Location: Marrakech, Morocco
An adventure searching for the perfect derelict Riad, through the constuction itself, to the end result (insha'Allah!)

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Sewer Cleaners Of Marrakech

Can you moonlight as a sewer cleaner?  In Marrakech, yes.  Well, you can if you are familiar with the labyrinthine sewer system and know where to enter and exit those pipes.  Sewer fixers keep the city clean by clearing the subterranean canals of blockages and obstructions, some of which, frankly would shock you.  Their only tools are a simple iron file, some connecting rods, strength and dexterity.  These urban plumbers unclog the pipes and drain off the waste, thus delivering Marrakech from certain sickening odours.  A small but indispensable trade!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Street Singers

MARRAKECH has its troubadours and traveling musicians, analogous to the minstrels, bards, and other street performers who entertained courts and commoners alike in the Europe of times past.  Solo or ensemble, on a cafe terrace or before the international crowd at Place Jemma El Fna, they sing their repertoire of popular songs, offering up a full range of Moroccan folklore.

Their interpretations of great classics from the Arab songbook transport enchanted audiences back with beautiful, age-old epics.  Who said, "Everything ends in song?" It is true that, in harmony with the universe, humans have always expressed the joys and pains of living through song.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Baggage Porters

Only necessity compels people to take up this small trade.  Such hard labour! Whether carrying tourists' suitcases at airports and train stations, or toting farmers heavy crates, sometimes dragging these cumbersome loads on handcarts, porters submit their bodies to what almost amounts to forced labour, all for a meagre sum. They are not Hercules, but their backs are strong and their arms are muscular.

The most fortunate have a donkey or a horse, which makes the job less tiresome.  But the porter must then look after the animal, a beast quickly exhausted by the considerable burdens.  But modernisation is on the march! Motorised tricycles currently cruise the streets of Marrakech, delivering suitcases to the grand hotels, but in Africa we will continue to see, for a long time, men proud of their strength, carrying heavy loads on their backs.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Tooth Pullers...

In addition to legitimate dentists, Marrakech is home to a most peculiar profession: the tooth yanker.

These men practice their trade in the souk or on the Place Jemaa El Fna totally free of legal restrictions and heedless of any hygienic precautions.  Under the gaze of passersby - and on ground covered in spit - the unlucky fellow unable to afford 'indoor' dental care has his teeth pulled without any anaesthetic and only a drop of two of disinfectant.

Astonished tourists will sometimes photograph the spectacle, "No, thanks!" they say with a smirk, put off by the idea of receiving dental care from a man who knows nothing of medicine and works in such unsanitary conditions.

Nevertheless, it would be like taking the bread out of his mouth to say that he is "lying through his teeth"!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A Load of Cobblers...

Out in the middle of the little alleys of Marrakech, you come across cobblers' workshops, really just simple iron crates on wheels, shaded all year round by umbrellas.

A pile of mismatched footwear at his side, the shoe artisan taps, nails and glues with finesse.  Boots, espadrilles, moccasins - no matter the brand, the quality, the state of the shoes or the time it takes - the cobbler repairs each item to the fullest satisfaction of the customer.  Late into the night, the noise of little hammers echo throughout the neighbourhood.

These hard working cobblers are never entrusted with tourist's shoes.  And yet, what skill!  With a little thread, some nails and a dab of glue, plain shoes are totally revamped; its the miracle of the red city cobblers.  They'll never start you off on the wrong foot!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Sacred Plant and Herb Peddlers

In Morocco, like in much of the Eastern world, smoke rituals are integral to certain ceremonies.  Plants are left to smoulder slowly, like incense, on the occasion of a birth, circumcision or wedding night.  A smoke ritual is an offering to God that he might bless the happy event, or to the spirits, whose good graces one is aiming to secure.  Smoke rituals are also meant to protect a house and its inhabitants from evil beings - the jealous djinn always ready to stir up a little chaos.

Infertility, loss of sex drive, impotence, the reconciliation of estranged lovers - it is all a matter of bewitching and unbewitching, and the women are always quick to fill the air with smoke from just the right herb.  It's clear why suppliers of plants and herbs for smoke rituals are so common here - their goods are essential when confronting the powers of the spirit world.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Traders of the Marrakech Streets

Street Trades are disappearing everywhere.  However, in Marrakech they still flourish and are often indispensable.  They are on every street corner. Everyone makes the best of their rituals and rules; its partly thanks to them that Morocco's roots remain anchored in tradition.  Its a country which looks bravely and positively to the future while remaining faithful to its past.

Take the storytellers for example.  Along the ramparts of the old city walls of Marrakech, in the public gardens, or on the famous Place Jemaa El Fna, you will find storytellers spinning their extraordinary tales.  Dressed in djellabas, they can be recognised by the ribbon tied around their head. In front of a captivated, gullible audience, they unwind all sorts of yarns: ancient stories of love, fairy tales and sagas of fabulous adventures in imagined lands.  Eyes wide open and mouths agape, children and adults listen intently.  Many of the stories having been passed down for generations over a thousand years.  The tale over, the raconteur collects a little spare change before searching for another audience to enthral, to transport to a far-off time and place. A dreamweaver, the storyteller carries with him myriad visions of the Orient.