If you think that buying a local ensemble
is a simple act of entering a shop
and selecting what you like,
Cara recently had a couple of her local Moroccan friends from the desert in the south, Mouna and Soumia, take her on a shopping expedition at the souk (or traditional market) in Errachidia, to buy an outfit for a special celebration. As is customary in this part of the world, the party was to celebrate the birth of a baby seven days earlier. The newborn’s father was a relative of Mouna’s.
Originally, Cara had just thought to buy an embellished belt to suit a dark purple caftan, with silver diamantes sewn into its fabric, like a depiction of the sahara night sky, that her friend’s mother had gifted Cara.
This is her experience of buying an entire ensemble instead. It was fun and an insight into the art of shopping, Moroccan style.
Initially, Cara did select a gold belt for her deep purple caftan, but then the store owner showed her a cream-coloured caftan with gold saffron-coloured stitching (to go with the belt). A marathon of trying accessories later, and Cara went home with a few more items than she’d planned on – and all of it for about $A200.
Her packages contained:
- The beautiful cream caftan with gold embellishment.
- Cream coloured undergarments, so even with the slit in the front of the caftan, modesty was not compromised.
- The gold belt, which one wears just under the bustline (not on the waist).
- Two gold embellished arm bands to keep the sleeves up, so they remain clear of tagine or other food-related stains.
- One gold chain that hangs over both shoulders, similarly to a backpack, with a large feature pendant that hangs down the back around waist level, reminding Cara that for Moroccans, even the back is considered sensual. It was an accessory Cara had not noticed before, demonstrating there is always something to discover about Morocco.
- A gorgeous faux pearl choker.
But that’s not all she got included in that 200 Aussie dollars.
The friends moved on to another store where Cara bought a ring and a multi-band faux gold bracelet. Her friends also urged her to buy a piece of jewellery similar to a necklace, but worn as a headband. It’s secured under the hair with black elastic and since the two local ladies knew what they were talking about and were there to help her with the money side of things, Cara did not say ‘no’.
Men may not understand the allure of shopping for an outfit in a foreign country, but women just ‘get it’, and can appreciate how Cara felt, indulging her friend’s desire to have her enjoy the experience to the nth degree. Moroccan ladies love shopping at the souk!
The shopping expedition did not finish there.
At another store, Cara bought a pale dusky pink, sparkly handbag with some traditional gold and white striped Babushes (soft leather slippers). Since it was winter, these were a bit hard to find, especially as Cara is a size 41, which is not a common size for women in Morocco.
Then, surveying all Cara’s purchases they all laughingly agreed, “Le look est complet.”.
Cara said, “I was lucky in that Mouna and her friend had sufficient time, and the interest to style me. Mouna bargained on my behalf and she wrote down the price of each item to make sure all was clear, before I paid.”
Cara said they also checked the bag contained all the items purchased each time they left a store. Apparently, this is good practice.
Cara was particularly impressed with the caftan seller’s customer service. He was from Rissani, and a fellow tribe-member of Mouna’s which seemed to add a lot of ease, cooperation and trust to the shopping experience.
Cara said, “He spent some time with us after we bought our items from him; to help us find the shoes – he took us to at least three shops. He also stopped mid-way through selling his wares to me, to ask our okay to his leaving to take lunch and pray. So we just sat in his shop for about 20 minutes chatting, while we waited for him to return.”.
Getting around with Moroccan friends can often reveal aspects of the country not always obvious to visitors. After shopping, Cara and friends returned later that night from Errachidia to Erfoud. They were pulled over at a police checkpoint so the paperwork of Mouna’s friend, Soumia the driver, could be checked. It is not common in the south to see a woman driving. It is also uncommon for women to travel whilst unaccompanied by a male relative to take care of them, (more than to supervise or control them). Soumia told the policeman in her authoritative manner, “I am a teacher” and gave a few details about their movements that day. The policeman then declined to look at her proffered paperwork and said (apparently, as it was in Arabic and Cara later asked for it to be translated), “I respect the teachers. Please continue.”.
The baby celebration was the next day.
Cara went with Mouna and they each bought a large bag of sugar to give the mother of the newborn, as is traditional, as well as other gifts for the new baby, the mother, and the baby’s siblings, so the latter didn’t feel left out. Cara’s Moroccan garb got lots of appreciative feedback. She had been a little concerned to be wearing such an embellished “look”, as in western culture as we know, it is considered bad taste for a guest to seem to be attempting to overshadow the main participants in a celebration, in the fashion stakes. But Mouna assured her there was no need to worry about her new caftan and “bijouterie” (jewellery), as she was simply following Moroccan tradition in wearing it.
At the celebration the guests – the ladies in their best caftans who came in the daytime, accompanied by their children (whilst the men attended in the evening) – were offered a range of perfumes to spray on themselves. There was also a small burner of fragrant spice. One is supposed to let the smoke from that waft up inside your caftan as the beautiful smell is said to keep the bad spirits or jinns away.
They ate olives, a dark brown-coloured homemade sweet of a sandy consistency (like the sand dunes that dominate the region), roast chicken, tagine beef with prunes, fresh fruit grown in the local oasis, sweets and tea. Cara noticed that the ladies were each handed a small plastic bag into which they placed a few mouthfuls of chicken and bread. Mouna had predicted they would all do this, as it is the tradition for women to take this food home to those of their children who are not present at the celebration. Cara had wondered why they weren’t eating the chicken like she was, but Mouna assured her it was okay to do so.
Cara said, “I was lucky to be sitting next to another lady who spoke French, so I had someone else to speak with at the event other than Mouna, freeing Mouna to socialise more with others who were present, many of whom were members of her extended family.”.
This other lady, a neighbour of the newborn’s family, was also a teacher and her husband worked at the Palace at Erfoud – the Royal family has them dotted all over Morocco, many of which are full of functionaries, but not Royalty. She was likewise pregnant and Cara made a mental note to send a message on or shortly after the due date, asking after her and to wish her the best.
Whilst this event was simple, and conversation was necessarily limited, attending the celebration of a newborn’s birth was a trip highlight for Cara. It was an honour to be included in such an intimate family occasion.
If you would like to purchase a caftan ensemble, similar to this experience, let us know at the time of booking with us. You will need to allocate at least half a day for this.
Published December 2023. Copyright Aussies In Morocco Tours.