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The Tooth Man of Marrakesh

I’m stood motionless, rooted to the spot. So this is Marrakesh – or, more accurately, this is Djemaa el-Fna.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I know I wasn’t expecting to feel like Dorothy; lost, bewildered, thrown mercilessly into a twister of confusion and noise. But that’s the truth of it.

This place; this crazy flood of stalls and snakes and donkeys and carts and castanets and alleyways and tourists and Berbers is unravelling the threads of my mind faster than a spooling pin.

And I don’t think I can cope.

Djemaa el-Fna, if you’re not familiar with it, is the main heart of old Marrakesh. In essence, it’s a wide-open expanse of tiled ground where public executions once took place.

Today, it’s the carnival of life playing out in this 700 year-old square that makes it so dizzying.

Picture a medieval fete, then add an open-air theatre, a marketplace, a circus, a hospital, a tattoo parlour and you’re getting close to Djemaa el-Fna’s true nature.

Weirder still, this is simply Djemaa el-Fna by day.

As shadows fall, the square roars up a gear. Brightly-lit food vendors replace the market stalls, acrobats tumble into action, musicians strum and clang to applauding crowds, and rouge gropers cop an ass-sized handful of you as you watch (ladies, that is).

I’d just finished a 10-day trek in the Sahara and, to celebrate, contracted a stomach-crunching case of food poisoning. So I wasn’t ready for Djemaa el-Fna and all its madness.

I certainly wasn’t ready for the tooth man.

Having just been shouted at by a snake-charmer, who’d grabbed my camera to prove I DID take a picture (when I’d said I hadn’t), my sense of English propriety now had its arms folded and its back turned, sulking.

It was time to go back to the hotel for a lie down.

Leaving my bright-eyed trekking pals at the colourful mouths of the souks, I headed back across the bewildering savannah of Djemaa el-Fna; head banging.

It was then that I saw him.

Huddled down, grey-red robes hiding the stool he crouched upon, the calm and quiet, which had been forcefully pushed aside everywhere else, settled around him.

And it was this that drew me nearer. I wanted to know why chaos wasn’t boiling and spitting here like it was elsewhere. I wanted to see his face. I wanted to understand why he was so still. I wanted to see what he had laid at his sandaled feet.

So I stepped closer, peering politely (and Britishly) over his shoulder.

In front of him, laid out on the scorching tiles, on a blue square of linen, teeth.

Human teeth.

Molars. Incisors. Wisdom.

Hundreds of teeth.

It was at this moment that I realised I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t mentally equipped for Djemaa el-Fna. Or Marrakesh. I had more travelling to do.

So I left the tooth man of Djemaa el-Fna. And headed, a little quicker than before, back to the hotel.


Profile photo of Claire Robinson

Meet Claire. An award-winning freelance writer, based in Gloucestershire, England, with an obsession for travel and gin. Her difference? Everywhere she goes, she seems to bring calamity along also. So her stories have a humorous edge - and are mostly about Claire making a travel buffoon of herself. For Claire, too much travel content is serious and high-brow. Her take on travelling is the opposite - her view is a fun one, with a lightness of touch that makes travelling feel real and human. And if she makes people laugh along the way with her tips, personal stories, and guides, then all the better.

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