Wednesday 22 October. You need stamina for shopping in the medina!

Just before six am I woke to silence, and the occasional dog bark greeting the day before it had even begun. We kept our grilled window open all night and the temperature is perfect for a restful sleep without the air conditioner that I love on hot steamy nights, and hate for its chilly noise as Gilbert always runs it colder than I like.

Unable to drop back to sleep I pick up my kindle and start to read when I am suddenly aware of a hum that rises and falls in the distance. I put my book down and just enjoy the sounds washing over me as it swells and grows with the mosques beginning their daily call to prayer. It is just a whisper to start and afraid I will miss it I grab my phone to record but I needn’t have hurried. I must have slept through this the last few mornings and as I look out at the stars from our grilled open window, the call is met by the many small mosques that surround us. Readings from the Koran are taken from the pages and pulled through loud speakers louder and louder until it fills the air and then just as suddenly, it is over. I wait and a lone rooster breaks the silence that follows as if he was holding his breathe for his own space. I wonder, are the men now quietly making their way back to their families with the Korans words still on their mind. Is breakfast waiting for them and a new workday begins?

Today while walking we passed a little boy of about three years old and with his dark curly head bent he played oblivious to us foreigners at his doorway. The funny thing was he was singing quietly to himself and it sounded just like this mornings call to prayer. We smiled as we walked past. It was quite beautiful. Learning by osmosis no doubt, like the world over.

This is the city walls that stretch around the medina where we have been staying. It goes for miles as we saw when we arrived, but got up close today as we searched for an ATM machine. We are walking through a huge square that is used for gatherings but at this time of day it just has a few teenage school children hanging out on the other side.

I wonder if those are certified gas bottles or past their use by date? Donkeys mostly cart here but horses too are used in the streets which are so narrow at times you have to press into a doorway to let the donkey pass.

There are so many contrasts here. Some of the streets are pretty disgusting and then we wandered into this city garden space with its alluring shades of green after the dry dusty streets we have stepped from. You just have to shake your head. It feels like you stepped on to another planet. Water flowing and gardeners quietly clipping and shaping. A peaceful oasis.

The last few days have been interesting. We have been roaming and checking out the prices of things we wanted to buy. We were invited to look at the kilims and promised ‘no pressure’. A thousand welcomes. You are welcome if you buy and you are welcome if you don’t, was the general tone. Until we got in. Then we were given a stool and a cup of mint tea, which is delicious by the way. The guy is old, speaks Spanish, French and Arabic, annnnd a bit of English but his nephew is there to help and we look at him to translate quite often. He kept saying ‘sister’ and I thought he meant the carpets are made where his sister was. It was only when I heard him calling Gilbert ‘Brother’ that I realised we were now family, and it was I that was his sister.

“No pressure which one you like?” He was a little man and he waited with his dark eyes penetrating mine willing me to love at least one. “I like this one” I say. Ok. He instructs the boy helping him to keep bringing down more and more. “Stop I say. We may not buy. Please don’t bring any more down. Tell me the price of this one so I can consider”. Yes yes he replies nodding. And which other one? “Just this one I say”…and? He waits. The gist of his lengthy reply is if I WAS to get a second one, which one would I get. It’s better if he gives me a price on two.

No no. I say. I don’t want two. I have no room. I only want this one. And there I am. Before I know
it we are discussing the purchase. Where it will go. How I will get it home. How it’s reversible. Bloody hell man! The price!!! I want the price I press. See what happened. I’m pressing him now and he’s stalling… How the hang did that happen I’m thinking. We dance for a while and then finally he tells me D9000. It was 12…but seeing as we are family. Too much I tell him. You offer me, he says. Anything. We are family. You tell me how much. I will give you a special price. Normally I don’t budge but today is a special day and you are my sister so I want you to take this home and enjoy. You tell me, he presses the calculator into my hands. Hmmm I offer him 2500. For a carpet I wasn’t even looking to buy. Oh now he’s really offended. We’re family after all. It’s too low. I’m his sister. We are family. Don’t go so low he pleads with the sad face. He will let me have it for 7000. I start to laugh. Ok I’m ready to go now. I’m hot and it’s been an hour. Oh but no he doesn’t want me to go. Please, and so it goes on till I get a bit cross. Gilbert plays dumb. She’s the boss he shrugs. She decides. I want to think about it, I say, I must go.

He follows us out and begs I please come back for a little more talk but I’m striding away as best I can into the throng. Bloody hell I say to Gilbert once free. How did that happen! Then I walk into a ceramic shop and it happens all over again…the same in the bag shop. We buy nothing. We were just checking it all out. At one time the guy grabs my arm and pulls me back. I turn and give him my death look and say ‘don’t’ and he lets go like I burn’t him, but mostly we keep laughing and don’t let it worry us. It would do my head in doing this all the time. The prices are quite extreme. The exact same bag started at 7000 at one shop and 1000 at another. I bought a ceramic jug. It started at 450 at one shop and 80 at another…and so it goes on. There are perhaps 100 at the very least of each kind of shop. Probably more. The place is massive and we have kept to mostly main routes as some are twisty turns, narrow to one person space and go for miles. So the moral of the story is you need stamina and a good sense of humour and break the ‘shop to buy’ days with research or visits elsewhere because it takes the shine off the experience somewhat otherwise!

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