The Guy With the Nike Backpack
// June 27th, 2011 // Spain
I’m an absorber by nature. I don’t necessarily like to debate but I like discussions on debatable topics. I’m just as happy observing an activity as I am participating. Growing up, I used to love to watch my sister play a Zelda video game. I didn’t want to play I just wanted to watch her play. I think my absorbent personality is why I am so intrigued with people watching. Sometimes I walk down the street and wonder about a passerby’s life. If I’m not sure, I just make something up in my head.
On my first visit to Park Guell, I almost felt overstimulated. People in eccentric costumes asking for tips, a musical performance group that used only buckets and scrappy things for instruments, the hawkers… and that’s just the local crowd. The tourists were equally as fascinating. Like the guy in the floral swim trunks and striped polo shirt- what was he thinking?
I took hundreds of photographs over the course of three visits of this beautiful Spaniard in a black leotard. The men ogled her as they walked by, the kids ran up to her with big smiles, and the seated crowd watched as she alternated between poses. When I see a woman like that, I wonder how she came to do this as a job. Was she desperate for money? Did she know someone already doing the same sort of thing?
I probably would have come back to Park Guell due to the magnificent views and the intriguing people I had encountered so far… but the real reason I returned the second time was due to a Pakistani seller. He was tall and thin with a large mustache and an old Nike backpack that looked disproportionately small to his figure. He wore it high on his back as he showed passing tourists the scarves he had for sell. The sellers arranged themselves so that ethnic groups stuck together. There was a row of Asian women, a row of Pakistani men, and then Spaniards. As I watched for what seemed like minutes, but was at least an hour, I saw the area empty in a matter of seconds. The hawkers had their goods on a white sheet so that they could easily scoop it up in one move if the park police came through. Obviously, it was illegal to sell this way. The longer I watched the more I realized that there was a Pakistani lookout man above the area who would signal to the sellers.
Not only did the character in the Nike backpack appeal to me visually, but also I began to wonder where he was from. How did he get to Spain? What was it like to constantly live this way with an unstable job where you’re constantly looking for park police? What was the consequence of getting caught?
I returned the second time through a different entrance and ran into this man’s ‘shop’ set up in a different area of the park. He was selling scarves again. I stopped at his goods and asked him where he was from. He didn’t speak English and looked to his fellow Pakistani neighbor. The man told me that the Nike backpack guy was from Pakistan. I asked what city and when the question was translated, the man beamed with pride and said “Lahore”. Seeing that I recognized the city, he wanted to know if I had been there. Of course I hadn’t, but I expressed how much I would love to visit. I bought a 3 Euro scarf- I had no need for one but I appreciated his effort to speak with me and his beaming smile.
When I left the park, I realized I never got his name. It bothered me. I went back again for a third time, and he was selling necklaces. The park police came soon after, all of the hawkers darted, and I never saw him again. At the end of the day, I only know where he is from, but he’s definitely a character that I could base an entire book on, given how distinctly he stood out to me.