Sounds of the medina (Salé, Morocco)

It’s kind of hard to describe the medina. It is a walled part of town with a myriad of old streets and houses and filled to the brim with little stores and market stalls. The atmosphere is alive and bustling. People, vendors, (motor)bikes, carts and animals all share the same space. The air is heavy with sounds and pungent exotic smells from fruit, cooked and uncooked meat, fish and spices. It reminds me of the old medieval guilds of Europe and the market scene from Aladin rolled into one. Almost every vendor seems to be specialised in something. Lots are craftsmen (or women). When you buy a meat sandwich, you are most likely eating the bread that comes from one stall, meat from a nearby butcher, cilantro and spices from the old lady across the street and carrot and onions from the vendor around the corner. It’s not uncommon that you have to wait a bit for your order because the owner of the stall has to run to buy some more bread because he ran out, for example.

The first time we visited the medina in Salé it was a shock to my senses. I generally don’t like crowds and there was so much going on, I had a hard time focusing on what was for sale as I was busy navigating the streets without stepping on produce or bumping into people as well as keeping track of where the kids were.

Now, after a couple of visits to this medina and also the one in Rabat on the other side of the river, I can say I really enjoy walking the streets, finding new exciting things to see, eat and drink. People are friendly, open to conversation, curious about the girls (especially 5 year old Lauren with her almost blond hair) but not pushy. Before coming to Morocco I heard a lot of stories about how pushy people were, how they crowd you and touch you and trick you into paying for services you did not request. While maybe true in other cities, we have not been harassed at all here.

Yesterday Lauren fell over trying to walk around a puddle. Suddenly a man rushed up, helped pick her up and cleaned her knees, asking if she was all right before parting ways.

While at a stall waiting for our order of a chicken cilantro sandwich a women approached asking for money. The owner of the stall immediately shooed her away, telling her in no uncertain terms to leave his customers alone (I didn’t need to understand Arabic to get was was being said). She apologised and left.

A couple of nights ago we had mint tea in a cafe. An older man approached and sat down at our table, asking where we were from. Upon hearing we are from the Netherlands he started talking to us in Dutch, explaining he used to live and work in Eindhoven in the ’70’s. He talked, like a lot. He was very nice but possibly a little bit confused. It was hard to fully understand what he was talking about half of the time. The owner, unprompted by us,  asked him to leave us alone several times and when he didn’t (and knocked over a bottle of water) a couple of men from the establishment stepped forward to ultimately remove the man from the cafe. He later briefly came back and apologised, before being “escorted” out again.

When we entered a small establishment that sold interesting looking sandwiches, a young man approached, welcomed us to Morocco and began explaining what everything was that went onto the sandwich (fried globs of mashed potato with cilantro, tuna, vegetables, mayo and harissa – very good!), finished his sandwich and left.

People watch out for each other here. Upbringing doesn’t seem to stop when people reach adulthood. The social control seems to be very much an integral part of society. While I’m sure that also has downsides (when you live here) it does make me feel very safe perusing the streets as a tourist.

On our facebook page we posted a little album with pictures from the medina in Salé. But I also wanted to try something different. I can’t share all the smells in the air with you (I wish I could!!) but I can share some of the sounds.

Of course we also filmed our little trips but it will take a while before that gets uploaded.

So, without further ado, please enjoy this little compilation of clips of the sounds of the medina. I recorded this yesterday while walking the streets. Be sure to listen for the chickens (that was a butcher shop!) and the muezzin in the background.


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