Our house is located in the medina in the “central souks” neighborhood, so every time we leave our place to go to eat, shop for groceries or get just about anywhere, we need to make our way through dozens and dozens of merchants hawking everything from meat hanging on hooks to touristy trinkets and scarves and spices of every kind. Most of these guys will call out to me in Spanish to get my attention for whatever reason (I guess I have that sort of Spanish “un yo no se que “) The women who paint henna designs on hands try to get my attention by shouting “Hola! Hola!” from meters away. Then, when they get no response, they try “Bonjour” then “Hello” and that’s when they run out of languages to try on me. Each one of these sellers invite passers-by to “Just come see. Very cheap. Good price for you. It’s not expensive”.
Dinner in Jemaa el Fna
The thing is, I am almost never browsing when I go throughout the souks. I live here, at least for a short time. When I am walking through there, I am not walking aimlessly. I am not in tourist mode. Only twice have I walked through the maze of shops ready to buy something that tickles my fancy. Most times I am going somewhere with a purpose. For example, I might have one hour to get to the grocery store and back before Luna wakes up from her nap. I’m not quite in the mood to have intricate henna designs applied to my hands or look into a stall full of hundreds of stainless steel teapots- even if they are “practically free”. Yes, we have actually heard that term used.
games in the square
Snails- Ask Ash about that one!
When you enter Jemaa el Fna, you have guys wrapping snakes around your neck, others pushing monkeys wearing dresses at you, and the balloon sellers trying to get your preschooler to grab a balloon from them. All of these things are “free”- until they are not. Here’s how it goes. I have seen it so many times now. Unsuspecting tourists will be invited by the elaborately dressed water seller to have a photo with them. (note: They don’t actually sell water anymore. They are more like beggars dressed in costumes. )The tourists politely refuse at first. Then they get pestered and followed by same water guy who assures them that it’s “gratuit”. When they finally cave in, they take turns snapping photos of each other standing awkwardly by the water guy, or with a monkey on their shoulders, or a snake around their necks (see photo) – it’s all the same. Then the “prey” says thank you and begins to move on. This is where it can get ugly. Now the guy is asking for money- sometimes 200-300Dh! Even if the tourists give some, it’s never enough. Ultimately, it will end up in both parties being completely dissatisfied with the experience. But this is how it goes in the square day in and day out.
obligatory awkward snake pic
Strolling through the medina, you will notice so many photo opportunities. The contrast of the ever-present cloudless blue sky and red buildings is absolutely stunning. The men on donkey carts, the women dressed in colorful traditional clothing and spices piled high in stalls all add to the immense beauty of this place. It really is like living in the pages of National Geographic when you step outside our door. Naturally, you want to snap away and capture all these memories for all time, but the vast majority of people here take great offense when you point he camera anywhere in their direction. I read that it has something to do with Islam, but I’m not yet convinced that is the case. I think they are just fed up. I can actually understand if someone gets upset if they notice a person taking a photo of them hanging their laundry or waiting for the bus. I guess it would be pretty weird if I walked outside my door in Riverside to get my mail, and someone was there waiting to snap a picture of me. What I’m having a difficult time with, however, is when they forbid you to take picture of a mound of spices or a pyramid of tomatoes on a table. If they see you trying to do these things, they will immediately scold you and ask for money. Evidently, 5-10 dirhams make everything alright. This kind of stuff leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Quiet spot in Jemaa el Fna
As a matter of fact, it seems that everyone is Marrakech wants 5-10 Dh from you. Just try to walk to any of the sites in this area. Along the derbs leading to any of the ruins or museums, etc. you will find strategically placed kids or men just “hanging out”. They will point you in the direction of the attraction in the area and then start walking with you. Try as you may to tell them that you know where to go and don’t need their assistance, they do not listen. They will stick with you until you reach the destination and then demand money for their “help”. Yep. We are constantly trying to shake these “guides”. Such is Marrakech. Lots of locals just trying to get some dirhams from tourists. To be fair though, the locals we have become friendly with are genuinely kind and warmhearted. They love children and they are always picking up Luna and showering her with kisses. They have been welcoming to us and have gone out of their way to make us feel at home here. We’ve found our “fresh orange juice guy”, “our fruits and nuts guy” and “herbs, spices and soap guy” and we are loyal to them which they appreciate immensely. Jemaa el Fna is teeming with fresh juice booths selling orange, grapefruit and lemon juice. It’s super refreshing and at 4Dh (about 50¢) a glass, it really worth it. We give our business to this one booth and get our o.j. for the week from him. He’ll fill up an empty liter water bottle for 24Dh (less than 3 bucks), and then we get to have it at breakfast. Our dried fruits and nuts guy, who we refer to as “Number 6” (each booth in the square has a number) is really friendly and gives us tons of free stuff to eat while we are there buying stuff from him. The week we arrived here we were walking around Jemaa el Fna one evening and saw his booth tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the square. He called out to us, but we were way to tired and were about to head back home. He passed a card with “#6” written on it. Ash told him we would be back to buy from him soon. He mustn’t have believed it, as he’s probably heard that lots of times in the past. He asked , “you promise?” Ash answered, “yes.”. The next week we were in the market for some dried apricots, dates and figs and we walked directly to his stall. As he watched us approach, a smile lit up his face. Each time we even pass by his place now out hands get filled with treats.
Océane jamming with some musicians
Ash getting some herbs. Spot the bag of hibiscus by his left elbow.
I guess I’m getting to be “in” with the herbs, spices and soap guy too. The first time I bought some dried hibiscus from him, it was 20Dh for 100 grams. Today when I went, he recognized me and I got 100 grams of hibiscus and a 1/2 kg of “savon noir” for a total of 17 Dh. I have been making iced hibiscus / rose tea and love it so much. I think I have Ashley and the kids hooked on it now too. The “savon noir” is an oily paste made from macerated olives, argan oil and other natural oils. It is renowned for its ability to purify your skin and helping to shed dead skin cells. It’s rich in vitamins and does a great job at exfoliating and moisturizing your skin. I have looked this up online and found out you can order it in the US for $19.99 for 250 grams. Here, I get that amount for 35¢. I plan on taking full advantage of this luxury while I am here!
Maria’s turkey brochettes
Salad prepared by Maria
Meat with prunes, sesame and almonds
Speaking of luxury…We have been lucky enough to have Maria helping us out around the house. She not only cleans our place one a week, but and also does our dinner shopping and prepares excellent meals for us a few times a week. She doesn’t understand English, but we communicate with my broken French, visual aides and smiles. Her smile is wonderful and her cooking is fantastic. We inquired about her services after we were here for a couple of weeks and we noticed that the only Moroccan dishes available in the restaurants were the same over and over again. Surely, they eat more than 3 dishes here, I thought. Enter Maria. She has been making us all the delicious home cooked stuff you can’t find in the restaurants. She uses her own recipes and well as some passed from her mother. We just received an invitation to have couscous at her house this Friday, so I’m really looking forward to that! We are homeschooling Océane, so there is not much free time as you can tell by my lack of blogging and infrequent posting of photos. Ash does the French in the morning after breakfast, and then she gets a break until after lunch. While Luna naps, I do the English lessons. Having Maria around to help out a few nights a week makes it a lot easier to manage with the kids/schooling. We use the weekends as an opportunity to escape the medina and get some fresh air in the wide open spaces of the mountains and valleys. This past weekend we headed out very spontaneously to the Middle Atlas. We were just sitting around after breakfast and picked a place on the map. Ash had a car rented in 15 minutes and we were packed in in the car within the hour. This trip was simply amazing! Sometimes the best plans are no plans at all. Much more about that in my next post. Until then…
P.S. – Attack of the Henna Women — After I had written this blog, but before I had a chance to post, this happened: I was buying some orange juice at Jemaa el Fna. I was standing waiting for my order when a henna woman approached me. She was fully covered from head to toe in black with only a small area uncovered revealing her eyes. I politely told her that I was not interested in henna today, as I have to be unloading groceries when I get back home and I have children to tend to. I thought she got the message, but then she started with the whole “It’s a present for you- welcome to Morocco” business. I thanked her and then reminded her that I was still not interested at the moment. She again insisted that it was a “gift” and then grabbed my hand and just started going berserk on it with the henna. She was going so quickly, she had a whole splotch of stuff on there before I could even blink. She told me that she usually charges 200-300 Dh for what she was doing for me as a “present”. First of all, there’s NO WAY she EVER gets that much – and second of all- I don’t want any henna! She was frantically making a mess of my hand trying to finish before my juice was ready, so she could get her hands on my change. Meanwhile, her accomplice was trying to get Océane to let her make some designs on her. Océane held her hands behind her back didn’t budge. Next, they started with Luna. Woman #2 was trying to remove Luna’s sneakers and wanted to paint her feet. I told them “NO!” Woman #1 was just staring at me as I was getting my change. She said to me, “I gave you a gift. So you will give me a present now.” I told her that I did not want the design. I told her that she grabbed my hand and offered me a gift, even though I had protested. She eyed the 5Dh changed I had just received. “Just give me the 5 dirhams,” she said. I handed it over to her and told her,” That is NOT the way gift giving works. If you ever see me here again, do NOT even speak to me.” Then I walked away. She doesn’t care. She got her 5DH which it what they really make anyway. I did get to use the decorated hand as a pass for all the others who tried to nab me as I made my way home though. When I saw them looking my way, I just held up my hand and I was home free. 🙂