Saturday, June 3, 2006

Morocco Trip: Shopping in the Medina

We were so happy it was Saturday! I slept in until 10:00 and awoke to the sound of big metal jugs clanging. It was Marie, who was trying to open the top on a purple jug. “Bekah, we’re out of hot water,” she said. She explained that the way it works is you hook up the water hose to a flame that’s lit, burning gas from these jugs to heat the water. When the gas runs out, you are out of hot water.
We went down to the hanute (convenience shop) to get some more gas, and the guy came and hooked it up for us. Then we got ready to go to the medina for lunch and shopping.

Bab Boujeloud, the entrance to the Fez medina

We walked in and sat down at Marie’s usual restaurant. The owner spoke tolerable English and brought us a menu. I ordered couscous and orange juice, and Marie ordered a pita sandwich. It was my first Moroccan couscous, and it was very satisfactory, though I couldn’t eat all of it. The next Moroccan dish I have to try is Tajine, a type of stew cooked in a distinctively shaped clay dish with a round lid that goes up to a point.

Moroccan Couscous in the Fez medina

Then we walked down to the shops. Shopping is such a sensory experience, with sights, sounds, and smells that combine to make it feel very unique and foreign. For instance, there is the Coca-Cola mule, a light gray mule that transports cases of Coca-Cola from one place in the market to another. Tiny donkeys are also very common, bearing 150-200 pound loads of grain or sacks of merchandise on their backs. They are so tiny that their owners can just sit down, almost as if he were sitting on a chair, and be seated on one of his donkey’s backs. They’re sturdy little animals, that’s for sure!
Then there is the water seller. Dressed all in bright red, he wears a bell-shaped large red hat, decorated with little dangly gold ornaments. He carries a leather water skin on his back, with a little pipe he can use to dispense the water, and he makes music as he walks along, clanging his pots and all the various implements and utensils that hang from his outfit. 

The Water Seller

Marie and I were looking for jewelry, so we stopped at several shops and asked prices. At one shop, the owner’s initial asking price was half that of the other sellers for the same jewelry, so we stopped to see what he had to offer. He had just gotten in a new shipment of jewelry that he hadn’t shown anyone else yet, so he opened the bag and spread it out all over the floor of the shop for us to examine. He spoke very good English, and I commented on the fact. “Do you know where I learned all my English? Right here in my shop. I would write down words I learned from my customers, study them, learn them, and learn new words from the next customer. I love learning. I keep learning new things in the quest for immortality.” He was a quiet man, very serious, yet you could see the intelligence and intellectual curiosity in his eyes. 

Typical souvenir shop in the Fez Medina

I bought 4 necklaces and 3 pairs of earrings from him, and Marie bought earrings and a mirror. I paid 350 dh for everything, which I later learned was way too high, as he accepted my first offer without a counter-offer, but I absolutely adore what I bought. Then I asked him if I could find chess pieces anywhere. He had one set of tiny pieces, but I wanted bigger ones. He said it would take time to have something like that made, and I told him I had 5 weeks, so he’s going to do it! I guess he knows some woodworkers who make things for his shop, but he has to order at least a set of 10 of anything he wants made. He didn’t think that would be a problem, so I will return in 5 weeks and pick them up just before I go.
After visiting his shop, we continued walking down the street. At a place where I saw woven embroidered rugs out for sale, I stopped. I asked a few questions of the storekeeper’s son, who spoke good English, because I was looking for a small loom or a drop spindle. He pulled aside a carpet, revealing the entrance to the interior of the shop. “Come inside. I will show you,” he said. At first I think he thought I wanted to see how to do the embroidery, so his father was about to embroider my name on a bag, so I tried to explain better. I made the motion of spinning a drop spindle, and he understood. “Ah! We have a machine that does that. Come and see.” He took me down the street to another weaving shop, this one with tons of rugs in it. There, they had a huge loom set up with a new work in progress on it. He took me inside and drew aside another carpet, revealing a narrow, steep staircase, covered with blue and white mosaic tiles. “Follow me, please,” he said. I climbed the stairs wonderingly after him, pleased at this unexpected opportunity to go behind the scenes, and amazed that I was here in Morocco, doing something like that. In a dark little room above the shop, there were two spinning wheels, and one young man showed me how they wind a ball, starting one off on the spindle and giving it to me when he had put a little on it. I told them my sister had a spinning wheel, too, but hers was wood. (Theirs looked like an improvised conglomeration of a tire rim for the wheel and welded metal parts for the stand. It was amazing, but I was too shy to ask to take a picture.) I think they thought I wanted a wooden spinning wheel, so they started looking for one for me in the market. They found one and brought it to me. The wheel was still a tire rim, but the stand was made of wooden parts this time. I told them I didn’t want it, because it was way too big to carry home in my suitcase. Then they started looking for a smaller one, and I could scarcely convince them that I wasn’t interested in one at all. I would have considered buying a small loom if they had one and kept asking for that, but I realize now that they thought a spinning wheel was called a loom. I then gave up on a loom and drew a picture of a drop spindle and asked them about that. They said it doesn’t exist anywhere in Morocco, but I wasn’t sure they knew. Maybe I’ll ask again somewhere. Maybe I’ll ask for carding combs, too. It’s amazing what people do when you just ask questions, though! Ask the right person, and anything can happen.
While I was discovering all this information about their fiber arts, Marie was back at the first shop, meeting an American named Daniel who was buying a carpet. It turns out he goes to college right near where she lives. Both of them thought the other looked familiar, yet they couldn’t place where they’d seen each other before. Daniel had just gotten to Morocco at the same time as me, so he was new and learning his way around. Marie hit it off with him really well and invited him to church. He is studying Arabic here in Fez, and he will be here for six weeks. Later, on her way over to the A’s house, Marie met him in the street and found out he lives next door to us. Small world.
After the carpet shop, we went home. I washed my hair and did it in a new way. I divided it into two parts, front hair and back hair, and made pin curls with the back hair. Then I did a french braid with the front hair that went over the top of my head, and I wrapped the tail down around the pin curls at the back of my head and hid the end. I got a lot of comments on it.
At around 4:00, Marie and I left to walk to a party at F’s house. She is from Brazil and has sort of adopted Marie into the Spanish-speaking community in Fez, even though Marie doesn’t speak any Spanish. F is a LOT of fun! Middle aged, she is short, with short black hair, flashing black eyes, and a spunky personality, full of the zest of life. She was having this party to welcome some friends of hers to Fez for a visit, so she asked us all to bring our djallabahs and greet them in the Moroccan style. She had tons of food, music, and dancing. Marie and I felt a little underdressed in our plain djallabahs, because everyone else was wearing the fancy kind, made out of lush fabrics and decorated with embroidery or beautiful trim. I consoled myself with the fact that my hair looked pretty and I would have no use for a fancy djallabah in the States. There were about 20 people there: Moroccan girls, Brazilians, and F's roommate, G, a very sweet girl from Mexico. I had a good time mingling and talking with them. I felt very proud of myself for not meeting just 1 or 2 people and sticking by Marie the whole time.

Pouring the tea

After refreshments, the famous Moroccan mint tea was served. This was the first time I had tasted it, and MMMM! It was yummy. I told Marie, “I could drink this every day.” Tea is served in small glasses, not china teacups. The glasses look like juice glasses, but they have gold rims and a beautiful filigree pattern etched into them. They also break very easily (it doesn’t help that everyone has tile floors); one broke while we were there. It just fell off the table and shattered. I would feel terrible if I ever broke one.

Moroccan Mint Tea: my favorite tea ever!

We left at around 8 or 8:30 pm with the best of intentions of going to bed early. However, when we got back, we got out our bread and cheese again and sat in the salon and talked. I also sliced some peaches and got out some yogurt. I spread yogurt on my bread and topped it with peaches for a yummy new variety on a sandwich. We ate some chocolate for dessert and ended up going to bed around 11:30. The weather has warmed up quite a bit, so we have been sleeping with no covers and the fan on, which helps keep away the bugs. 

This is the fifth post in this series. 
Keep Reading: The Smoking Section
Read the previous post: The American School
Begin at the beginning: The Journey Begins

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