The smell of charred morning bread fills the air as we await the approach of dawn over the snow-capped Atlas mountains. The dim glimpse of black smoke begins to seep into the sky, like the gentle meditative brushstrokes of a watercolour, and becomes more distinctive with every passing moment. The clear, euphoric calls to prayer from nearby mosques have already beckoned its followers to its doors. Yet, somehow, the hour still finds a peaceful stillness in this busy, time-worn city; a calm before the storm of daily rituals.
We breakfast in the sanctity of the Riad, our home away from home, before entering the labyrinth of alleyways and passages engulfed in a sea of red hues. Dawn had brought the gift of sight allowing a plethora of charm and faded beauty to surround us, a vision absent in our journey into the medina the night before. Our home, well hidden behind a large, heavy door, vanishes behind us as we begin our adventure. Without a map to guide us and only a heartfelt desire to lose ourselves exploring the secrets within the city walls, we neglect the intricate directions given by our amiable host which would lead us towards popular landmarks; appreciation of these towering monuments, tested by the sands of time, would have to wait a while longer. Narrowly escaping the wrath of speeding motorbikes and intermediately pausing to make way for donkeys and masters in the narrow cobbled streets, we walk passed cascading vines, and crumbling walls deeply set in jade coloured tiles into a world, gliding softly between the realm of modernity and the arcane.
It is often said that the world is forever in motion. After all, the seasons come and go, and life never remains stagnant as we transcend to create our own unique story. And yet, the medina has remained lost in time, eternalised in mythology and stories of old. As we continue through networks of intricate gangways, as strangers wandering gingerly, deep in contemplation, I cannot help but reflect upon the notions of life’s symbolism behind these dead ends, unexpected corners and wondrous spaces we find ourselves moving through. I have been told that the purpose of life is simply to enjoy and appreciate the journey as it unfolds; allowing each aspect to teach us more about ourselves and our worldview. Here, testing our fate in this labyrinth, I believe that philosophy more than ever. As we stop to gaze, an elderly gentleman, leading a bicycle, makes his way out of little wooden door, the sound of a woman, his wife, calling to him, reminding him of his morning chores. Startled at first by our presence, the man turns to observe the road on either side of him, before turning back to us, concerned;
The souks are far away from here, my friends, are you lost?
* * * * *
The herbalist, reserved yet smiling kindly, takes some dried herbs from the baskets in front of his shop and grounds them in his large, course hands before allowing us to smell their rich and intoxicating scents. Pleased, perhaps even flattered by our words of praise, the old Moroccan man beckoned us into his humble stand. Although dimly lit, we clearly see labelled glass jars stacked high all around us on old wooden shelves, filled with the most vibrant colours. Herbs and spices, glistening like jewels in a cave; the air tastes sweet, smells alluring. Abdul insists that we make ourselves comfortable on little stools, whilst our host begins to reveal his elixirs, tonics and potions;
Nigella seeds, they are wonderful, slightly toasted, they are used here to cure headaches…here, this is cinnamon, please smell it…it is used to warm the heart, especially if it has been broken…ah, turmeric, the mother of all spices…passionately, he continues to describe the properties and secrets of his treasured possessions. We listen in wonder.
Amidst the magic of the spices and the stories of how to wield their power, time felt like an illusion. After what seems like only seconds, but who knows how much time really passed, Abdul respectfully makes his wife’s requests to the herbalist. And some ras el hanout, as a gift for our sister here. The herbalist obliges, bowing his blue turbaned head. Certainly, my friend. Graciously, I thank them. As he begins to prepare a special tea by hand, I turn to look behind me, letting my eyes search further for other wonders to be found. What do you suppose they are used for? I whisper to Djamo as I point towards jars and little reed boxes filled with falcon feathers and remnants of lizards and gazelles. Abdul and the herbalist turn around immediately. Magic. The simplicity and hushed calmness of their response seemed to echo.
Marrakech people come here for spells- to defeat their enemies, to aid them in success, to find love, Abdul explains, I have heard that even women, fearful of their husbands finding another wife, for in Islam, we can have four, have come here, requesting spells to ensure a happy, monogamous marriage. It is truth. Even people who are not happy with work come, to stop those people who harm them. But the magic cannot harm people of good intentions, good souls. The herbalist smiles, nodding slowly. But it is important, to make sure you never tell anyone of a spell, for it will never come true otherwise.
As the herbalist turned back to begin the laborious work of freshly preparing my ras el hanout and the tea desired by Abduls’ wife to comfort the senses, we step outside the tiny little store to bask in the warmth of the sunlight. Only yesterday, we had been in England, layered heavily in coats, scarfs and wooden hats, protected against the harshness of the cold winds of winter. I have a few more errands to run, Abdul smiles, bringing my thoughts back to the present, as he begins to walk down the narrow sandy road. You are free to join me, if you wish. Intrigued, we follow.
Thank you for reading.
To be continued x