MoroccoThe Jamaa el Fna was absolutely buzzing despite the torpid late afternoon heat. This famous square is the beating heart of Marrakesh; where locals compete to sell their wares to unwary tourists, from water and orange juice to trinkets and photo opportunities with snakes or monkeys. We made our way across the square under the cloudless sky, weaving this way and that to dodge tourists and locals alike. I spotted a movement out of the corner of my eye as a pretty Moroccan girl in her twenties approached.

She had honed in on me as a potential tourist target and started her spiel. ‘Hello, you very pretty, you got lovely eyes; I do you a lovely henna tattoo!’ I couldn’t think of anything I would like less at that moment than a henna tattoo so I said ’No’, reaffirming this with a shake of my head and walking briskly away.

However she wasn’t about to take no for an answer. With one swift motion she grabbed hold of my right hand and squeezed some kind of brown gunk all over it, saying ‘I do you a lucky flower, you very special, very lucky!’

To be honest it looked more like a duck had flown over and pooped on my hand than any kind of flower I had ever seen. I just stood, staring at the mess slowly spreading over the back of my hand in horror.

Then, as she obviously really wanted to add insult to injury, she held out her own hand and said ’Now you pay me!’ Eager to be rid of her I gave her a half dirham coin as a gesture, but she shook her head and said ‘No no, you give me 200 Dirham!’

There was no way I was going to fork out almost £15 for the mess she made of my hand which I had actually refused, and told her so in no uncertain terms. She started to protest louder until one of the guys I was with told her to clear off. Sensing she wasn’t going to get any more money, she flounced away with a ‘F*ck you!’

I would have liked to say that once the gunk dried and peeled off the resulting pattern resembled one of the fine, delicate henna tattoos produced by proper street tattooists. It didn’t. I ended up with a bright orange squiggle on the back of my hand which resembled some kind of skin disease for weeks afterwards.

So if you are in the Jamaa el Fna in Marrakesh and see a young lady walking towards you with a tube of henna in her hand, whatever you do, don’t make eye contact and keep your hands firmly behind your back!


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