We leave Tinghir and the Todra Gorge, and drive through landscapes of shifting contrasts. We arrive in Skoura and check in to the Ait Ben Moro, an 18th century kasbah that has been restored and converted into a guest house. I find a room that is simple but elegant, and take some time to admire its thick walls, reed and beam ceiling and stone floor.
I head downstairs to visit the carpet shop next door. Aziz, the guest house concierge, accompanies me and once inside the shop, proceeds to show me carpets. I select a small blue one, and Aziz introduces me to his wife, Manar, who is the weaver. But instead of finishing the transaction, she motions to me to join her at her loom.
What are the odds that I would have a second chance to weave on a carpet loom in Morocco?
I take off my shoes and sit down next to her on a cushion. Manar only speaks Berber but that did not pose a barrier to our communication. I would later learn that her name means “lighthouse” which is pretty fitting.
I watch as she throws a weft thread through the upright warp, taps it with her finger, and then handed me the beater – a heavy iron comb with a handle that must weight two pounds – and motions to me to beat the weft down. Manar then shows me how to let the weight of the beater do the work, instead of my wrist. Every time she threw the weft through, she’d turn to me and say “chick chick chick” which is the sound the beater makes against the warp threads. It was also my cue to beat the weft down.
After 3-4 rows of weaving, she demonstrated how she cuts her yarn for the knots by winding it around a crank in the top of her toolbox and then slicing through the yarn by running the tip of a knife down the slot in the crank, and ends up with uniform pieces of yarn which we used to knot her carpet with.
She then shows me how to tie a knot around the pair of warp threads, and then pull it down to the row we had just woven, to start the pile. We only used the beater on the woven rows, never on the knotted rows. Unlike the weaver in Fez, who trimmed her rows as she went, Manar didn’t shear her carpet, so I was careful to make sure the ends of the yarns were even when I placed my knots. She shows me how the heddles work on her loom.
Manar happily pauses while I take a pictoral of this process. Through the language of the loom we communicated pretty well. I continued to add knots to the warp threads, almost as fast as my teacher. Aziz popped in and said I was a quick study and I could come back any time to help his wife in her shop : )
After about an hour of weaving and knotting, I hear Mark’s voice. “It figures we would find you here. If we’re missing Heather, we just start looking for a carpet loom.” He tells me it’s time to visit a nearby historical site. I whine about leaving the loom, but put down my beater and put on my shoes, and signal to Manar that I need to leave. “But I will be back to buy that carpet.”
We through fields of beans and alfalfa dotted with olive and pomegranate trees. A little further on, we come to a wide dry riverbed, Beyond that peeking out from a palm grove, is the most remarkable building I have yet seen – the Kasbah Amridil.
This 17th century citadel is primarily a museum, and one of the most famous buildings in Morocco, even being featured on the old 50 dirham note. We tour in a courtyard filled with artifacts which include an olive press, several clay cook pots and lanterns, and a form used for making the rammed earth walls.
We return to the Ait Ben Moro through the bean and alfalfa fields, and Doug and I go back to the carpet shop. Aziz assists in finalizing my purchase, and then extends an invitation from Manar to join her for tea in their home. She shows me her home and then leads me to a low round table covered with two tablecloths, set with tea and dried fruit, and which is soon covered with bread, jam, honey and butter. Manar and her mother Fatna join us, along with a young woman who is a recent university graduate. We learn that everything we are being served was produced on their land. We also learn that in spite of having a modern kitchen, Fatna continues to bake bread every morning in the wood-fired oven in their back yard. “Tastes better,” she says.
It was such an honor to be invited into this home. The rug Manar wove and which I would carry home on the plane (not trusting it to checked baggage), now has special significance and I will treasure it always.
And now I want to buy a carpet loom…