Locals Selling Goat Hides in the Souk
He was an elderly Moroccan gentlemen, quite distinguished looking but for the missing teeth, and wearing a silky cream and yellow coloured djellaba and skull cap. He smiled generously and said hello to me as I passed through the souk. As most do, he also asked where I was from. Thankfully when I said “Canada”, he didn’t burst into a rousing rendition of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On (the teenaged food-stall tout did just that in the square last night – he was pretty good.) Beware, if you answer even the most innocuous question asked by a Moroccan in the souks, they will be stuck to you like duct tape. He tells me that the Berber market is in town today and that not many tourists know about it. The prices in the square are much too expensive he warns, as he tries to establish trust. Next, he shows me that his hands are yellow and explains, in French, how this comes from working in the tannery, but I suspect it is from saffron. He tells me that it’s a holiday for most of the tannery workers so if I’d like, I can see it today. At least I think that is what he said. It’s nearby. He’ll show me.
My spider senses had gone off long ago. I’ve read about Marrakech’s un-official guides, but since I’m at liberty, open to experiences, and not on a timetable, I cautiously let him lead the way. The narrow, winding pathways of the souk are behind me in moments and there is now a lot more room to dodge the donkey carts. I’m the only non-Moroccan in sight as we’ve entered an industrial looking area of the medina. All around me are darkened repair shops and moped graveyards. Evidently this is where old bikes go to die. Soon the parts will re-emerge in the form of cobbled-together creations capable of scattering tourists another day. We duck down an alley and behind a wall, where my ‘guide’ introduces me to Tannery Man.
kilims. Unfortunately for them, I wasn’t in a buying mood and dispensed with this phase of the tour quite quickly. Then comes the time to pay off Tannery Man. I hand him a 10 Dirham coin (about $1.20), which was met with the usual overly dramatic expressions of disgust. “No! No! 150 dirham is how much people pay for this special experience.” We debate this for a moment or two, before out of nowhere a ‘passerby’ appears and confides in me: “That is only worth about 1 euro. This man has three children. Give him more.” This is part of the game in Marrakech, as I’ve experienced a virtually identical approach on four other occasions this week. I toss him another 10 MAD and silence his protests with a firm “No more. It’s okay. It’s okay.” and turn away. Of course, my guide has now returned and wants money too. I’m perfectly okay with this, since by now I am completely turned around and have no idea how to get out of the tannery, through the souk, and back to the main square, so I commit to paying him but only after he gets me back to where I wanted to go.
So this, folks, is how it works and what may happen when that helpful Moroccan says hello in a souk. If you have the time and the interest, go along for the ride. You can write about the experience in your blog. You might be wise to bring a traveling companion though...