After taking some time to admire the architecture, I head downstairs to visit the carpet shop that is right next door. Aziz, the concierge at the hotel, accompanies me and once inside the shop, proceeds to show me carpets. I select a small blue one, and Aziz introduces me to his wife, Manar, who is the weaver. But instead of finishing the transaction, she motions to me to join her at her loom.
What are the odds that I would have a second chance to weave on a carpet loom in Morocco?
I take off my shoes and sit down next to her on a cushion. Manar only speaks Berber but that did not pose a barrier to our communication. I would later learn that her name means "lighthouse" which is pretty fitting. I watch as she throws a weft thread through the upright warp. She then hands me a beater - a heavy iron comb with a handle that must weight two pounds - and motions to me to beat the weft down. The beater makes a 'chick chick' sound against the warp threads. She throws the weft through again, and turns to me with effervescent eyes and with a big smile, and says "chick chick chick" which is my cue to beat the weft down again. After 3-4 rows of weaving, she demonstrated how she cuts her yarn for the knots and then shows me how to tie them. She is happy to pause while I take a pictoral of this process which you will find here, starting in the third row of photos.
I continue to add knots to the warp threads, almost as fast as Manar. After about half an hour of weaving and knotting, I turn at the sound of a male voice. It's Mark. "It figures we would find you here. If we're missing Heather, we just start looking for a carpet loom." It's time to go visit a nearby historical site. "Do I have to?" I whine, not wanting to leave the loom. "It's completely up to you," Mark responds. Reluctantly, I make the decision to put down my beater and put on my shoes, and signal to Manar that I need to leave. "But I will be back to buy that carpet."
Our group is escorted down the side of the hotel, past a tomb of a holy person who's name I cannot remember, and through fields of beans and alfalfa bordered by irrigation ditches and dotted with olive and pomegranate trees. Our guide points to charred trunks of date palms, and says that the farmers use fire to treat a parasite. Mohamed looks up and then starts hunting the ground for things to throw, and after several tries, dislodges a cluster of fresh dates, which he and I knosh on with relish. A little further on, we come to a wide dry riverbed, which our guide says is their road to Mecca. Beyond the dried riverbed, peeking out from a palm grove, is the most remarkable building I have yet seen - the Kasbah Amridil.
This 17th century citadel is primarily a museum, and one of the most famous buildings in Morocco, even being featured on the old 50 dirham note. Some scenes from 'Laurence of Arabia' were filmed here. We meet another guide, who walks us through an entrance in the ornate walls, and starts our tour in a courtyard filled with artifacts which include an olive press, several clay cook pots and lanterns, and a form used for making the rammed earth walls. My annotated photos of the Kasbah Amridil are here.
We return to the Ait Ben Moro through the bean and alfalfa fields, and Doug and I go back to the carpet shop. Aziz assists in finalizing my purchase, and then extends an invitation from Manar to join her for tea in their home. We walk to the one story building that he points out, and Manar invites us in. She shows us her kitchen, an immaculate room with glass-fronted cabinetry and modern appliances, and the bathroom which has both Western and Turkish style toilets.
She then leads us to a room that is the same style as Said's home - low cushioned couches lining unadorned white walls, a ceiling edged with heavy crown moldings and sporting medallions that support hanging lamps. A low round table covered with two tablecloths is already set with tea and dried fruit. Soon the table is covered with bread, jam, honey and butter, and Manar and her mother Fatna join us. A young woman who is a recent university graduate tells us in flawless English that everything we are being served, was produced on their land. We also learn that in spite of having a modern kitchen, Fatna continues to bake bread every morning in the wood-fired oven in their back yard. "Tastes better," she says.
It was such an honor to be invited into this home. The rug Manar wove and which I would carry home on the plane (not trusting it to checked baggage), now has special significance and I will treasure it always. I have a goal of learning Berber so I can speak with her directly when I return to Morocco.
And now I want to buy a carpet loom...