ALMOST VEGETARIAN.

As I followed the tour group through the narrow passages of the Marrakech Souk my

senses went into overdrive. Unfamiliar smells assaulted my nostrils and a sea of humanity

instantly engulfed us making it difficult to stay together. I pinned my eyes firmly on

Tariq, our guide, as he pushed his way through, his arm raised, a red cloth clutched in his

hand for identification.

Unlike back home in Australia, these people did not say ‘sorry’ when they

roughly pushed you aside or stepped on your toes. Nor did they smile. At times I was

pushed along unwillingly, at other times my path was blocked and I experienced brief

moments of panic as I lost sight of our group. I gripped my son Chip tightly, but that too

was difficult and I was often forced to let go. We staggered through the aisles between

huge pyramids of colorful spices as I wondered at such vast quantities. Walls of towering

dates loomed up all around me. I had never seen such fat, juicy looking dates. Wide-eyed,

I stared at the enormous baskets of olives of many hues. There were black ones, browns,

greens, yellow and red. Who would have known? After walking for miles we came upon

the pastry section. Again, the displays were enormous and the variety staggering. They

were some of the prettiest decorated sweets I had ever seen and I was sorely tempted to

purchase some but hesitated at the thought of lagging behind my mob. Also, Chip pointed

out the noisy swarms of bees that were covering many of them.

The exotic surroundings were a bombardment to my customary Aussie

perceptions of ‘life’. A serious drawback was my claustrophobia and at times I felt as if I

was smothering beneath a mountain of foreign flesh – not all of it washed. My nostrils

quivered before the onslaught of sweat, tobacco smoke from pipes unknown sweet

fragrances and other more odious smells.

Hours passed and I felt sure I had left my familiar planet and arrived in a fantasy

labyrinth of colour and movement. Indeed, without our guide I would never be able to

find my way back to blue skies and fresh air.

Cramped stalls overflowed with brilliant silks and rich carpets. Dazzling jewels

and yellow gold abounded. Wide eyed I trudged on, occasionally stopping long enough to

try and take a photograph despite the many bumps to my elbows.

Shoppers, hawkers, strident sounds, background hum, jabbing elbows, heavy feet,

bad breath in my face, wonderment and panic, all experienced on aching feet as a sense

of time was lost. Sometimes I wished I could take wings and escape overhead from this

dungeon I felt trapped in. Other times I felt compelled to try just one more camera shot.

Such was the case when I spied the snail man. He was old, bearded and had his greasy

hair tied in a scarf. His was no shop, no stall, no table – just an expanse of wall behind

him. And that wall was covered shell to shell with millions of snails. They slithered about

as high as three metres up the wall and one metre across…but no further. How did they

know their boundaries? Were they trained?

I was tempted to question the old vendor but he was busy placing handfuls of them in

bags for customers and it was doubtful he spoke English so I let it pass as just another of

life’s little mysteries.

We trudged on, mostly in silence, preserving energy. It took great effort to

communicate above the noise and bobbing heads. Finally, Tariq stopped at the head of

his straggly followers and raised his hand and the red cloth. When the last of his group

was counted he said, “We are almost to the end of the Souk and we will now pass

through the meat market.” Having some familiarity with third world meat markets from

earlier travels, I winced.

For me, time had stopped soon after we entered this Moroccan Souk so I cannot

rightly say how long we traversed these tight spaces in this house of horrors. It may have

been an hour. It seemed like days. The difference in this and other meat markets of my

experience was that the others were all outdoors. Enclosed within these crowded walls,

the stench had us all gagging immediately. It crawled up your nose and into your belly. It

penetrated your clothes and clung to your hair. It wiped out clear thought, leaving only

the instinct to cover the nose and try not to vomit. I passed mountains of un-refrigerated

dead flesh, origins unknown. Entrails hung and blood still dripped in places. Much of it

was camouflaged by the coat of feverish flies which were having a banquet. I found it so

sickening that I cast my eyes down whenever possible. And then…and then, I saw it! A

large group of camels, – or so I thought. Raising my eyes I followed the hooves up and up

but only to the knee caps. There it stopped. Yes, neatly stacked against the wall was

about a hundred camel’s lower legs. Better still, beside them, roughly piled high and

covering a metre square table were their tongues. Honestly, those tongues were enormous

and the sight of them there, waiting to be devoured, was the final straw. Unable to draw

my eyes away, as if mesmerized by the ghoulish sight, I looked higher and saw the head

attached to the wall. Instinctively I brought my camera up. No-one back home would

believe this.

You are probably fortunate that I cannot show you the photo. Again I failed.

This time it was because of the straw broom that the angry camel-man wielded in my

direction as he chased me with a tirade of obvious abuse.

And so my day ended. It was not my first Souk. I have happier memories of one

in Turkey, and I saw no camels there, but this one has had a lasting effect. I now

seldom eat meet.

1001 Words.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bill Dorsey
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 13:59:45

    Truly, third world meat markets make me wish I could photosynthesis! Of course, I
    Would need to avoid vegetarians then! 🙂

    Reply

    • June Collins
      Jul 13, 2014 @ 20:04:18

      My family does have a lot of vegetarians Bill. And my brother, a cattle breeder, exhorts us all to eat meat. In third world countries I avoid meat. One never knows the source — which shows, it’s all in the head.

      Reply

  2. Helena
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 21:27:38

    The day my dear friends in Egypt opened their small restaurant they, as is the custom, were to slaughter a young camel, dip their hands into the blood and place their hands on the window’s of the restaurant. That was the very day when I had to make a business trip into Cairo, and my friends waited as long as possible for my return so I could witness the slaughter and also dip my hands into the blood–with a sigh of relief, I apologized for having missed the event.

    Reply

  3. Sheila Luecht
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 23:21:24

    A wonderful and honest travel tale.

    Reply

  4. Joanna kilroy
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 00:37:29

    Felt like I was there with you. You are a very descriptive writer– and I’ve enjoyed all your books. Any chance of another??

    Reply

    • June Collins
      Jul 14, 2014 @ 06:37:04

      Hi Joanne, I’m not sure about another book. I don’t want to write about raising the children. It was not all good times and I want to write happy, uplifting stories. Thanks for the compliments.

      Reply

  5. Lee
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 02:19:46

    I can understand even one with the strongest of stomach could be turned off meat after such an experience…but do you still eat turkey? 😉

    Reply

    • June Collins
      Jul 14, 2014 @ 06:35:09

      I eat most poultry, Lee, but turkey is my least favorite. It can be dry and it is so big that you get sick of eating it. My favorite meals are grilled salmon or shellfish.

      Reply

  6. Susan Joyce
    Jul 22, 2014 @ 18:50:07

    Fun, reminding me of how scary a crowded souk can be.

    Reply

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