A journey into the heart of darkness – a morning in the Marrakech souk

Originally written by Joe back in 2013:

A journey into the heart of darkness – a morning in the Marrakech souk

I sit drinking American Coca Cola and eating an Italian pizza on the balcony of a French restaurant in Morocco. The upper terrace is tranquil compared to the scenes below. I take advantage of the peace to hide from the relentless street traders and use the afternoon sun to simultaneously dry my swim shorts, bronze my skin, and charge my smartphone.

I’ve returned from the heart of darkness. A cold Coca Cola in the wide open square feels like truth and beauty amidst the melee.

The restaurant sits on the bank just south of the entrance to the jungle. From my second storey vantage point I can see the wonderings of those who venture further into its depths, the ebb and flow of the human traffic, all with looks of trepidation and anticipation, knuckles white from holding their chest mounted rucksacks as they prepare to enter the souk, hoping to buy bangles and delicacies but ready to reach for the antibacterial gel at the first sniff of trouble.

They enter cautiously, keeping away from the sides so as not to be snared close to the entrance. They set a central course at a steady pace and gradually leave the sunlight behind and progress into the darkness of the souk.

They navigate the marketplace with a nervous awe, looking, touching, holding, smelling, tasting, lusting and browsing stall after stall of products, each one a literal Alladins cave of endless opportunity, everything attainable for the right buyer, everything available from the right seller.

They won’t look the same when they return from the depths of the darkness. The ‘returners’ are a different breed. The madness of the Souk can change a man.

On their return the pace is slow and pointless, their gaze fixed yet distant, the excitement replaced by loss and bewilderment. They leave the souk drained and stripped of purpose. They drift from side to side, no discernible heading to their course, no ambition in their step, ambling toward the light like drunks towards a sunset, laden with treasures in bags and in hands, armfuls of wondrous mysterious plunder.

Two Australians wear woolen hand made tea cosy hats and looks of utter despair in the thirty five degree heat. A lanky Swede sports a Rolex wristwatch and a Touareg ceremonial war mask, yet has no idea why. A family of Norwegians confusedly clutch wooden camels, polished shades of teak and walnut burr, beautiful yet pointless, handcrafted yet worthless. A skinny German in his mid twenties wears a satchel of fine leather, having never in his life considered purchasing such a product.

The stench of confused consumers reeks in the afternoon heat, dirhams are exchanged indiscriminately – what enters as hard currency exits as worthless tat.

Oh the horror!

What terrible confusion in this, the heart of darkness.

Having escaped from the depths of the souk I think of England, the land of the pure and true, so many miles away from this land of plunder, this savage wilderness where Trading Standards never surfaced from beneath the vicious rolling tide of today’s ‘special price’. The western concepts of chip and pin, receipts and the description of goods act all drowned in an ocean of the unnecessary and the bizarre.

This jungle of consumption is a dangerous free-for-all, trade without limits, sales without scruples.

England, land of the free, home of the brave.

You won’t be locked in a traders stall and forced to exchange your currency for cut rate tat in England.

You won’t have to fight off hordes of salesmen all anxious to pry the pennies from your pockets in England.

You won’t have to buy a bangle of bone for every minute with a monkey in England.

The dark, brutish commercial practise of the souk is abhorrent to us enlightened westerners – it is savage, primal, prehistoric and dangerous.

Us enlightened westerners are far above all that.

We like our salesmen to be impeccably presented with a script well rehearsed.

We like our products to be arranged with clinical precision, symmetrically placed under artificial lights beneath the knowing glare of giant, beautiful, airbrushed idols.

We need our Rolex watches to be presented in photoshopped glory on the inside cover of glossy magazines.

We need our tat to be spread over a two minute segment between airings of our favourite television program.

We need the monkey to be clean and talkative and selling toilet paper.

We don’t have time to barter over price, just give it to us marketed and branded and gift wrapped so we can ignore the 75% profit margin.

Oh the horror, the horror!

I order another Coke, then leave fifty euros and the shirt off my back to make up for a morning of haggling over prices.

We come from the West and oggle at the complexities of business relations in the souk, blind to the fact that the connection between trader and client, between product and price, between value and worth; the central pillars that hold up the purchasing process are entirely lost within western consumer society.

We come here to barter with poor men over pennies to return home and be ripped off by rich men over pounds.

We work jobs we hate to finance products the television told us we wanted, to put in the house we won’t own for decades.

We walk around shopping malls knowing the clothes are substandard and overpriced yet we queue up at cash registers like lemmings off a cliff.

We pay good money for crap products made by poor workers and marketed by well paid geniuses because ‘that’s the way it is’.

The true heart of darkness lurks not within the seedy confines of the old world souk but within the veneer and sheen of everything that motivates and controls humans within the western capitalist machine.

It is vile to its core yet the developed world carries on regardless whilst the poor nations attempt to play catch up, ensnaring the people with the enchantment of exported status symbols and brand names, selling the bandwagon of unreality, until all nations tear down the forests and rip up the grass to build shopping malls and parking lots so humans have somewhere to spend thier wages on worthless products that they use to impress their wealth and prominence upon others.

Oh the horror, the horror!

I consult my €20 Breitling wristwatch and rush to catch my plane, towing a suitcase full of wooden camels, bronze bangles, counterfeit Calvin Kleins and replica Rolexes; gifts for friends and family who will laugh at what they see as the amusing unreality of a counterfeit product – when the reality in which these status symbols and brand names actually exist is a more bizarre illusion than a penniless Arab riding a stinking donkey through a sewage ridden city whilst wearing a Rolex Submariner.

Wake up, world, it’s time we all stopped living in Disneyland and started thinking about doing something worthwhile as a species.

Or we could carry on exactly as we are and wait for everyone to own a Range Rover and a Rolex but what’s the point in that…?

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