BERBER SOUK

 With photographer's field notes

 

 

Pre-dawn arrival to a remote patch of desert in eastern Morocco. An epic, sprawling souk (market) shaking off the winter desert night: stirrings of Berber vendors and buyers, chickens, goats, turkeys, camels, caged pigeons and rabbits. Hardware, cookware, carpets, spice pyramids, heaps of produce, tangled masses of clothes (both new and worn), colossal baskets of grain and livestock fodder and flatbread, every need for daily life of man and beast strewn over a vast open field.

 

A concession of aged, round-tubed televisions where a grizzled, bespectacled man snores from a broken chair, his feet propped on a shattered-screen Toshiba. Fresh-slaughtered whole lamb and goat hanging from hooks. Goat heads awaiting the soup kettle stacked on listing tables. Ragged tents of sellers.

 

Pungent smells - animal dung, grilling meats, tobacco, human sweat, bubbling vats of stews and soups, carts of fresh mint (the national drink: mint tea) - swirling through a cinematic back-light of red sun and cook-fire smoke. Sooty pathways scattered with animal viscera, hanks of livestock hair, rotted produce and clots of blood and feathers of recently-dispatched chickens.

 

In the dimness, through smoke-haze and dust of the ages, robed, hooded forms emerge and fade as apparitions.

 

Granite-like faces pass, boney and drawn, fractured and furrowed from a lifetime of taking a wage from an unkind land. Unflinching eyes, coal black and in deep-set squints from eternal desert wind and sun.

 

Here there are no women; in rural North Africa, women typically stay in the home.

 

The waking song of Had-Raa souk: Roosters decreeing sunrise, donkeys and camels braying, sheep bleating before butchering, roaming vendors shouting their wares, buyers and sellers raucously haggling in guttural Berber. A faint prayer call from a distant minaret; wailing Arabic music from the cracked speaker of a CD seller.   A raw song.   A song of life.