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Selling OJ on the Djemaa el-Fna

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Selling OJ on the Djemaa el-Fna

I am staying in a small hotel just off the famous Djemaa el-Fna square in the old medina of Marrakech; the site of tooth pullers, snake charmers, henna artists, Gnawa musicians, water salesmen, cross-dressing belly dancers, and a great number of other creatively enterprising people.
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At night, the food vendors set up. Where there was nothing, a hundred stalls start cranking out food and wheeled carts with sweets crowd the aisles. The snail stalls with snails steamed and served in their shells and savory juices line up at the end of the block of food stalls. Tea carts are in a row at the entrance.
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On either end of the food vendor block, there are rows of orange juice stalls. Unlike the other food vendors, the orange juice stalls are there all the time and open all day. They serve the breakfast crowd and then provide an afternoon pick-me-up and sweet night cap after dinner.

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There are several rows of OJ vendors in various parts of the open square. There are dozens of them and they all sell the same thing—fresh squeezed orange juice for four dirhams (about 35 cents in euros or less than 50 cents in US dollars). You can also get grapefruit or lime juice and bottled mineral water, but the real seller is orange juice.
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All the carts are on wheels even though they are just ‘locked up’ each night by being shrouded in canvas and left on the square 24/7. They all look about the same and have hundreds of oranges arranged in piles topped by glass or plastic to form a counter. The juicers are high up on the carts above the crowd. Since there are dozens of them all in a row looking alike and selling the same product—they try to stand out by calling out to the crowds to get their attention. For several days, I have been greeted, yelled at, begged and generally bombarded by their comments if I walk within 15 feet of any OJ cart. Each time, I have ignored them or smiled slightly and shaken my head, but now I’m going to have to choose which cart will get my business.

I have decided to start drinking orange juice to help absorb the iron supplements I am taking for my anemia. Eight months of iron supplements and my levels hadn't changed by the time I started my RTW. Now I am on the road and I have no way of knowing if the new supplements are being absorbed. A guy in Cuba told me that milk and milk products can block the absorption of iron. I do a little research online and he’s right. But since I seldom eat meat, I am not willing to give up milk and yogurt. In Morocco (and later, Tunisia), I enjoy a naturally fermented milk called Leban or L’ban—sometimes it is my dinner. So when I find out that vitamin C or citrus fruit can help with iron absorption, I decide to treat myself to a glass once a day during my extended stay in Marrakech.

One evening, I have my nightly serving of harira soup at my favorite night vendor’s stall. All they sell is soup, honey-coated pastries and mint tea. The soup is served piping hot from giant metal pots. It’s a deal at 3 dirham (36 cents). I’m not very hungry this night so I skip dinner which is usually fish and vegetables from a nearby stall for another 20-25 dirham and I just have two bowls of harira instead. It is made from tomatoes and other vegetables and has garbanzo beans and short pieces of noodles in it. It’s a cheap and filling meal. The OJ will be my dessert.
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As I head toward the OJ stands, I can already hear the calls from the vendors. I keep the snail carts between me as I eye the choices. But the snail vendors start calling to me, so I step into the stream of people walking by the OJ stands. The OJ guys spot me right away and suddenly, at least ten vendors in the nearest six carts are shrieking at me.

Ahhhhhh! It’s too much. I cross my arms over my chest and turn away giving them my back. When the noise goes down a bit, I turn back around. The sales pitch immediately climbs several decibels again. I am between the two nearest carts. The one on the left has an aggressive guy who is hanging way out over the counter in his enthusiasm. His primary competitors (because they are located next to him) are also calling out to me, but they come off more low key and nice. The other guy is almost remonstrating me.

I keep my arms crossed over my chest, but bring my right hand up to my cheek in an exaggerated pose of decision making. Keeping my hand on my cheek, I turn left and then right, then left and then right again. My head swivels in indecision—which cart do I want? The guys are going crazy and the other vendors pick up on it and join in. I take a step toward the aggressive guy and then flash my left hand in a ‘oh forget it’ signal and step up to the other stand. The aggressive guy is now waving a pitcher of juice at me. The guy in the care in front of me grabs up a sliced orange and says ‘fresh, fresh’ while twisting the half of orange back and forth. I nod and he starts juicing.

In seconds, I have a large glass of fresh orange juice in front of me. The aggressive guy has thrown up his hands and tosses me a look of disgust. I pick up my glass and exaggerate a ‘yum, yum’ response as I drink some. They are all laughing except the aggressive guy who is glowering at me (in a fun way). So starts my relationship with the OJ vendors.

The next day when I pass, the aggressive guy has not given up, but I roll my eyes and rub my tummy and make gestures at my juice makers as if they are fabulous and I just can’t even consider another place. On the third day, my guys have run out of straws and one of them runs over to borrow some from the other stall. When they realize the straws are for me—they throw a handful at him in as if to say ‘what nerve!’ These silly charades are carried out each day with the aggressive guy saying how the guys at my cart have sour oranges, etc. and getting back witty retorts from my guys while I nod in agreement and give the thumbs up to my team. This becomes part of a fun daily ritual of my daily orange juice.

I had stayed In Marrakech for four nights before going to Essaouira and then returning. Now, I had stayed another 10 days and I realized that I hadn’t taken hardly any pictures-- I hadn’t even been carrying my camera with me. So one night when I go to dinner, I take my camera along. I took shots of my soup guy and the soup pots. After my fish, fries and eggplant dinner, I take pictures of the crew that befriended me there (even though I sometimes guiltily frequent another place on the other side that I discovered was much better).
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Then I head to the OJ stands. I wasn’t going to have juice tonight since I had eaten French fries (too many carbs!), but I showed them my camera and asked if I could take a picture of them. I ignored the aggressive guy next door who was holding out his arms and renewing his wooing of me. My juicers gestured for me to join them by coming around to the back of the cart.

So I walked around and climbed up the steps to their platform above the crowds. We exchanged names. They were Mohammad and Mustafa. Mustafa spoke a little Spanish and English. Mohammad had only a few handy English words for getting attention. I had a little French and we patched it together. Mohammad took my camera and asked one of the customers below to take a picture of the three of us…and then, we had fun.

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Mustafa was washing glasses and oranges while Mohammad ran the juicer. I started calling out to the crowds to pull in customers. The other vendors went crazy! Mustafa and Mohammad just looked smug. So there we were, the three of us calling out to the crowds. Since all the vendors are men—a woman’s voice, especially a foreign woman speaking in Spanish caught attention. The Moroccan women did double-takes and then broke into smiles. They loved it! Instead of some of the heh, heh, heh and nonsense noises like the aggressive guy used—I played up how healthy and delicious it was to the women. For the men, I was suggesting how it would make them strong and manly. Mohammad was showing me how to figure out who to concentrate on…of course, mostly it involved looking for the light-skinned foreign tourists. Mustafa was telling me which language to use for each potential customer. They were pretty good at guessing what country each person came from.

When Mohammad switched to slicing oranges, Mustafa suggested I start juicing the oranges. He turned on the juicer and handed me half an orange. With a little instruction, I was now part of the team alternating juicing with calling out to the potential clients. Eventually, I could do both at the same time—what talent! One guy left me 2 dirhams—a fifty percent tip! One of the other vendors came around back and insisted I use his apron. I was wearing a cream colored Moroccan kaftan and he didn’t want me to get it dirty. Several other juicers drifted over to check out my juicing technique.
After a while, my voice was giving out and I was tired. It was time to say goodnight and let Mohammad take back his place in front of the juicer. I thanked them for letting me be part of the team and headed home.

The next day, I contacted a program in Rabat and signed up for Arabic classes. I would be leaving Marrakesh after almost a three week stay (counting my first visit). On my last night, I decided to have some fun. After I had one last bowl of harira, I headed to the OJ carts. Should I buy my last juice from the aggressive guy and make him happy? As I came around the snail cart, I stopped in disbelief. The aggressive guy’s cart was shrouded in canvas…it was closed!

But then I saw him…he was still there at the base of the cart tightening the ropes on the canvas. I walked over to him and dramatically put my hand on my heart with a look of shock and disappointment. I gestured at the cart and told him I had wanted to buy my last orange juice from him. With a big smile, he immediately started to undo the ropes. I stopped him with a motion of my hand and sadly shook my head…he had missed his chance.

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This featured blog entry was written by jaytravels from the blog The Foreigner.
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By jaytravels

Posted Sun, Oct 13, 2013 | Morocco | Comments