Women of the medina

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A wild zephyr burst into the old medina, swirling together exotic fragrances of paprika, cumin, pungent olives, tantalizing pastries, roasting meat- combined with foul odors of dirt, excrement and rotting carcasses. Salesman shout and summon medina patrons inside their niches of the market to uncover treasures and time-sensitive bargains. Behind each treasure is a story, a unique purpose and a destiny. The inherent nascent attachment and necessary detachment of an item creates a special relationship and the item. Thus by showing interest in a seller’s product, you subsequently enter into a relationship with the humble seller.

“Marhaba,” she exclaimed warmly, welcoming us girls into her alcove of vibrantly colored trinkets and goodies.

We smiled and replied, “Shukryn” in cacophonous, unconfident unison.

Her face was framed by a floral patterned hijab and a few loose tendrils of hair. SHe proudly offered us samples of dates, dried apricots and almonds. She also educated us on the endless health and cosmetic benefits of argan oil. After the telling of her elaborate testimonies and her ardorous demonstration of her steadfast selling tactics, we haggled for the magic argan oil and some homemade sweets. She thoughtfully packages up our purchases and echoed “B’salama” as we left.

As most Moroccan merchants had, this particular seller attempted to establish a relationship with us through her maternal relationship with her merchandise. Through the medium of bartering, we courageously entered into a game of negotiations eventually ending in a peaceful compromise. Though in a way, this simple act of bargaining over exotic treats assimilated a greater compromise and exchange of cultural acceptance.

Though the merchant wore a veil and we were unveiled, we were not judged, but instead recognized as equals. Even though our darija was poor, our genuine interest in her business spoke loudly of our eagerness to build bridges and crush ill notions.

Another striking feature of this market encounter was the variation of designs and colors of hijabs. The veils we saw in the marketplace ranged in different lengths, amount of coverage, and intricacy of glittery embellishments; all variants enabling expression of the wearer’s identity. Muslim women parade their hijabs like an Islamic flag and in so doing, embody the role of an heiress, a spokeswoman, and ultimately, an equal.

Contrary to popular belief, the hijab is not a hinderance by any means, but a means for mobilizing identity and community. The hijab in a way creates a bridge between cultures, faiths and gender, while also strengthens inclusive communities. The presence of women in the market, veiled or unveiled facilitates a sense of robust community, individuality and autonomy.

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