Monday, March 08, 2010

Watch your hands!

When walking over Djemaa el Fnaa, the famous square and centre of old Marrakech, watch out!! If not, you may get a full henna decoration whether you want it or not. If you are a woman, that is. We experienced this, and it was a very unpleasant episode.

Djemaa el Fnaa is a natural extension of the nearby soukhs by day. Here you find everything from herbal remedies to leather bags, metal objects or rugs.

Walking around you will be approached by strangely dressed men, with or without snakes or monkeys. One important piece of advice is – do not take any photos or let any creature crawl or sit on your shoulders. You will have to pay up for this alluring Maghreb experience.

We were however, this first day in Marrakech, unaware of another threat. All over Djemaa el Fnaa, there were women in colourful Niqābs, i.e. costumes covering all, except their hands and a little area around the eyes. We were to learn that those were the henna women.

I had turned away for a short moment, discovering as I turned back that a henna women had grabbed Susanne's wrist and started to work on a crude decoration. The maneuver was so fast, that she did not manage to pull the hand away, and suddenly she had dragged her over to a low stool to continue her masterpiece, not listening to Susanne's objections.

Susanne ended up with a large lump of thick henna on her right hand, sprinkled with glitter. The real drama started when she was to pay for her decorations.

As all this had been a involuntarily imposed service, we never intended to pay more or even anything. In addition to this, it was a very crude, low quality piece of body decoration. For all this, the henna woman demanded 200 dirhams (17,50 EUR). The answer was a no!! Then she started a clever negotiation process by asking; "how much is this worth?" As an answer to this, Susanne picked a 20 dh note out of her purse. The amount was clearly not what the henna woman had in mind. She expressed this by throwing the not on the ground stepping on it.

That was the last straw, and we left the area, with the woman in our heals. When she found out that there was nothing more than 20 dh in it for her, she gave up, leaving Susanne with a nasty lump of thick henna on her hand.

We went over to Les Terraces de l'Alhambra, the coffee shop that became our favourite during our stay. Susanne went immediately into the bathroom and washed away the henna. It left a crude pattern behind, and even though the woman had claimed that it would last for a month, it disappeared during the coming two days.

This is a warning to those of you that will wander past Djemaa el Fnaa in the near future. Be aware of the henna women. If you plan to get a henna decoration, do consult your hotel to get a high quality product.

More on Djemaa el Fnaa

See this 360 degree view from my visit.

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