After a 24-hour journey from Raleigh, North Carolina to Marrakech, Morocco via Madrid, Spain, I headed out on Day One with my guide Fadil into the labyrinthine Marrakech souq (souk). I was forewarned. It is easy to get lost. Don’t even think about going in without a guide, advised a U.S. State Department friend who lived in Rabat for years. I took him seriously. Opinions vary on this, but I decided to be cautious and get the lay of the land.
It was early morning after a rainy night. Only the cobra snake charmer greeted us on Jemaa el-Fnaa, the city’s main square.
Then, we entered the souq. Except for the minarets, Arabic script, women wearing djellabas, and narrow arched and cobblestone alleys, I could have been in Oaxaca’s Abastos Market where I have often lost my bearings among the tangle of vendors.
My priority today was to see the Dyer’s Market. But, as usual I got sidetracked. Temptations are many. As in most international markets, craftsmen congregate by trade. Here, there are sections for jewelry, ceramics, shoes, leather bags, traditional clothing, food and spices, cookware, and even a goat skin auction.
Natural dyes. Here in Morocco, indigo, poppy, saffron, mint, kohl, henna, and other plants and minerals are used to dye wool for rugs and fibers for clothing and shawls.
Silk of the Agave Cactus. Just like in Mexico, the agave leaf is soaked and pounded, the fibers separated and spun, and used for weaving and embroidery embellishment. We call it pita in Oaxaca and sabra in Morocco. It has the shiny texture of raw silk.
Fruit of the Agave. Lo and behold, I’m walking through the market and see a street vendor selling tuna, which is what we call the fruit of the agave cactus. He peeled the skin and offered the fruit to me and Fadil. We each got two for 5 Dirham. That’s about 15 cents each.
Sesame seed snacks. The women who balance the baskets on their heads filled with sweet sesame treats on the Oaxaca Zocalo and the souq pushcart vendors have a lot in common.
Donkeys. There are beasts of burden in every culture, thankfully.
Weaving Techniques. Men weave on the heavy floor loom. Women weave using a lighter weight vertical loom that looks more like the Navajo loom.
And, then there are the rugs. Stunning rugs, just like in Oaxaca. Too many beautiful rugs to choose from.
Market life for the staples of life.
Photography: Traditional people do not want their picture taken!
Moorish influences in tile work, craft, food.
Construction: Buildings are made of adobe, earth’s raw materials.
Of course, so much here is different, especially in food and beverage. The whiskey of Morocco is mint tea. We are getting used to dining without a glass of wine in this alcohol-free Moslem country. Couscous and tagine are culinary gifts. The hammam, or sweat bath, and the spa life are integral to the culture.
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