Souk

After a night’s sleep, I was rarin’ to hit Marrakech with renewed vigor.

I woke up and went downstairs to the breakfast the hosts in my riad (a home that rents rooms, like a bnb) had prepared for me. It was minimalist–bread, pitas, soft cheese and jam. There was plenty to drink, though–Moroccan coffee, mint tea and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

I left the riad and set out to explore Marrakech. I zigged and zagged from the riad, certain that a different route would take me to the souk. My route might have done just that, but after over half an hour, I gave up, walked back to the neighborhood of my riad and took the route from the night before.

The day started off cloudy, yet cooler. Nevertheless, the clouds created a humidity that made it seem hotter than the prior day. By the early afternoon, the clouds had dissipated and the sun shone again brightly.

The day souk was a bit different from the night souk. Snake charmers were in abundance, although the crowds were not as substantial. As I have a healthy aversion to anything slimy and slithering, I watched from a safe distance of about fifty feet. After all, those things can spring out at ya, you know.

I walked through as much of the souk as possible to get a good bearing of what I was up against. With my camera at the ready, I was prepared for anything interesting–social unrest, perhaps?

Fresh juice stands were in abundance. For a mere four dirhams ($.40) one can get a tall glass of fresh-squeezed juice–orange, pompelmo, lime, grapefruit, or any one of a combination. I love fresh-squeezed juice so I spoiled myself.

At one point I stopped for an espresso at a cafe on the perimeter of the souk. I asked the waiter for the bathroom. Upon entereing, I noticed it was another of those wretched porcelain holes in the floor. Again with no bars to hold for positioning and again with no paper. I had re-entered the gates of Toilet Hell.

Walking out the door I motioned to the waiter that there was no paper. He looked at me quizzically. Within a few seconds he understood and asked a friend who produced a square of Kleenex from a pocket package. I was set…

After the previous night, I wanted to find the food stalls. Their aromas were still fresh in my nostrils and I salivated at the thought of freshly roasted lamb shishkebab. Unfortunately, the stalls were all empty. It was apparent that they only opened in the evening.

Feeling peckish, I stopped at a restaurant, also on the souk’s perimeter. The waiter was fluent in French, not so much in English. I ordered a sort of Moroccan stew. It was good, but not in a heart-palpitation-I’ve-just-seen-God sort of way.

From all my travels I’ve learned that one never eats in restaurants near major tourist attractions. The food is always over-priced and marginal in taste. I had wrongly assumed that would not be the case in Morocco. Apparently, they’ve drunk the Kool Aid regarding food quality at tourist focal points.

I walked and walked. Children begged for money or offered to give me directions (for a price). Old ladies tried to sell me pocket packages of Kleenex (where was this chick when I needed her?!). And, again, it was a fascinating mishmash of everything from beggars on blankets to tourists to locals grabbing a quick lunch.

I had walked for five hours the night before and found myself doing the same thing this day, too. Around 4:00 p.m. I decided to go back to my riad and rest. Although I had slept the night before, my body clock was still off somewhat and I was dead tired. A short nap would be just the right thing. I arrived at the riad around 4:30.

Four hours later I awoke from my coma and had to jolt myself into total wakefulness. I was groggy, but I wanted to hightail it to the souk and chow down at one of the food stalls. When I arrived, the souk was packed, just as it was the night before.

I walked up and down the aisles of the food area, listening for the familiar sound of English. Three ladies passed me and I heard a distinctly English accent. OK, so it wasn’t American English. I followed them, hoping they would take a seat at a booth so I could invite myself along. No such luck.

Browsing and walking more, I once again heard English words spoken–fluently. I looked and saw three young women being pestered by street vendors pushing their wares. They were also overly flirtatious. I watched and waited for them to disperse before I walked up.

“Excuse me. Do you speak English?” I asked.

Yes, they answered. I embarrasedly asked if I could possibly join them since I was alone and wanted to be able to converse with someone while dining in the souk. They couldn’t have been more welcoming.

These three young ladies, Nicole, Natasha and Larissa were from London. All nursing students, they had decided to take a holiday to Marrakech. We talked and shared our opinions of Marrakech, the souk and Morocco in general. All the while, vendors came by pushing their products.

DSC00924

Souk vendor in Marrakech

I was especially intrigued by one “service” that young Arab women were offering to other women. I was unable to get the name of this “hand art”. Basically, it entailed making Arab drawings on a woman’s hand, wrist and/or arm with a thick ink. The designs were similar to what one sees on the upscale hajibs that more wealthy Arab women wear. After applying the ink, glitter is sprinkled over the drawing. It is quite beautiful.

Costing about $10-15, it usually doesn’t stay on long, but I did notice that, even after rubbing off, the ink itself left a beautiful design that remains for a few days. Larissa actually bought a design and I watched it applied.

We yakked on and they asked about my work and why I was in Marrakech along. As with all the other people I’ve met in Europe, I attempted to give them the crib note version of my life. And, as with virtually everyone else I’ve met in Europe, they were fascinated and asked questions.

Finally, we finished our meal. Then an interesting thing occurred. When we asked for our bill, the waiter said it was coming–but didn’t. Half an hour later we were still waiting. We were getting a bit irritated. Each time we asked, we were told it’s “coming”.

I finally caught on. This particular stall had pretty much emptied out. The proprietors are shrewd enough to keep people for as long as possible in their food stall because an empty stall suggests a lack of popularity or quality, maybe? Perhaps people are reluctant, too, to be the ones to first sit in an empty stall.

We got up to go and our bill miraculously arrived. Paying it, we left.

Wandering through the souk, we came upon a man with a monkey. He walked up to us and the little beast jumped on our heads. It was actually quite comical. He had obviously trained the monkey to pat people’s heads and pick through one’s hair as though looking for fleas. We tossed him a couple dollars and continued on.

DSC00933Nicole was the talker in the bunch. She was on a mission to spend money. She was a hoot and not afraid to speak her mind. I watched and laughed as she haggled with the vendors over items she wanted to buy. “I’m leaving tomorrow!”, she’d chortle. “This is all the money I have”, she’d say to each vendor.

The funny thing was, they knew she was lying and she knew they knew that she was lying. And they knew that she knew that they knew…Well, you get the picture.

I noticed that each vendor was thrilled when he sold something. I was told to haggle–quote one third the price they offer, but don’t pay more than half. Nicole took to this quite well.

Natasha was fun and chatty. She, too, made a few purchases. Larissa was quite reserved. I often wondered if we were keeping her out too late!

At one point during the night, we decided to go for a drink. We bumped into a previous vendor and he took us to a an alley just off the souk where there was a three-story restaurant with a roof-top dining area. We walked through the door and through thick curtains–I felt like I was going into a speakeasy.

DSC00935

Marrakech restaurant

The steps were marble and the place was elaborately decorated with Moroccan lanterns and artwork. Stevie Wonder blasted from the speakers. Walking up two flights we sat on cushioned sofas and ordered drinks.

It was midnight and still Happy Hour. Because of this, drinks were two for the price of one. Nicole had a mojito as did Natasha. I had a Kir. Larissa didn’t imbibe.  Then the second rounds showed up. Shisha arrived but was used up quite quickly.

As it neared 1:00 a.m. I bade them goodbye. We walked out into the night. The souk had closed up considerably. Hugging, Nicole told me she would buy This is My Lemonade even though she didn’t read books.

Once again, I had met some wonderful people, made a connection and had found myself blessed.

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