A few hours into a jostling bus ride through the Rif mountains in the north of the country, our destination came into view: Chefchaouen, the “blue pearl” of Morocco. I had seen some photos of the city before I came to Morocco, but they did not prepare me for the truly breathtaking beauty that my friends and I encountered on our arrival. The entire city is painted white and varying shades of blue, and thanks to our visit being during the off-season for tourists, we were able to fully enjoy and experience the quiet, simple life that is lived there.
As we wandered through the streets, marveling at the painted doors and glimpses of the surrounding mountains, a man approached us, asking us to take a photo of his shop down a side street. My friends and I hesitated — we had been warned about pushy vendors in Moroccan cities that attract many foreign tourists. A quick look toward his shop, however, quickly changed our minds; this was something worth seeing. Outside hung lanterns and screens of every color, woven from silk or wool, and decorated with equally colorful tassels. The shop was aptly named “A Colorful Life,” and stepping inside was mesmerizing. Every inch of the small room, including the ceiling and floor, was draped with vivid carpets. Along the entire back wall, towers of neatly folded rugs and blankets reached toward the ceiling, and another wall was filled with shelves of herbs, silver teapots, and elaborately decorated clay pots, all framed by more carpets.
The shopkeeper, who introduced himself to us as Ibrahim, brought us tea and seated us on poufs in the little room, saying there are not many visitors around this time of year. He was impressed by our Arabic (or pretended to be!) but he is fluent in English, French, and Spanish along with Arabic, and began talking to us in our own language, as his English was much better than our Arabic. My friends and I were actually interested in buying rugs in Chefchaouen, because the location of the city in the mountains means that wool is a local commodity and rug-making is a big business in the region.
Sipping on hot mint tea, we admired the rugs Ibrahim unrolled for us, passing them around and using them as blankets. While I knew that part of this whole production was meant to encourage us to make a purchase, I was still thoroughly enjoying myself. Ibrahim proved to be quite funny, and had us all laughing as he described the different herbs he had in his shop and telling us about his family. My roommate Nazish found a rug she liked, and decided to practice her bartering skills with Ibrahim, which we learned this week in our Darija classes.
“Name your price!” Ibrahim beams. It is clear he is energized by these exchanges.
“I will give you 300 dirhams,” Nazish replied ($30 USD).
Ibrahim scoffed, pretending to be offended. “But this is such high quality! It is worth at least 450 dirhams!”
I nudged Nazish and told her to raise her price a bit, but she stood firm, saying “All I can give you is 300 dirhams.”
Ibrahim stood still for a second before reaching out his hand for a handshake. Grinning, he rolled up the rug and handed it over to Nazish, giving us all free herbs (I took a bag of lavender; my friends all took various types of tea) to take home with us. He insisted I take a photo of him with my roommate, since we “brought him good luck” as his first customers of the day.
As we all shook hands with Ibrahim and promised to join his family for couscous next time we were in Chefchaouen, we left his shop smiling. It had me thinking about how different shopping is in Morocco— it is more social and more personal, and certainly more fun! My friends and I don’t know if Nazish overpaid for the rug or not, but either way, we all agreed that the experience itself was priceless.