Casablanca is the business capital of Morocco. A quarter of the population live here–10,000,000 people! So it’s not romantically inclined, as you might assume from the movie of the same name.
We embarked on a tour of the old medina this morning with Amine. A medina, by the way, is the non-European part of a northern African city (most Moroccan cities have an old Medina). The Medina has been here for 300 years, so the narrow passageways built for camels are painfully packed with merchants and customers.
EVERYTHING is available. There were literally tradesman parked along one part of the market–plumbers, electricians, handymen–just waiting for people to hire them.
Of course, the spices are such a draw! It’s such fun to spend time inquiring about the unfamiliar spices. I was surprised at how delicious it is to chew on a piece of cinnamon bark since I’m used to the rather dull taste of ground cinnamon. There was even a spice the locals were recommending to keep our gums healthy!
The produce is always fascinating. We noticed melons that were marked with red paint, evidently to identify the source. The potatoes still had dirt clinging to their skins, they were so fresh. There were watermelons as big a as a breadbox–twice the size we’re used to.
There was such an abundance of fish–straight from the Atlantic. There was a merchant cutting lamb ankles, which would probably make a delicious bone broth. And we smelled the live chickens before we saw them, waiting to be selected for an untimely (or timely?) death. You can select any of these items and take them to merchants who grill it while you wait!
I’d mentioned I was interested in a henna tattoo, but was hesitant. Moroccans, however, are eager to satisfy your wants. Before I realized what was happening a tattoo artist had grabbed my hand and began furiously painting! It was amazing how deftly she drew traditional patterns that she could probably draw in her sleep. Now, every time I glance down I feel like I’ve grown freckles!
Shopping for a purse was on the agenda for Whitney, my traveling buddy. She didn’t want a purse made in China, but one that is really Moroccan. After some searching we nailed it. Whitney was searching for the right style when I registered the sounds of a workshop. The merchant noticed my curious expression and said “that’s the shop above us where they make the purses.” The shop is so tiny I said “how do they get up there?!” He pointed to a ladder, nearly vertical, in the corner that led to a hole in the ceiling! Definitely an authentic Moroccan purse.
Then I noticed boots! Hmmmmm. Made to order. Choose your leather and they’re inset with Kilim carpet. For $40? Yes, please. I’ll pick mine up before I fly home.
The Medina isn’t just a market, or casbah–although that’s always a significant part of a medina. This is where people live, and families have lived here for generations. Since a significant part of the population are unemployed–nearly half–families are extremely reliant on one another. And the living spaces in the Medina are usually filled with multiple families.
It’s delightful to watch the children playing in the narrow passageways they call home. Some were playing around a communal water fountain (placed in the Medina for families without running water), spreading chalk with their feet through the water. Children’s play is universal!
The conversation among adults is animated, especially among the sales people. But their interest seems genuine, even if they want to make a sale. Numerous times we heard “welcome to Morocco” from well wishers. We are more than happy to be here.