Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Day with Fahd

For our third day in Marrakesh, we decided to wander around and see the tourist sights within walking distance from the hotel. Because our agenda was so casual, we lounged around in the morning, ate our leisurely breakfast at the Riad (yogurt, bread, fresh OJ), and set off around 10:30.

We stopped to say hello to our friends at the spice shop/pharmacy from the first day. Max wanted to buy some Moroccan black soap, and Josey wanted to buy some kohl makeup (which is also very plentiful here and has traditional/religious significance). As we were negotiating, Dado suggested that we give them our clothes before we left. This was perfect! They obviously could use the clothes.

So, Dado explained what we had done in our packing and asked if they wanted the clothes. They were very pleased! As a result, we received all of our intended purchases as a gift that morning. As I said before, we really like these men, and they provided a lot of great Moroccan memories for us!

We also scheduled an appointment for 4PM that afternoon for both kids to get henna tattoos - the real thing this time, from a real tattooist - not one of the maniac women from the square!

Then, we consulted the map and headed off. By the time you exit our little neighborhood (about 1 block from the Riad), there are already Moroccans lining the street waiting to ask you, "Do you need a guide?" "Do you want a taxi?" "Do you want to take a horse-drawn carriage ride?" etc. It's overwhelming!

However, Mike had a good feeling about one man who asked if we needed a guide. They agreed on a 10 dirham (1 euro) fee to guide us to the Saadiens Tombeaux - the tombs of the royal family. We could have found it by ourselves, but this was much more entertaining. The guide's name was Fahd, and off we set.

He led us through the amazingly busy streets of downtown Marrakesh, where we all stared wide-eyed at the people and shops around us while trying not to step in puddles. Max only fell down once, narrowly missing landing face-first in a road apple!

Sidebar: Other than the rain and resulting mud, the streets of Marrakesh are remarkably clean! There are almost no dogs, so there is no dog poop. Yay! In France, there is dog poop everywhere. It is actually disgusting. So, this is a nice change. There were very few road apples, too, because the horses all have poop-catching bags under their tails. So, I really have no idea how Max almost managed to fall face-first into one, but he did.

The remarkable aspects of the Saadiens Tombeaux are:
  • The fact that they date from the 1500s, but they were only "discovered" in 1917!
  • The ornate scrollwork and detail that covers every square inch of the walls and ceilings in the open tomb buildings.

The tombs themselves are in the ground, marked by rectangles of different tile work. There are remarkably few tombstones. The tombstones and narrow, short strips of rock centered on the rectangle of tile. Fahd told us that the scrollwork on the walls was the story of each person's life: their accomplishments, etc., that would help them in the afterlife.

There were 4 tomb buildings, and they are all open air, which surprised me. There are low walls to keep people out, but the cats and birds were inside.

On the way to and from the tombs, we passed one of the several entrances to the Medina (entrances in the inner city walls). There were storks nesting at the top of the entrance!

Our tour of the tombs required a mere 15 minutes, so we were quickly looking for something else to do. By now it was nearly lunchtime, so Fahd led us to a Berber Riad/restaurant. We invited him to eat lunch with us, so during lunch we received a lot of great information about Berbers, the Muslim religion, and the surrounding area.

Lunch was delicious and different from our other meals thus far.
  • First course = Moroccan salads: Cucumber and tomato; marinated eggplant (but it was green eggplant!); lentils; green salad. This was served with the traditional Moroccan bread that is shaped like a fat frisbee.
  • Main course: Shish kebabs for me and the kids; beef and veggie tagine for Dado; and chicken and citron tagine for Fahd.
  • Fruit course: A gigantic plate of fruit with oranges (which grow everywhere here); mandarins; apples.
  • Final course: A collection of Moroccan pastries served with traditional mint tea. The pastries were three different cookies.
Fahd taught us that there are three traditional varieties of tea in Morocco, and the mint tea is typically served in the heat because the mint has cooling properties for the body. It was a delicious and enjoyable lunch!

After lunch, Fahd led us to the terrace. Since we were enjoying a break in the rain, there was incredible visibility. We could see the Atlas Mountains as well as the tallest mountain in all of Africa: Jbel Toubkal.

The restaurant was right near the square and the souks. Since Max had shown an interest in an authentic Moroccan robe, Fahd brought us to a clothing shop run by his friends, where he said he could get us a good price.

This was a fun stop! Max knew exactly what he wanted, a djellaba, which is the robe worn by 50% of the men in Morocco. Check him out! He looks like a mini Obi Wan Kenobi, doesn't he?

Josey wanted one of the traditional women's robes, a kaftan. Her choice took a bit longer. She started wanting pink (to match the head scarf she had purchased on the first day), then she changed her mind to teal. The only teal robe she liked was too long. Not a problem! They offered to hem it for her, ensuring many additional years of wear when she let out the hem.

I originally had no intention of buying anything. However, while the kids shopped, I found a beautiful pink tunic with white trim and a hood!

Next were the negotiations. We learned on our first day that because the kids are spending their own money, the Moroccans give them a better price. Thus, we let Josey do all of the negotiating for herself and Max. Of course Mike aids when necessary, but that is rarely required. They started at 350 dirhams for my tunic, 300 for Josey's, and 300 for Max's. I got mine lowered to 300, and I stopped negotiating. I know I could have dropped the price further, but I wanted the kids to succeed more than myself.

Max caved at 200 dirhams. If the guidelines are true, that you can usually get your item for 1/2 the original asking price, he still had a bit more wiggle room. However, he was so incredibly happy with his purchase that it was a good thing!

Josey was once again the master. Considering she was also receiving custom alterations, I had to remind her of that fact and that you pay extra for that. She finally settled at 180 dirhams. She looks fantastic!!

Whew. That took a while. However, Fahd said that we were near the spice area in the souk, so off we went. We stopped at his friend's spice shop, where we were served tea. We bought some Moroccan cinnamon: several small US bottles worth for 1 euro. It smells divine! The shop owner gave Max an Josey each an interesting necklace, so they were thrilled. And while we were wandering around, Fahd found little wooden camels for each of the kids, too.

Imagine that! Here is a man willing to guide us around Marrakesh for a single euro, but he gives my children gifts! Of course, Mike and I had already decided to pay him much more than the original euro, and we did buy him lunch. But still. Very considerate.

Here are some action shots from this part of the souk . . .

Okay, by now we were once again overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, sales, etc. It was time to wander back to the hotel. We parted with Fahd, and he gave us his number in case we needed a guide again.

Back at the hotel, we decided to talk to Mohammed about taking a day trip the next day, to escape the chaos of Marrakesh. Details on that in the next blog entry.

And suddenly it was already 4PM, time for henna tattoos! The kids were so excited. We walked to the spice shop/pharmacy, and they sent for the tattooist. Either she didn't speak any French, or she wasn't supposed to speak to us. I think it was that she didn't speak any French, to be honest. So, we negotiated the mere price of 50 dirhams for both kids (remember, I left 100 dirhams for the tattooing vultures in the square!!), and the kids decided to let her use her imagination.

It was interesting. She squeezes the henna out of a syringe and simply draws her design. Then, the kids had to wait 20-30 minutes for the henna to dry. Once dry, Mike scrubbed it off their hands, and voila! They rushed downstairs to show Mohammed the finished results, and he recommended putting some olive oil on to bring out the color.

They are beautiful! Many people now have told us that the real henna tattoos are this light reddish-brown color. We have seen many black ones, but those are made with chemical dyes.

The kids were very happy with the results.

The rest of our evening was very relaxed. Dinner at Cafe Arabe, then off to bed.

Love to all!!

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