Saturday, April 17, 2010

The story of Muahsin

So, after i had breakfast in the riad, Muahsin arrived. Muahsin is a riad’s .. bellboy, sort of. He helps around the house, runs all kinds of errands, goes food shopping if needed and so on. He also sometimes acts as a guide for people staying in the riad. Since his English is quite modest he can only show you where to go, for additional information about sights and places, one should really hire an official guide. Official guides in Fes are strictly licensed, they wear special nametags and are very knowledgable about history and local culture, or so i’m told. It’s forbidden for a usual person to supplement his income by being a guide for tourists. I’ve heard that punishments can be very harsh. But people still do it, it can be easy money if you find the right tourist. I guess forbidding locals to freelance as guides is for protection - both for the quality of the service and for the tourists themselves. If you’re interested in history and architecture for example, i doubt a random guy off the street can tell you much about it. He is also much more likely to drag you to his cousin’s leather shop, or even to potentially dangerous situations/places. Then again, i’m sure official guides have their little tricks as well - favorite shops or restaurants they might happily recommend etc. In any case, first time when me and Ylle were visiting Fes, we asked Muahsin to show us some nice places in the medina. Like tanneries, local markets and such. So we would all go walking in the medina, Muahsin would walk about 30m ahead of us and we would follow him. The deal was that if anybody was going to ask questions, we'd be like "We don't know him, we're just walking around on our own". Sometimes we lost sight of him and took the wrong turn and end up in a very wrong place somewhere, but he'd always find us very quickly and lead us back to the path of righteousness :).

When we went to visit the tanneries, he first gave us both a bundle of fresh peppermints.  (<< Ylle sniffing her little peppermint bush). Tannery is a place where they process raw animal skins and because of the raw materials and chemicals used the stench can be absolutely foul, so the fresh peppermint was a nice touch. I ended up chewing the leaves and breathing through my mouth, rather then trying to hide the stench by sniffing the peppermint plants close up. Tanneries are actually very health damaging places to work in, some workers spend their days waist-deep in the dye-pits full of harsh chemicals which usually cause permanent health issues. The pay is rather low and most of the workers are from quite poor background. At the same time, Fes is quite known for it’s quality soft leather and streets around tanneries are full of small shops all selling leather goods/clothes. I’m told that leather clothes in Fes are very reasonably priced (after bargaining of course), but I’ve no idea whatsoever what is reasonable price in this case. I’ve never bought a single piece of leather clothing from Morocco. Actually, now that I think about it – I’ve never bought a single piece of leather clothing in my whole life, how sad is that? I did buy a hippie-looking leather bag for about 200DH in Marrakech and although it’s a nice bag, leather is soft and seems durable, it’s trouble is that it tends to stain my clothes when I wear it too long. Makes me think that i probably wouldn't dare to buy a leather jacket for a conciderably more money and then stress about it possibly leaving residue. 

Tannery photo-stream:

Ylle with a donkey laden with raw cowhides, Muahsin on the background

Raw hides drying in the sun before being colored

Raw hides drying on the rack. Dye-pits

During our visit the dye-pits were very monochromatic, usually they are filled with all kinds of different chemical dyes and are quite colorful to photograph

Tannery worker

Colored hides drying in the sun

Tannery worker

A guy laying out colored skins to dry

Pieces of leather already cut into shape for future products

Me and Ylle told Muahsin from the beginning that we are not interested in shopping, that he shouldn't take us to any kinds of shops. So he didn’t, instead he took us to a local "bar" (can you even call something a "bar" if alcohol is not served?) somewhere deep in the medina and bought us tea. The bar itself wasn’t much to look at, a very local place with tired looking pool tables and dirty furniture. But it’s not like we were brought there to show us the establishment, the whole visit served a purpose of showing us off to his friends. It was kind of amusing to observe, he definitely seemed to score point for having two blond girls with him:

Muahsin with a friend

Ylle sitting and keeping a watchful eye out

So, when visiting Fes this time, it was very nice to meet Muahsin again. He is very eager and seems to be a genuinely kind person. There’s a certain flare of innocence and naiveté about him,

specially when he shows you his precious photo album of friends and family or takes you to visit his home. He displays also a complete lack of interest in flirting which is just you cannot imagine how refreshing. I don’t even know if he thinks the riad guests are out of his league, or it’s strictly forbidden for him, or his too shy, or maybe he just finds us all Europeans dirt ugly, but whatever it is, it makes it very easy to spend time with him.  I think he’s about 25-30 years old, but because he’s rather small and modest, it’s easy to think he’s younger. He is single, but i don't even know if it's perfectly normal in Morocco for a man in his age or is he rather an odd one out. He speaks English enough to converse, but far from very fluent conversation. I usually keep forgetting that i should speak slower and use simpler words. I remember once i had to ask Muahsin to organize a taxi for us. The conversation went something like that: „Muahsin, my man, do you think you could do us a tiny favour and get us a some wheels, around three would be super. How do you think, can you wing it?“ Muahsin /thinking/: „WTF?“. Of course he didn’t understand. But Ylle had it down cold: „Muahsin! Taxi, today, three o’clock. Thank you!“ /big smile/. 

This time however Muahsin was not well. As much as i could gather from his modest medical English, he had been in a motorcycle accident, broken his legs and spent a month in the hospital afterwards. All that happened already few months ago, he was now walking around with crutches. But nontheless, he wanted to go walking in medina so we headed out, very slowly and carefully. We visited that good old local bar again to score some points for him, dropped off some photo prints of his friends that i had taken on my previous visit, went to the food market etc. I should’ve known better, because although slowly and carefully, we covered a lot of ground that day and his legs started really hurting in the night. Me and the riad's last minute guest Richard were sitting in the riad kitchen, blabbering until the wee hours of the morning, when Muahsin came in and said that he couldn’t sleep. You could see from his face already that the guy was in major pain and he didn’t have anything to relieve it with. I gave him all my ibuprofen pills that i had left in my little medicine bag and warned him to use them cautiously. He is such a frail man, specially after being in a hospital for a long time, last thing i wanted was him to overdose on my pills. Later in the morning he said that the pills really helped and his legs didn't hurt anymore. He also said that he doesn’t have any painkillers at home which made me wonder later if he doesn’t know that ibuprofen-type pills are available as over-the-counter drugs in pharmacies or he just couldn’t afford them.


Muahsin, Karim and me in the riad's lounge

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