Friday, 12 October 2012

Mahem Markets of Marrakech

A big square sits in the heart of the Medina, surrounded by restaurants with terraces and decks. many streets all connect to the square, like a dozen veins leading to the heart, pumping with stalls, sellers, beggars, stray animals, and men sitting, drinking mint tea and talking. The street that we take to the main square is crowded with stalls and shops selling shoes, scarfs, clothes, crafts and every now and again a small fruit cart. Motorbikes zoom through with a small warning of a honk a millisecond before they pass (if you're lucky, mostly they just come without any warning) and men at stalls yell at you to see they're wares, "very cheap!!" they say. But thats just the beginning.

The streets open out into the bustling square and everything that I've mentioned becomes ten times more and twenty times more overwhelming. The outer layer often consists of "the monkey men" who are the men who walk around with small monkeys on leads (appalling I know!) and lure tourists in by making the monkeys do tricks or by simply making them look irresistibly cuddly and cute. Or they will try a different method which consists of the man being friendly, smiling, then shaking the tourists hand, and up the arm the monkey runs. Onto the tourists shoulder and poses for a picture with it's arm slung around their neck. Of course it's too sudden and too late for the tourist to refuse so they take their pictures, and give the monkey man a small tip. oh-no, a coin won't do. The smiley nice monkey men then get nasty and demand more money. The tourists get angry and frustrated and try to walk away but the monkey men follow them until they give more money. The same thing happens, every single time. Once the monkey men are satisfied with the amount of money they received, they return to their posts and the whole thing happens all over again.

Along with the monkey men on the outside of the square are the "snake charmers", who quite innocently sit there with five or so snakes curled up in front of them, playing a little tune every now and again to stir the snakes. When some tourists become interested they pose for the cameras and get the snakes to twirl around tourists shoulders for a photo. And then same as the monkey men, they close in and demand money that the tourists are often not willing to pay. And then bye bye twenty dollars that was for the ice cream later.

Closer inside the outer layer are dozens of "henna women" who sit innocently and quietly with their henna and photo booklets until a tourist, (usually girl) walks past and they shout "henna!", "you like henna," and shove the booklet in our face, they grab your arm and say "i do this here and this here". But most of the henna women prefer to sit around gossiping and don't bother you except to say, "henna?" you reply with a simple "no" and thats the end. And the tourists who do get sucked into the henna trap (me included) realise the next day that the henna that was supposed to last for a week is already barely visible.
There are many other types of people, but the three mentioned above are the main groups. Other square people consist of, musicians, random stalls, storytellers, a rigged carnival game, dancers, etc, etc.
And at night the square also comes alive with many "food stalls" which consist of a few fire/ barbecue things where the cooks are at work and then a few log tables out the front where people can sit to eat. There are fifty odd of these stalls in rows, each one having someone out the front to yell at you and pressure you into eating at their restaurant.

As you can hopefully get a picture of this busy, bustling, hustling place it may seem like it would be overwhelming,  unpleasant even. It can be all of these things, but there's something about it that draws me back every evening, walking backwards and forwards and in circles, looking, watching, enjoying. Mum and Dad walk behind me usually a little less enthusiastic, i can understand why the bustle and business is not exactly their thing, in fact, it's not usually mine either, but there is something special about the Mahem of the Marrkech Markets that is not like any other.

(we travelled from Fes to Marrakech courtesy of Morocco Explored)