The silent presence: Women in the Market

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Saturday morning in Meknes and the market was already bustling with people. Shoppers, sellers, wanderers, it’s an ideal place for people watching really. As a white girl walking with another white girl, both with purses over our shoulders, it was as easy to identify us as if we were holding signs that said “tourists.” They all wanted us to turn to their shop, they were there waiting to market their goods. Their eyes were trained to look for us yet my eyes were also looking, not just at the goods, not just at the prices, but for the women.

Honestly, they were few and far between in contrast to the mass of men in the market. Only recently had it opened up to female sellers anyways. A man who wanted us to look in his rug shop directed us his way. “Taliba (student)” we said, attempting to clarify that we probably wouldn’t be buying a rug from him. “Ah, you are students? That’s ok, that’s ok, come, follow me to my friend’s shop!” We followed him through the windy and narrow paths of the market and into a tucked away corner upon which we entered an iron-work shop. The old man that was there greeted his friend and was happy to greet us as well. There was a lot to take in as we gazed around the shop, it felt like we had entered a magical corner of the city, a place where the handcrafted lamp really might have a genie inside.  Sitting on a stool though, as quiet as the entrance of the magical corner, was a lovely woman wearing a beautiful head scarf and matching purple jellaba, I smiled into her dark brown eyes, yet only for a moment. We browsed the shop, I negotiated over a beautiful elephant, and then we left happy with our purchases.

Then we noticed. Where had the woman gone? Somewhere in between when we walked in and when we left she had snuck out of the room, we had been so distracted by the men’s negotiations, yet the message to her had been clear: she was not needed at the time. We continued to walk and, admittedly, got lost. Our wandering led us to less traveled parts of the market and we noticed some older women sitting on the ground with mats in front of them selling items noticeably less grand than the more established booths of the men. The women sat though and they did not get in our faces over how we needed to look at what they had to offer. They sat, and albeit they were quiet, but they had a humble statement: they too could sell in the market, they, like the men, could be there—a competition if you will, selling in the market.

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