The mystery of the atmosphere when entering a place that has been alive since the 11th century is unexplainably intoxicating. During the day the sun shines over the square Jemaa El Fna, which is a triangular plaza in the entrance of the Medina in Marrakech, right across the “Koutoubia” Mosque. It is a place where moroccan traditions have been alive for centuries, a place where people meet during the day and during the night, a place I have only imagined in my dreams until now.
In the morning, the merchants roll down their magic carpets to the floor and push their carts full of moroccan ceramic, metal handcrafted lamps and other beautiful handcrafted pieces while the snake charmers hypnotize their cobras to the beat of their pungis taking mint tea breaks frequently sitting on rocks under their dark green umbrellas, getting into intense arguments between each other, while watching for their next victims to seduce them with words and play their trickery to get a few more Dirhams, Euros even better.
The older women sit on foldable benches scattered around the plaza with a stack of cards ready to display their fortune-telling skills or to tattoo beautiful Henna hand designs documented on a catalog they flap with their hands trying to catch any woman’s attention. Some men dressed in colorful costumes with red hats on walk around the plaza looking for distracted photo takers to invite them to take pictures with them and then make them pay the “fee”.
An older man with a cane walks towards the middle of the square and sits on a rock that another younger man had placed on the floor. He is wearing a light blue long tunic and a hat. He starts speaking arabic and one by one, people from around the plaza start forming a circle around him. It is story-telling time.
An older cobra enchanter on the other side of the plaza starts lining up his 7 cobras in front of him. The others grab their pungis to start playing intensely while the older man sitting on the floor with his legs crossed starts moving his torso towards the floor, the way a whip moves while shaken against the floor to the beat of the music, emitting sounds that dramatize the performance even more while the 7 cobras start rolling up and down in a circling movement like they were all trained for a choreography. What a show! I stopped for 5 seconds to watch and as I was pulling my camera out, ten people around the conglomeration that had formed around the show looked at me, ready to come after me to make sure I pay the “fee”. I walked away. I do regret not taking a video. The “fee” seems so insignificant now.
Orange juice is the signature breakfast of the medina. Carts full of oranges piled up offering orange juice for 3 Dirhams line up around the merchants of the trickery. I want to be tricked, to experience the culture and what it is to fall for a merchant of the trickery. An older man looks at me and I make eye contact with him. He calls me with his hand and I comply, hypnotized. It is the same man that was whipping the floor with his torso earlier. He hands me his Cobra as I try to give him a few coins. He says “It is ok, it is ok. You give me later”. His Cobra is heavy and lays over my shoulders. It started looking at my face like wanting to bite me so a middle aged man came to help after the older man called for “Mohammed”. They both talk to me, trying to become my friends, trying to know me better. They place their arms around me, whispering to the cobras while asking me questions and then, when I have 2 cobras over my shoulders, the middle aged man demands money. I gladly accept the invitation to get tricked and give them money. “Take the Cobras out of me first”- I say. He follows me asking for more. I pull my Peruvian 10 Soles bill and he sees I have nothing else in my wallet. He takes my peruvian bill and calls it “Chatarra” (junk) and walks away. I am in love with this culture.
The Dhuhr (The call to prayer that happens everyday at noon) is announced signaling the mid-day exactly after the sun passes its zenith. The entire Medina can hear the chanting of the call that is announced from the Minaret of the Koutoubia. The world stops around me and everyone takes their carpets out to lay on the floor and salute Allah. I stand in awe and observe perplexed the most amazing display of faith I have ever seen. I am in the lands of Allah.