As part of my tour through Fes, Morocco, I visited the tannery. It’s beautiful! But a little stinky. People carry sprigs or bouquets of mint with them and wag them in front of their noses to divert the smell. I wasn’t effected by it. But it wasn’t all that hot on the day I visited.
The thing about the tannery is that it’s all done by hand. The skins are treated and then scraped of their hair. It’s all soaked in lye and then in vats of dyes. Orange from saffron (and probably some chemicals), red from beets (and probably some chemicals), yellow from flowers (and probably some chemicals) and so on. This makes for some excellent picture-taking, for sure. It’s gorgeous. And it’s interesting to see that these workers work so hard. For so long. And under these conditions: beating sun, vats of liquid, lifting heavy skins, and just managing to get from here to there on the edges of vats about 3″ thick. It is amazing. And it made me feel a little bad taking the photos of these hard-working, weary men. Generation after generation of men work here. Year after year. “If they could do something different, they would.” Aziz, my guide, told me later.
The guide who is licensed to walk clients through the tannery, Hamza in my case, walked me through and explained things to me. But not before trying to sell me every purse, shoe, or pouf in the place! “The lamb’s leather is the softest,” he urged. I had to agree. But no. I don’t want a jacket made from it. These purses (“pieces of fashion”) are perfect for you! No. I don’t want a purse. “These are the best quality shoes we have. The red ones look so good with your skin tone,” he prolifically described. BINGO. “Yes they do,” I effused. “I’ll take them along with an orange pair!” I now own two pairs of gorgeous shoes for $50. Bloop. Bloop.(And this after I just wrote I felt a little bad for taking their photo!)
So when I asked if these workers get sick, Hamza said, “Of course! Everyone gets sick. We’re humans.” “No, I know, but do they get sick from standing in these dyes all day? Honestly, Hamza.” No reply. Then I added, “Do they die from it?” Hamza said,”Everyone dies, miss. We all die. We just don’t know when and often why.” Yes, I had to agree. Everyone dies.