Posted on May 28, 2014
Making my way down the alleyways of the souk of Marrakech I am in wonderment of the cacophony of sounds, smells and colors. Smoke illuminated by the sun streaks through the tented roof, striking brightly dyed textiles-red, blue and saffron, while motorbikes and donkeys bawl for the right-of- way. Senses are overwhelmed. Vendors reach out of every stall, beckoning one to buy their wares- an age old skill of the Berber people, honed for millennia on those drawn to the Orient and the exotic.
As I negotiate my way through the crowd I become mute and dumb, so that entrepreneurial tour guides don’t latch on to another hapless foreigner; “English? French? Deutsche? Italian?…Chinese?” they tease. One stall, layered in beautiful rugs of all colors and patterns finally halts me. The owner immediately identifies me as a willing candidate for the sell. My cover is blown. “Please, please come in.” he politely offers. “No. No. I’m not interested in buying a rug”, trying to be firm. “ Just come and sit. Visit.”. “No, I’m not going to buy a rug!”- Absolutely firm. “Please. My father likes Americans, and only wishes to have a cup of tea and visit”. I immediately identify his father, looking to be 112, seated on a pile of rugs in the corner, beaming his wide smile at me. I immediately capitulate, “Ok, but just one cup of tea.”
I sit with Mohamed for almost an hour. He pulls out a weathered photo album and shows me all of his foreign friends- the many that have fallen for his smile over the decades. He speaks no English, but his son, ignoring new potential buyers, patiently interprets our conversation. The talk eventually moves to design. Design is as much a part of a Moroccan’s life as the air he breathes. It is in every part of his world. It gives meaning to his world. The ogie arches of the market are there to keep the evil gene, or genies, from entering; the bobbles of the beautiful Berber jewelry to ward off the evil eye; the many facets of the zillij tile to draw one into contemplation- the more facets, the more one has to concentrate, the more one concentrates, the closer one comes to God. The colors; green for paradise; red for fertility and happiness; blue for sky, heaven, water; yellow for spiritual wealth; white for morality, and black for the profit Mohammad. Suddenly it was clear, every pattern of Mohammed’s rugs had relevance to Berber life; every color rich in meaning. Design is the life-blood of his people.
I look down at my feet in my office and the rug that Mohamed sold me smiles back at me. Its bright colors and intricate pattern, reminds me daily that design matters in our lives. We often take it for granted, but it’s always there in the background- It is the thread that binds us.