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- Travel to Northern Africa
“And how much did you buy the Pomegranates for?”
“4 dirhams per kilo,” I say.
Fatima flinches, “at last week’s market I found some for 2 dirhams per kilo. How much were your tomatoes?”
I list my groceries. She can’t believe the outrageous prices I paid. I try to learn a lesson, but find it difficult to care about vegetable prices. If I was good at shopping I could save maybe 50 dirhams per month, enough for a couple beers in the capital. Fatima on the other hand is a tough shopper. She checks prices throughout the market and then barters for the lowest price possible. She isn’t poor, but she prepares every meal for her family, and being able to shave a few cents off of the price of tomatoes is something she is proud of.
“I told you to go later in the day. The prices at the market go down in the evening.” She never did her shopping in the morning. While everyone else escapes the afternoon heat Fatima scavenges for lazy vendors who are too tired to barter. She jumps from one vegetable stand to the next, almost like she’s participating in a competitive sport. I tried to keep up with her in the market once while talking on the phone. I hit my head ducking under a wooden frame and an entire tent collapsed.
“Pour yourself some more tea.”
I fill a third glass, and watch her prepare the day’s ration of bread. She recently found out I don’t prepare tea in my apartment and demands I drink tea and eat bread with her in the mornings.
“I’ll get seven loaves of bread out of this. You see this yeast? It’s from the country side. It doesn’t have the chemicals the factories put in their ingredients. Natural food is much better for your health. And you see these grains I’m adding? They’re good for your digestive system. We eat a lot of bread in our family. We also drink a lot of tea. Why don’t you make tea in your apartment? You could buy a packet of tea for 6 dirhams and it would probably last you two or three weeks. If you make instant coffee everyday that’s 30 dirhams in a month. It’s even more for you, because you drink it with milk. You don’t even need mint or sheeba to go with the tea. The tea by itself is good. And it’s just as easy to make as coffee. But I do love coffee. I die for coffee. It’s like a drug. I’m like people that need their hashish. Coffee makes my headaches go away.”
A soft snap and a pomegranate is open in Fatima’s hands. The seeds are so red they are about to burst. “Oooh, this one is a good one. Try this! Oh, it’s sweet and the pits are small. See, you need to buy the pomegranates that are yellow on the outside and the inside will be ripe.” I had just bought pomegranates, and none of them were yellow on the outside. I've been living in Morocco for nearly two years and still don’t know how to shop for fruit.
I try to remind Fatima that I’m not completely worthless. “I’m going to make some spaghetti for lunch. I’ll bring some down for you to taste. You can tell me what you think.”
“Bring a little. I’ll just have a taste.”
So far, only my brownies have met Fatima’s approval. She even wanted the recipe, but determined they were probably too expensive when she saw how much butter and cocoa powder they required. The apple cake and the stir fry didn't go over so well. She had no shame telling me that they tasted terrible and I was wasting ingredients. Her two youngest boys repeat her criticisms, in case I miss anything. “You should leave the cake in the oven longer,” the nine year-old insists.
I’ve been making spaghetti since the first time I tried to cook, but I can already imagine her criticisms: “The vegetables are still a little under cooked,” or “Why is there no meat in it?” But I won’t mind. It’s fun to watch someone be passionate about food.
I get up slowly, awkwardly announcing that I’m done hanging out and will climb the stairs back to my apartment. She shoves a quarter of a pomegranate insisting I give her a few more minutes of my time. I love pomegranates, but get self conscious about eating them. It takes me forever to break through the labyrinth of seeds. Half of them end up on Fatima’s kitchen floor. She shows me how easy it is to knock the seeds out by smacking the outside with a spoon. It doesn’t work when I try. She pretends to be frustrated with my incompetence, but it’s obvious she enjoys extending her motherly instinct to a foreigner.
Again I get up to leave, and again she hands me some fruit. This time a few apples and oranges. “Take these with you. I bought a lot. The apples are good. Oh, they’re really juicy. The kids love them. And I only paid 2 ½ dirhams per kilo.”