Marrakech’s Medina was full of people and movement. Snakes were being thrown around tourists necks, monkeys on chains were being dragged around the square Jemaa el-Fnaa, merchants were trying to get you to buy their knickknacks if your head was even slightly turned toward their product. It was 98 degrees on a Sunday when a group of other American students and I sat in yet another traditional Berber pharmacy, but this one was different.
Because Ayub was not like the average Moroccan pharmacy shop owner. He was young, probably about twenty-five. This was evident in his clean Adidas-branded shirt, his bare feet, his missing lab coat, and his eccentric personality.
I had first walked past his pharmacy, only slowing down to read a sign English, “Don’t worry, it’s organic!” I would have continued on my quest to quench my thirst with a bottle of cold water if my fellow adventurer, Thorvald, hadn’t disappeared into Ayub’s pharmacy. I backtracked past multiple shops selling what seemed like the same colorful leather shoes. Stray cats scurried under my feet, and I caught some smells whose origins I preferred not to I know. Then, I found myself also being sucked into Ayub’s presence.
His charming smile made us all feel welcome. He began by shutting one of his nostrils with one finger, and then he took a deep breath into a black cloth ball held beneath his other nostril. He next went around, one-by-one, and had us students do the same. He explained that there were black cumin seeds inside the cloth, which was used in Morocco for many generations as a natural remedy for snoring and clearing the sinuses. When it came to be my turn, I hesitated. But, having woken up with a cold that morning, I thought to myself, “When in Morocco . . . ” I shut my right nostril and took a deep breath.
Ayub failed to mention that it would burn if you breathed took too deeply. This would have been nice to know.
After scrunching my nose a few times, the pain subsided and I forgave Ayub when he insisted we should sit for some mint tea. His sidekick ran into the streets of the Medina. “We don’t have any money to give you,” Thorvald piped up, afraid of Ayub demanding money in return for his hospitality. “I’m different,” Ayub insisted. “I’m not about money; I’m about experience.” Glancing around, I could tell how interested we all were in what was going to happen next.
Ayub’s sidekick, busting through the makeshift curtain drawn across the door, held an intricate silver platter. It yielded only four tea cups and a large steaming pot of sweetened mint tea. The four cups of tea were passed around the circle until everyone had their fair share, while Ayub gave his spiel on different herbs, spices, fragrances, and soaps. He then pointed to a sign behind him that read “Massages: 2 euro/20 dirham.” Ayub winked and exclaimed, “The student discount for you guys is 10 dirhams.”
“I’m different,” Ayub insisted. “I’m not about money; I’m about experience.”
Hannah jumped at the opportunity. Ayub whipped out a stool covered in a brightly colored fabric and placed it in the middle of the room. “We’re going to fly together,” he told her while copiously pouring oil all over his hands and rubbing them together. We all giggled as Hannah winced in pain with Ayub’s powerful hands on her shoulders. We began asking Ayub questions to ease the strange tension in the air.
Ayub grew up in a small town outside of Fez, and he originally moved to Marrakech four years ago to get away from his parents. He explained to us that his parents are very traditional, and it’s hard to be independent with such strict parents. This seems to be a common theme among young Moroccans I’ve met in my travels. Boutainya, for instance, my host sister in Chefchaouen, had plans to move away from her traditional parents and attend fashion design school in Casablanca. I could tell by the way Ayub talked about Marrakech that he was mightily satisfied with his move. While playing his favorite electro house music for us, he talked about his love for dancing. Through some of his dance moves, I could see his passion for dance flowing through his body.
Time flew by in that little Marrakech pharmacy. We had lots of laughs in the hour we spent there, and we learned more about Ayub. He told us he loves to make people happy, and that’s what he’s going to spend his life doing. His hospitality for ten overheated and overwhelmed Americans was greatly appreciated on that humid Sunday afternoon. He gave all of us hugs before we thanked him and headed back into the winding streets of the Medina.