Down a smokey back passageway in the winding laneways of Marrakech, my charismatic guide beckons me towards a dark door frame, “come, come this is the man that keeps the hamam fires lit.” I step inside and blink the dust out of my eyes as they adjust to the contrasting darkness and streams of light that outline a hulking figure huddled on a low stool next to an intensely glowing furnace.
Motes of dust float across a blue-grey shaft of light emanating from a hole in the roof that appears to have been blasted later rather than included in the original design. As my eyes adjust to the dimness I start to make out the features of this gentle giant before me, his grey bearded face is haphazardly topped with a green beanie. I jump as his face suddenly splits to show a large ecstatic grin upon the realisation that his humble abode has visitors.
The figure motions me closer to the flames of the furnace, it’s cloyingly hot and the sweet aroma of soot fills my nostrils. He reaches in to a simple pottery urn and throws a few handfuls of something flammable in to the flames, which flare up and light the deep crevices of his proud grin.
I survey the room and find a low sleeping pallet at one end surrounded by many ornate trinkets, I imagine each object holds specific importance to him. Rising from his low stool he hobbles over to the sleeping mat, waving me over he grabs an oddly shaped, kind of rectangular stringed instrument. My guide tells me that the man wishes to play to me and he immediately starts to strum a rhythm foreign to my ears. As his meaty, sausage like fingers skillfully work the odd instrument a look of peace and calm settles on his creased face. I graciously listen and study the embellished Moroccan trappings of his simple life that surround him. We slowly make our way back out through the cramped doorway careful not to disturb his peaceful moment.
This scene will forever stick with me; this at first intimidating man peacefully strumming away, surrounded by his unique possessions in his smokey abode. This is the man who keeps the hamam fires lit.