Rabat ~ the Medina, the market
I love wandering rounds markets. Anywhere. A foible I think I inherited from my Mother, who could spend hours just perusing Hitchin open market with me in tow as a child, carrying bags and learning ‘barging and pushing’ techniques from her that I later found useful in rugby at school. Like her I first do an overall reconnaissance, sussing out the general area, what is where and an outline of goods on display – what is tat and what is not. Pick a few landmarks so I can find the good bits later. (one of the few times I can actually navigate – must be some Freudian reasoning there).
This market was not the biggest nor fanciest – Marakkech for example is huge and the one you always hear about. But given that any reference to Rabat is normally prefaced with“that sh*thole; Rabat!” by most visitors whos writings I’ve read before, I was pleasantly suprised. In fairness, that reaction is I’d say more due to the visa experience than an honest look at the town. Most people just want to escape the place as soon as the cursed visa has been obtained.
I couldn’t wait to explore. I’ve wanted to visit “The Kasbah” in Marakkech ever since I was a child as a result of, of all things, the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie ‘Road to Morocco’. A naive and romantic notion got fixed in my head at an early age of what I would see and how exotic it would be. Further reinforced as a teen, when my notions and curiosity took a more ‘alternative’ direction, but I digress.
Funny the things that get stuck your head and just wont go away – even with the cynicism of maturity. Turned out that Rabats market was much better in my view than Marrakech so I’m very glad I got to see it.
So, enter through one of the many archways through the old city walls and you enter an old world of alleys, and narrow streets. Trodden for centuries and only commerce and profit remain constant. Though there’s a hell of a lot of people living there -but you wont even notice them unless you look up. Above the ground level stalls and shops there is a community packed and stacked as tight as the stalls below, on top of one another in narrow terraces, steep steps and stairs, at ground level only a doorway giving a clue that there’s peoples homes here too. Imagine that as your home and your start to life – the place where you live. I was reminded just far away from home I was, as I tried to imagine normal everyday life here.
Swivelling my gaze back to what’s in front of me. Hustle and bustle at most times of the day or even well into the evening. Constant movement, seas of people moving like a tide – dont get swept up in it! Or better still- do! Literally go with the flow and see where it takes you. Human needs and desires are pretty much the same the world over. So what you see here is likely to be what you see anywhere in the world. But of course there are local variations. In Dublin for example a childs outfit for a special occasion is often got in the cheaper department stores. Here, same thinking / different way of of going about it. I saw a small child getting measured up, tape measure flying and notes being taken as an elderly man and woman between them got the details of the needed dress from a serious looking mother. But here, it was in a dressmakers no bigger than some bathrooms I’ve seen at home. Cloth everywhere, stacked for storage or hung for display. Ribbons on a coathanger at the doorway – fluttering like multicoloured bait to get the punters inside. At the back another old woman was quietly sewing by hand as she sat at the classic old Singer sewing machine in the corner. So much life going on and in such a small space.
Just around the corner Down one of the narrowest alleys there’s a bathhouse. So what? Well, when hot water and a shower, never mind a bath becomes a rare treat, and it had already for me, you notice these things. But curiousity got the better of me and I had to wonder how they heated the water for this place. Close by was an open doorway – wider than all the others nearby. I peered in to the gloom inside and couldn’t quite take in what I saw (I walked past twice to make sure of what I was seeing!). The building within was open at ground and cellar level. At ground level was what appeared to be the biggest boiler I’ve ever seen. At cellar level was what I can only describe as a stove to match. Circulating around this was a maze of pipes going in and out and tended by the darkest man I saw in the entirety of Africa. The heat wafting out of there was intense – it’s what got your attention to begin with. I’d love to have taken a photo but as you’ll notice, I have very few pics of the market. People would look with what I can only think of as dismay when you’d pull out the camera. So, I didn’t take many. It just felt wrong. But I’ve wondered since just how the hell that place didn’t blow up from steam pressure!
Shops, stalls, pitches and spots. There was every class of ‘retailer’ there. Shops obviously, stalls too. But as well – there were pitches where a wheeled trolley could squeeze in-between. In the evenings there were even ‘spots’ where somebody had squeezed in-between the in-betweeners! Men with no stall, no trolley – just a sheet of plastic spread out wherever it would fit and their wares laid out upon it. nobody seemed to mind and I never saw one stall holder get annoyed with another. Another nice aspect was none of the sellers hassled you to buy. Not like Marakkech at all! There you sometimes had to resort to very blunt English to get to walk around in peace. Not much haggling either – but then the prices were about one third the price of Marakkech. My only sadness was that it struck me that like much of what I saw in Africa, it really wants to ‘come up to’ (or down to) European standards of consumer products and pushes the old and traditional aside. Easy for me to say as a naive tourist I hastily add – I dont have to live there, so can afford these rose tinted spectacles to view their life.
Within the old is the new. Along with the fake rolexes, fake ray-bans and all the rest the Western worlds dross was the strange sight of the latest and greatest in mans modern technology; mobile phones. Sold from a line of very old shops nestling deep in the heart of the market. These places look as if they’ve been there for hundreds of years. Now however lit by strip lights – harsh bright lights to push harsh bright bling. Sure you would get whatever is in Europe for a lot less than retail price here at home. (whever your home is – if your first tongue is English – believe me, whatever you’re buying, it’s cheaper in Morocco!) I just had to wonder though – if the sunglasses are fake, the watches are fake…. what’s the chances them Nokias, Samsungs and iPhones are real? Hmm.
That’s all for now. I leave you with the only two pics I have! And one of thems a sleeping cat. Cats were everywhere. Some obviously feral, some obviously not. But what struck me was that all of them, just got on with living. Not a single one was running scared and wary of people. Not a single person hassled the cats, chased them away or gave them a kick. Not like I’d see at home, thats for sure. Especially around the food stalls!