I stroll into the Khemisset Carpet Market (souk, in the local lingo) just after 7 am on a quiet Tuesday. The sun has just peaked over the horizon. The rustic, fading structure where the carpet market is held is barely awake. Vendors shuffle quietly in and out with their wares. Delivery carts wobble precariously up and down the aisles, their owners dropping off heavy carpets as they prepare for the busy day ahead.
One of the unofficial head vendors of the Khemisset Carpet Market, Fatima, is a force to be reckoned with. She spots me from a dusty distance. Her smile widens as she comes over to greet me. I feel quite pleased as she plants extra kisses on the last cheek, normally reserved for close friends and family.
We sit on rustic burlap mats and I immediately dig into my bag. I share roasted almonds with her and the older group of ladies with whom she chats during tea breaks. It’s not my first time sitting down with Fatima. I have purchased some smaller rugs from her in the past and she has excellent prices. However, she is a seasoned entrepreneur and agreeing on a price takes time and patience. It’s a fine dance.
Today, I have my eye on a gorgeous, large navy blue and white rug. I have, I’ll admit, been admiring this particular piece for a while.
I’ve been there for maybe half an hour. Daylight streams through the crumbling open windows. Its arrival somehow makes me feel sleepy. Time in the Khemisset Carpet Market is defined by sunrise, tea breaks and lunchtime.
My banter with Fatima and her friends continues. Though I only speak a smattering of Arabic and Fatima only speaks a little bit of French, we make do. We chat in a singsong mix of French, Arabic, and are quick to laugh.
I compliment Fatima’s eyes. There is something about her eyes that are fascinating. She must be in her early 60s, but she is not sure of her exact age.
Fatima laughs and says, “Years ago, yes. Now, I am missing teeth and my eyes are old. My skin, too.” She tugs on her cheeks comically.
“But your eyes are so bright. You are strong woman. I can see it in your eyes.”
“I am strong.” She gestures to her arms as if she is showing her strength. “I divorced my husband years ago. I have two children. I am the mother and the father.“
I want to hear more of her story but these intricate details are difficult to explain with gestures and no fluent common language.
I show them pictures of my family. They laugh loudly when I say that I don’t have boys, only a male cat. We sip on some more sweet, mint tea and I almost forget why I am there — my rug!
Navy blue and white rugs are a little less mainstream in Morocco. In fact, Fatima is one of the only vendors who has them in the Khemisset Carpet Market on this particular day. Most blue and white rugs also contain a lot of red. I’ve been told that blue is the hardest dye to recreate and red is the easiest. I am being picky and I just want navy blue and white.
Fatima pulls the majestic rug off the disintegrating wall. This is a telltale sign that we are moving into phase two — Negotiation.
“How much is it?” I ask.
“It’s very good quality. Big rug. Look, Tarhhha.” She emphasizes the ‘h’ in my Arabic-sounding name. “Feel it.”
“I know,” I say casually, trying to hide my love of this rug. “So, how much?”
“2,500 dirhams,” she says. Roughly $300.00.
“No way!” I tell her. “Absolutely not.”
The conversation goes on. And on. Fatima only budges a wee bit. As in a few hundred dirhams. I am not used to such a tough negotiation. I have lived all over West and Central Africa and I am accustomed to bargaining in markets and getting my deal. I know the tricks of the trade, or at least I thought I did — don’t look too interested, walk away if necessary, start low with your price, be firm.
In the end, Fatima refuses my offer of 1,700 dirhams. She is a tough negotiator. Luckily, I have plenty of time to go back. There are no sore feelings. I will surely buy again. She does have some of the best rugs at the souk. And the Khemisset Carpet Market, albeit tattered and tarnished as a rusty penny on the side of the road, still has excellent prices for rugs if you are willing to get your shoes a little dusty.
A Week Later — I meander back to the Khemisset Carpet Market, negotiate some more, and buy the carpet. Final price: 2,000 dirhams. It was more than I was originally planning, but this piece is not one you see everyday here in Morocco. It’s also a lot less than one would pay in cities like in Fez, Marrakesh or even Rabat. The quality is outstanding and the colors are exactly what I wanted. And of course, Fatima and I shared some more tea together.
Tara Fraiture is a dual British-American national. She now lives in Morocco with her cat, three kids and husband. In her free time, Tara enjoys belly dancing (badly) and impersonating accents (she’s a whiz, much to her children’s delight). Tara has happily lived in Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, El Salvador, and Qatar. After many years of teaching French and Spanish, this global nomad found her passion (or perhaps her demise) in freelance journalism and she has been furiously writing ever since. And as she puts it, “writing is cheaper than therapy.” Humor is part of her mantra, as well as finding stories with heart and human connection.