else is there?

I know, I know. You still don’t feel like it’s enough, do you, Superwoman? Me either.

So if the race to the end-of-day finish line is simply not satisfying in that deep, soul-fulfilling way, try this. Give yourself one task. ONE. You could choose to file your nails. Reorganize your panty (still a size or two above your norm, right?) drawer. Rush over to the Banana Republic sale (with or without the coupon you intended to use). But times have changed. And Mommyhood has changed your time. What you choose to fill your day (hour, half-hour, five minutes) with is now, by process of elimination, more precious. So make your daily do-for-me thing count. Download your photos of your child’s first three months. Journal a few sentences. Call the friend who makes you laugh harder than anyone else rather than watching TiVoed Grey’s Anatomy episodes. Haven’t you seen them all, anyway?

When my Life With Kids gets truly hectic, I slip into what I call “Organization Fantasy Mode.” Just last week I found myself daydreaming about eliminating all the clutter in my house. My brain went wild. If my mind couldn’t ooze tranquility, my four walls could. So in my overactive head, I reorganized the family room, eliminated some major (heavy) pieces of furniture that contained family heirlooms, turned our dining room into a playroom (would we ever be using the family silver now?), and converted our bedroom into a bastion of peace. The problem with all this is that while streamlining looks good in my mind’s eye, the reality requires lots of hefty lifting, moving furniture that may or may not fit past absurdly small doorways, a complete purging of the attic, painting a few tables and walls that will no longer be covered by previously mentioned furniture, and relocating most of our electronic equipment – which I don’t know how to reconnect.

Even without small kids (and a job and cats), such a project would take the better part of a week. With small kids? A six month minimum. But since tranquility in some part of life is now crucial to me, I settled on initial task: Discarding old shoe boxes. It doesn’t sound like a lot, true. But this tiny job, accomplished in about fifteen minutes, made room in our attic hell for the aforementioned family heirlooms. I’m on my way. And given everything else that life hands you in the early days of motherhood, that fifteen minutes made me proud – and even a little more balanced.

Think about it. In your former childless, perhaps even self-obsessed, life, did discarding shoeboxes ever take on such meaning? Did it ever positively exhilarate you? Try it now: One Mama Trick. And notice how you feel like Wonder Woman wrestling baddies to the ground with her lasso.

And while you’re catapulting your own proverbial shoe boxes from your cramped attic, consider your new identity. You, this new gal with the disorganized abode, never-ending laundry piles, and little people who constantly need need need, you’ve YOU’VE become something better, someone more important, than you’ve ever been.

You’re someone’s mother.

Carol Kaufmann will regularly share her Mama Tricks with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria,
Virginia, with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

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A River’s Gifts

Published: January 2007, National Geographic Magazine
A River’s Gifts
Why did Romans, Celts, and even prehistoric settlers submerge their personal belongings, from swords to dishes, in a shallow river in Slovenia?
By Carol Kaufmann

Archaeologist Andrej Gaspari is haunted by pieces of the past. His hometown river, the Ljubljanica, has yielded thousands of them—Celtic coins, Roman luxuries, medieval swords—all from a shallow 12-mile stretch. Those who lived near and traveled along the stream that winds through Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana considered it sacred, Gaspari believes. That would explain why generations of Celts, Romans, and earlier inhabitants offered treasures—far too many to be accidental—to the river during rites of passage, in mourning, or as thanksgiving for battles won.

But Gaspari may never be able to explain for certain why the Ljubljanica holds one of Europe’s richest stores of river treasures, many of them remarkably preserved by the soft sediments and gentle waters. Too many pieces of the puzzle have already disappeared.

During the past two decades, sport divers have made the river their playground, removing most of some 10,000 to 13,000 objects found so far. Even though removing artifacts from the Ljubljanica has long been illegal, professional archaeologists have been forced to compete with private collectors. Some divers sold their loot to museums; others to the highest bidder. Some kept their treasures private. Many artifacts have left the country, untraceable. Gaspari’s greatest torment comes from the knowledge that few maverick collectors know—or care—where exactly their prizes were found. For an archaeologist, an object’s meaning comes as much from its context—location, association with other objects—as from the prize itself. Without context, there is no story.

Mladen Mück is one of Gaspari’s tormentors. Now in his 40s, the Bosnian-born architectbegan diving in the river in 1985 and has brought up about a thousand pieces. In his kitchen in Ljubljana, a plastic box contains prehistoric tools. Upstairs, dusty cases hold other rare artifacts, including deer antler axes. Mück says he has no intention of selling what he has found. Like many collectors, he babies his goods and claims they are better off with him than with the authorities.

“More people see these artifacts in my house than if I gave them to a museum,” he says with a dismissive wave. “There they would sit in a basement.”

Gaspari disagrees. A team at the National Museum of Slovenia is preparing an exhibit of the river’s treasures that will tour Europe in 2008, he says. Still, he hopes that someday Mück will hand over his items. “My heart is strong,” quips the 33-year-old archaeologist. If Mück is obstinate, “I will outlive him.”

As for artifacts still in the Ljubljanica, Gaspari believes they should be left untouched until they can be properly conserved. He searches for new objects only when he believes they are threatened—as is the case on one blistering July afternoon. Struggling into a wet suit on the riverbank, Gaspari gets ready for a dive. Water visibility is unusually good, he says, though you might not think so looking at all the algae and bits of trash.

He and his team have been hired by the town of Vrhnika to search for artifacts that could be lost when a sewage plant is built on the river. The need for a treatment plant is obvious from the stench of sulfur, and worse.

Gaspari doesn’t expect to find much here, perhaps some medieval potsherds, not rare in an Old World river. But less than an hour after the divers begin their survey, one member of his team, Miran Erič-Pac, surfaces and hands him an ax made from deer antlers more than 5,000 years ago.

“We’ve never found an artifact so old this far upstream,” Gaspari says. “It’s probably from a nearby prehistoric settlement.”

Then from the murk comes a 16th-century water pitcher painted with an aqua bird and yellow flowers that resembles a thousand replicas in local souvenir shops. Another diver hands him a chunk of stone with a decorative edge—a fragment of an ancient plate. Gaspari strokes its flat side, as familiar with its shape as with his morning coffee cup. “It’s early Roman,” he says, “around 10 b.c.”

Throughout the day, more pieces of Slovenia’s early story are found. Like other objects from the riverbed, they hint at a mysterious connection between distant generations and waters they revered. Somewhere, perhaps in the trove of artifacts in private hands—or perhaps in the river’s murky depths—is the clue that could unlock the mystery.
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On Assignment:

Writer Carol Kaufmann’s approach to covering a story about ancient artifacts is to “find the living person who’s passionate about them,” which wasn’t hard to do in Slovenia. “People are absolutely crazy about what comes out of the Ljubljanica River,” she says. “The treasures excavated from that little river could make curators of many American museums cry.”

What was your best experience during this assignment?

The water was exceptionally clear the day I dived into the Ljubljanica River. While the archaeology team surveyed part of the riverbed, photographer and dive master Arne Hodalič showed me around the river he’s been photographing for the past three years. We could see sherds from medieval pots and bits of Roman glass popping out of the mud. Rivers in the United States may have their share of Coke cans and hubcaps, but rarely anything older than, say, 1986. So I was like a kid in a chocolate factory, all wide-eyed and impressed. But the glimpses of riches that stunned this American gal were no big deal to the Old World Slovenians. Medieval? To them, that’s so yesterday.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

I’d had a baby ten months before the Slovenia trip, so I haven’t quite returned to the former me and, uh, severely underestimated my wet suit size. When we arrived on the river around noon on that blistering July day, I tried to stuff myself into the hot, miserable neoprene by jumping up and down. But the skintight material never budged past my knees. In the end, I couldn’t dress myself. The photographer held the sides of the suit together, and the archaeologist inched the zipper upward as I sucked in. Horrific. Thank God it was hot! Sweat helped.

What was the oddest experience that you encountered during this assignment?

Photographer Arne Hodalič and I were invited to the home of a collector who’d been diving into the treasure-laden Ljubljanica River for about 20 years. He’d been down to the bottom of the river maybe 200 times, more than any archaeologist, and had become quite skilled at finding and recognizing artifacts. His home was a museum, minus the good lighting and fancy displays. Up in a dusty attic-like room crowded with magazines, religious symbols, portraits, scuba equipment, and yoga mats were boxes of priceless archaeological artifacts. A crate full of deer-antler axes looked old—about 6,000 years to be precise. He pulled out his laptop and showed us similar objects for sale on an auction house’s website. Each ax was worth 500 euros ($650) apiece. Bronze swords, the pride of his collection, would net a cool 3,000 euros ($3,950), at least.