This next post is in a somewhat different style to how I usually write. I actually built this based on a piece of creative writing I wrote for my A Level English language coursework. It is actually true, it is a personal experience of mine, just in another style.
I wasn’t expecting such beauty in the markets at night.
During the day the D’jeema el Fna was empty and unimpressive with only a few permanent stalls dotted around. How could something so unremarkable be transformed into a beautiful, cultured and vibrant market (as all the travel brochures try to sell to me) just by the fall of darkness? I have to say I was a bit sceptical. But at night the change in Marrakech was stunning. It was hard to imagine this was the same place I had been stood in only this morning. The square had been transformed into this busy, bright, vibrant open-air restaurant and market.
Along one side of the L-shaped square were the traditional North African markets or the “souks.” Lining another side, the café terraces where you could escape the noise and confusion of the main square attracted sweltering sightseers. Next to them the hotels and gardens were full of rich tourists that had come to visit. Narrow streets full of stalls were leading off of the square and into the alleys of the medina quarter or “The Old City”. In the centre was this busy, bustling, al fresco restaurant full of unusual and exotic smells.
As soon as I stepped into the night food market I was surrounded. Everywhere I looked colourful and interesting food was being thrust in my direction; every restaurateur was trying to drag me in.
“Come taste my couscous”
“Have you ever tried Harira? You’ve come to the right place my friend!”
“Only the finest lamb here.”
I struggled forward; trying to get past the hundreds of bodies crowded together, breathing in the intense abundance of gastronomic flavours. I took a bite of Tajine- a slow cooked stew, full of tender, moist meat and aromatic vegetables, completed with a mixture of spices and herbs. This specific cook used “Ras el hanout,” a secret combination of spices individual to the chief. I could taste cinnamon, paprika, coriander and something else, something sharp that I couldn’t quite place.
Marrakech is well known for its market and in particular its labyrinth of souks- otherwise known as “bazaars.” I squeezed myself through the tightly packed crowds, looking around in awe at the variety and culture. There were more food stalls, Henna tattooists, apothecaries selling unusual cures and herbs, acrobats, jewellery stalls, snake charmers, stalls jam-packed with handmade ornaments and rugs and “zellige”– a mosaic terracotta tile work and traditional Moroccan architecture. I picked up a “magic box,” feeling its smooth wooden sides cool against my hot skin as I attempted to open it and failed. I watched in wonder as the maker unlocked it quickly, easily, through years of practice and of marvelling tourists like me with these simple tricks.
My nose was full of the scents of exotic food, spices and the strong aroma of sandalwood and musk incense burning from their wicks. I could hear the British tourists trying to haggle with the experienced Moroccan salesmen and the beautiful sound of the African music played by men sat on rugs with all their instruments and drums. As I walked past a group of foreign boys selling fake designer watches they yelled “Fish and Chips!” at me. Glad to know the English have a reputation for something notable. Everywhere I turned I could hear African men trying to sell things. And buy things… I overheard one young, startled English boy being offered five camels for his pretty, blonde girlfriend.
An achievement I was particularly proud of was my haggling over a small, wooden camel I planned to buy as a gift. 300 dirhams was the original price. “20 dirhams,” I said, well aware I was pushing my luck. Naturally, the young man told me to where stick it but as I went to leave he chased after me shouting, “70, 70! Final offer.” I beat him down a bit until we settled for an agreement of 50 dirhams. I was even more satisfied when I found out that the equivalent was just four British pounds for the sale. But as I moved off, I glanced back at the young man, at his thin, tired face, ecstatic at what I thought of as such a small amount of money. It seemed incredible to me that four pounds could make such a difference and, as I looked back, I wondered whether I should have given him more as he seemed to need it much more than I do.
I leave the busy souks, pleased with my haggling and weighed down with the gifts I have brought as I make my way back to my 5 star hotel- “5 star”- it wouldn’t even have one star in the UK. Yet, set apart from the hustle and bustle of the main market of Marrakech, a young boy kneels, barefoot and dirty, drinking water from a contaminated hose, stroking his flea bitten dog, desperate to quench his thirst before he goes back to the one roomed mud hut he calls home.