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Wednesday, 21 October 2015 12:00 AM

Shopping for carpets in Morocco

At Naturally Morocco, one of the many things we love about what we do is stories that our clients regale us with on their return.

It is so refreshing to hear detailed personal experiences about their journey they have taken and adapting to their new unfamiliar surroundings. I could spend hours and hours reading feedback, but picked this one out recently as my favourite. It’s an amusing account from one of clients Mr & Mrs Maxwell who recently travelled to Morocco in September 2015 and their experience in ‘buying a carpet’. This story made me smile as it was something I could totally relate to on my very first trip back in 2009….

First attempt in Marrakech souk...

There’s a beautiful Berber carpet we didn’t buy in the souk in Marrakech, red and green with geometric patterns. There is also a photograph of us not buying the carpet. Cathy is sitting with the owner of the shop on a red and gold settee, in a large hall with arched doorways leading off to further rooms. There are carpets hanging on the wall, carpets stacked against every wall, and on the floor in front of her a growing pile of carpets, large and small, laid out for our inspection. When we like a carpet, it stays, helping the pile to grow. When we don’t the cry goes up, yejma, take it away. We become adept at this, the room fills with joyful shouts of yejma, yejma. The young attendants uncomplainingly throw carpets wide upon the floor, dive into side rooms to fetch more, fold the ones we have rejected. Slowly our tastes become clear, the pile begins to shrink, we are left with just a couple. Does it matter that they are too big? No, the owner insists. Our ladies our very skilful and will reshape the carpet to fit. And the carpets are truly beautiful, carefully worked, rich, sensuous. The bait is set.

Now the line begins to tighten, as we are carefully reeled in. We don’t think we’re going to buy, we say, but just out of interest, how much is that one? A scrap of paper is produced, a price is written down, 20,000 Dhirams, about £1500. Reshaped to fit. Delivered to our door. Shipping free. Insured. Our guide sidles across, Mohammed, he has been leading us around the souk in his gandora, visiting the Koranic school and the Berber museum, the wood souk and the leather souk. ‘It is low season’, he whispers, ‘he will give you a good price’. Our eyes meet, Cathy’s and mine, in silent communication. I reach for the pen and write my own offer on the slip of paper. Expostulation follows.  More numbers are written down, by both sides. Finally, though, a gap remains and we lose confidence. Apart from anything else, it seems sacrilegious to cut up the carpet.  Mainly, though, we realise we don’t know how much a carpet ought to cost – to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, we know the value of everything but the price of nothing. We make our excuses and leave. Mohammed trudges somewhat glumly behind, his mobile phone in hand. Next stop the spice shop, for more sweet mint tea and a shoulder massage with essential oils.

Second attempt in Tinehir...

A few days later, we are in Tinehir, a dusty town on the edge of the Todra Gorge, having covered some two hundred Km to the east, on the tortuous roads which lead over the arid passes of the High Atlas. It turns out that this, too, is a place to buy carpets. We know this because our guide and driver has told us so. He has also told us that he will help us, and that he will always be straight with us: ‘this’, he says, in one of many phrases we write down, and that become part of our everyday conversation, ‘is my philosophy’.  Some other phrases: ‘this one girl, she like me so much’, ‘this is my proposition’, ‘this is our culture’.

Anyway, there is another photograph of us with carpets, woven and embroidered kilims this time, not knotted carpets. To my left is the owner, elegant in embroidered blue gandora and matching turban or chan, a true Berber. To my right is our guide, also dressed for the occasion. We are negotiating the price of two kilims. The guide leans forward to see the number that has been written on the slip of paper. As before, no words are spoken, ‘this is our culture’. But gestures are allowed, and suddenly the guide rises to his feet and positions himself behind a pillar, where I can see him but the owner cannot. I glance up and see his five fingers spread out. Aha. I think. I should offer 5,000 Dhirams.

Success...

So, that is what I do, taking the pen and writing on the slip of paper. There is a gasp around the room, and to my surprise one of those gasping is the guide. He had flashed his hand twice, and I should have offered 10,000 Dhirams. Some anxious moments follow, but eventually we converge and Cathy and I become the proud owners of two kilims. And a carved window shutter, as it happens, unearthed in the treasure trove kept in the cellar. And very nearly a silver bracelet. But not the bronze Tuareg date dispenser. That came later, in Ouzarzate. Nor the carved Berber tent peg. Nor the stone soap dish with a perfect ammonite on its rim.

They did say we should take an empty suitcase.....