Berber Leather Market – The Hustle
berber leather market

Our first day in Marrakech and we were headed to the Berber Leather Market, we just didn’t know it yet.

The day’s second wake-up call was rain pounding on the courtyard’s retractable canvas roof… We wandered down to the dining room and found breakfast waiting for us: Pomegranate, warm pumpkin bread, fresh-squeezed OJ, and a large pot of steaming coffee.. Equipped with caffeinated inspiration, we decided to brave the rain and started packing… A fully charged GoPro and camera, backup batteries and extra drinking water all ready to go, I pulled up my map of the Medina, grabbed an umbrella left by the front door, and with the Square in mind, we headed out..

 

The Medina
berber leather market

Red painted stone walls dripped with steady rain, as we maneuvered puddle-filled streets… Scooters zoomed by as children practiced soccer moves with balled wire and a little old man squatted in a tiny compartment watching a miniature black and white TV… Curious locals paused for a look as we walked through the Medina, eye-contact earning smiles… Sparks flew out of repair shops, donkeys competed with motorcycles, today’s produce displayed on tarps, long strands of silk stretched down Medina corridors… Business as usual on a rare rainy day in Marrakech…

The Hustle
berber leather market

We were instructed to take right turns on our way to the Square, foolproof avoidance for getting lost.. My inner-fool must have won out… When faced with our first crossroad, I paused and instinctively said “This Way..”, as we took a left turn… It was only a moment before thinking better of my decision, consulting with Google Maps… In that moment, with perfect English, a short man with bushy mustache came to our aid… “This way, big market!”, pointing us in our original direction, showing us a tattered postcard of colorful spices… Sensing something was up, I stopped for another look at my phone as he let us go… Again, “This way, this way, big market! Follow this man, he’s going there for work…”

Abdul introduced himself… “You are very lucky, big Berber leather market today only… Where are you from?” “The US..” “Ahhh, I love America, very nice people…” He told us it was just around the corner about ten times, Krissy eyeing me with that nervous look of hers… I followed our path on my phone, curious to what we might be getting ourselves into.. Then, “We’re here!”

The Tannery
berber leather market

We were introduced to Muhammed, who handed us each a handful of fresh mint… “Berber gas mask,” he explained… We were greeted by a pile of wet sheepskins as we followed him through an archway, entering the yard of a leather tannery. Without giving us time to backpedal, Muhammed started into a well-rehearsed speech, explaining that he would give us a free tour of the facility, then show us the end-product..

Secretly, we had already discussed purchasing a leather bag while in Marrakech, so we were intrigued… Our mint gas masks came in handy as he guided us through reservoirs of pigeon poo and dye… He explained how their community of Berbers worked in these hazardous conditions to provide for their families… OSHA would have a hay-day here for sure… Muhammed was very funny, Krissy giggling when he described how they use pigeon sh*t for natural leather softening… And then our tour was over.. “OK, take pictures. I’ll show you the Berber Leather Market..”

The Berber Leather Market
berber leather market

We were led out of the tannery, crossing the street to a small storefront, and were introduced to Ahmad… The store walls were covered with hand-made leather bags, Moroccan shoes, and Berber rugs… He began his sales-pitch in perfect English: “Thank you for visiting our tannery, please let me show you the final product… If you like something, we will discuss price, if not, we will part friends…” He showed us the sheep, cow, and camel-skin products, naturally dyed in a rainbow of colors, as well as hand-woven cactus-silk and cotton rugs made by the women…

The Deal
berber leather market

Krissy picked out a camel leather bag and a beautiful rug, and I polished off some dusty negotiation skills… All said and done, we worked out a deal about 1/3 the asking price, and Abdul threw in a free pair of shoes… Guess I still got it! “Who hustled who?”, I thought… The final detail was cash, and with a limited amount with us, we left a downpayment, packing up our goods. In search of an ATM, we were led through the rainy Souk… Twenty minutes walking, sensory overload, an opening, the Square, our original destination from hours earlier… We scored some Durham, paid the debt, and found Abdul and Mohammed waiting for their tips… Turns out they followed us all the way for their piece of the action.. Oh well, another lesson in Marrakech, and we were ready to call it a day…

If you’ll be visiting Marrakech, you might want to check out our Marrakech resource page.


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