Why did the djaj cross the road?

Picture: A man unloads crates of fruit outside the souq.
Picture: Just outside the souq.

I got another chance to practice speaking Darija today, when our Darija teachers took us to the Souq al Khemis (“Thursday Market”) and turned us loose for an hour. A souq is an open-air market. Touristy souqs in the medina offer scarves, leather goods, tajine pots, and so on, but this was not that kind of souq. This was a souq for routine grocery shopping, and we were definitely the only non-Moroccans there.

We hit up the poultry aisle first, and by aisle I mean dusty path through the market, and by poultry I mean live chickens upon live chickens everywhere with their feet tied. I wanted to get a chicken, mostly because the Arabic word for chicken, “djaj,” is really fun to say. But I didn’t want to think about taking it to the butcher on the other side of the souq, so I didn’t come home with any djajes today.

After the djajes were the goats, sheep, and cows… all live, of course. Then the slaughterhouse. I thought about going inside, but I took one look in and saw some things I didn’t want to see and kept on walking. Nope nope nope. Call me a city girl, but I like to think my meat comes from the magic meat-producing machine in Stop & Shop. Next up: lots of raw meat everywhere, which OF COURSE came from the magic meat-producing machine in Stop & Shop. Even the entire head and neck of a camel, freshly skinned, that caught my eye. Yep! There were grills next, and if I’d bought that djaj, I think I could have taken it home ready to eat.

The herbs, veggies, and fruits were more fun. As I walked by piles of cilanto and rosemary, I started thinking about what to buy. I decided on bananas. It was either bananas or the camel head. So, bananas. I walked up to the fruit seller and had the following conversation in Arabic.

Me: “Hello”

Banana Man: “Hello”

Me: “One kilo of bananas, please. How much?” (Except I may have accidentally said “May Allah destroy you” instead of “please.” Oops. The Banana Man decided to go easy on the clueless foreigner.)

Banana Man: “Ten dirhams”

Me: “Lower it a little? Six dirhams?”

Banana Man: “Nine dirhams.”

Me: Blank stare because the word for “nine” sounds different in Darija than in Standard Arabic.

Helpful friend behind me: “Nine”

Me: “Nine? Ok!”

So I walked out of there triumphantly with my kilo of bananas, for about a dollar, happy at the result of my first entirely-in-Darija conversation. I spotted another banana stand and thought about going over there to buy another kilo of bananas and see if I could get them for cheaper – ya know, go for a personal record! But I hadn’t been entirely aware of what a kilo was and I already had more bananas than I could eat.

I’m glad these souqs are a weekly sort of deal. By the end of the morning, I was exhausted and sweating and a little overwhelmed by all the sights and smells and dust and animals, and I don’t think I could do this every day. But I got my bananas!!!


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