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Marrakech – the streets have no name, the maps are a picture of noodle soup and the whole city is an assault on all the senses.
Single-serving friends pop up around every corner and yet it seems that round the next bend there’s danger lurking.
Moustafa, a teenager in a dusty, orange tracksuit, complete with a single yellow toothy grin found me by the Marché des Épice. Here, spice sellers congregate to the rumble of mopeds and twittering birdsong. In the centre of the square traders pile their stock in tall neat stacks, careful to keep them inside their designated zone marked with yellow paint on the new grey brick floor.
The square is apparently authentic but those in the centre take aim at the tourist – all keen to take a little bit of Marrakech home. Unsurprisingly the spice sellers that encircle them are happy to prosper from them too.
Moustafa led me away to see the truth of the city. Tripping along the pink alleyways and skipping over the open drains, dodging donkeys, cyclists and piles of cement we made our way to the real market. Veiled women size up chickens, men haggle over fish and carpenters throw dust up over the fruit sellers in the stall next door.
The senses take another knock when Moustafa leaves me at a doorway. Another man approaches in a white skull cap, a flowing, if slightly short, brown jalaba and sandals. His socks sport the badge of some European football team.
He offers me some mint sprigs and I take them gladly to mask the smell of the tannery I’m entering. Men splash up to their waists washing goat skins in the carcinogenic replacements to what used to be animal fats and vegetable dyes. Beyond them, other men toil alone in darkened crumbling buildings, scraping at the drying leathers.
Back out on the street Moustafa meets me again to lead me back to the Medersa Ben Youssef. He leaves early to get back to his mosque for the call to prayer. My offer of thanks by way of money is met by animosity – it was not enough.
A city of friends then, but a city of strangers too.