Dates and Lamps: Doing Business in Marrakech

The next day in Marrakech, I started off with a beautiful breakfast up on the roof. That’s a traditional location for breakfast in Marrakech, in fact, as it’s usually a comfortable extra “room” and decorated accordingly. I had a nice chat with a visiting New York doctor and answered as many questions as I could for him about the city. But I didn’t linger too long because today was shopping for lamps and dates, and also, sadly, departure. So soon? Yes, thanks to Tunisian labor concerns, so soon. I understand they are not having an easy time of it in Tunisia, or I’d be complaining further because Morocco is pretty neat and I am sorry I wasn’t there longer. But, sometimes we have to make the best of it. For me, that often means shopping: I went back to the lamp vendor. He had all kinds of interesting, high-quality things. Quality varies a lot in Morocco and it’s caveat emptor – you’d better be inspecting carefully before making any purchases. But here, maybe there would be something there for my new house in Annapolis? Could I buy something that wouldn’t look ridiculously out of place back home? I found one that would look pretty anywhere, and another that matched it but did look admittedly taken from the Arabian Nights. I liked it though and thought I’d try to get away with it in Annapolis. But first, there was bargaining. Bargaining, haggling, whatever you want to call it, is a big deal in Arab countries. If you don’t haggle, not only will you overpay horribly but you are indicating that you have no self-respect. That your time, the time it took you to earn your money, was unimportant and is not worth defending. I didn’t used to be able to do it, but before long, I learned to treat it as a game and nothing personal. It became easy then, and I now haggle all the time. It was going to be a while unless I wanted to pay a lot more money. I took my time examining all the goods, decided on what I wanted and then sat down to talk, have tea, and discuss the price. We went back and forth for maybe 45 minutes and finally settled on a figure that he said was woefully low and I said was distressingly high, so we were both satisfied. This price included packing and sending to Maryland from Marrakech, so getting it home would be no problem. It was also a cash price, so I had to go to an ATM. Fortunately, there was one not too far away. I got the necessary money from the machine, Abdellatif the shop keeper got his cash, and the lamps were going to be sent. I hoped. I believed. Generally Moroccans keep their bargains, but in haggling, you also see the measure of the man you’re up against. So while I was taking a chance, Abdellatif seemed like an honorable fellow. We’ll see.

From there, Abdellatif advised me where to buy dates at a fixed price and I left the souk and crossed the street to find them. Easier said than done. I looked around for some while, but carefully since I didn’t want to advertise that I was lost. That’s a sure way to end up in someone’s brother’s carpet shop with no hope of ever leaving. I still couldn’t find dates. Finally I asked at a shop whether they had them, and while they didn’t, they provided a guide. We walked first through a flower market, then a poultry market and its adjoining bloody abattoir (only in Morocco…), going through an olive and preserved-lemon stall and then, finally, into the place with the dates. I gave the man a few dirhams to say thank you, and then asked the shopkeeper for two kilos of my favorite Zahidi dates, from the Vallee du Dra. MMmm, good. These were not going to be easy to get into my suitcase, since the two kilos made a bundle the size of a shoebox, but I was determined to give it a try. Back to the hotel I went, without getting lost, and after some work, got the dates into the case. I had a delicious late lunch and then went to the airport. Remarkably, the innkeepers even packed me a sandwich and fruit for the plane without my asking! Can you imagine? What wonderful hosts. Good thing too because what British Airways was serving on the way to Gatwick was hideous. I think I was the envy of half the passengers who could smell my yummy sandwich. I transferred by car to a Heathrow airport hotel, hit the hay, and left London early the next morning for home.

But what about my lamps? Did they come? Was Abdellatif a man of his word? Yes, and yes. Three weeks later, my lamps arrived thoroughly packed and mostly intact, with just a little bending courtesy of the Moroccan post. A short trip to the brass repairman in Annapolis and they were rewired for US standards, and straight. I can’t wait to hang them in my home. Since now in Morocco email is all the rage, I let our honest lamp vendor know that things had arrived safely. I found out that the post had cost Abdellatif $50 more than we’d estimated. We’d spent a while trying to guess this figure and I thought he was low. I couldn’t leave him hung out to dry, so I wired the money to him Western Union, much to his surprise. If I ever need lamps again, I know a guy. Exchanges like these are why I love Morocco and the Moroccan people, especially Marrakechies. The moral of the story? Know your vendor and your innkeeper, visit Marrakech however you can, and don’t fly through Tunisia right now.

My vendor, dare I say friend (?), and his lamp shop.

My vendor, dare I say friend (?), and his lamp shop.

Spices and teas in the Marrakech souk

Spices and teas in the Marrakech souk

Zahidi Dates!

Zahidi Dates!

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