I’ve got to tell you guys about the “witch dentist” who I came across in December 2015, when I travelled to Marrakech, Morocco with my family for some winter sun.
Marrakech was stunning, I’d strongly recommend you all go and visit it if you haven’t already! What a beautiful city with a rich history and a great culture.
It’s also one of the most colourful places I’ve ever been! From all the terracotta buildings to the natural colourings herbalists sell!
We flew out on the morning of the 24th, Christmas Eve and were there for almost a week. It was one of the best holidays I’ve had, and was actually the first time I’ve ever spent Christmas abroad so it was a little weird in a nice way to enjoy some welcome warmth.
Christmas is always extra special for me and my family because it’s my mum’s birthday on the 25th, but Christmas Day 2015 was particularly special, definitely one of the happiest days of my life so far!
Before all my holidays, I like to spend some time doing a little online research to get to know a bit more background knowledge on the place I’m visiting. I like to learn a bit of the history of the place, where’s good to eat/drink and what is a must see/do attraction.
When I was researching Marrakech, I came across a number of websites/blogs whch mentioned the Witch Dentists. This blog post (written by a woman called Claire Robinson) in particular caught my attention.
Being a dental student, I was intrigued by this and was excited to go see them. According to what I had read, you can find the witch dentist, an old Moroccan man who works in Sahat Jemaa Al Fnma, the most famous square in the Old City of Marrakech.
Sahat Jemaa Al Fnaa is pretty much the central point of the Old City of Marrakech and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means that it cannot be changed in anyway.
A visit to Marrakech is not complete unless you’ve spent a few hours there during the day and another few hours exploring it by night. It’s amazing how different it is by day when the sun is beaming down on it, compared to how hectic it is when the sun sets.
It’s basically just a giant paved square right beside the mosque (jemaa) called Jemaa Al Fnaa and you’ll find all sorts of weird and wonderful things going on there: snake charmers, magic men, countless delicious food stalls all begging for your attention, musicians, beggars, thieves, numerous orange juice vendors, leather goods and of course, the WITCH DENTIST!
As a tourist, from the first second when you step foot onto the peripheries of the square, you’ll be swarmed upon by all sorts of people/animals fighting for your attention and more importantly your money! Keep your wits about you and avoid making too much eye contact. All your senses will be bombarded- the Moroccan sights, smells, tastes, sounds. It’s a magical place.
From my experiences, if your eyes linger on someone for more than half a second it suggests to them you’re interested and they will try their best to get a few pennies from you! Enjoy it, I think the attention is part of the experience, but it can get very annoying very quickly.
Being from Iraq and as an Arabic speaker myself, I was lucky when I went with my family as we didn’t get as much attention as the European/Western tourists, whose pasty white skin acts as a homing beacon.
If you’ve been or if you ever go to Marrakech, unless you walk around with your eyes closed or stay confined to your fancy hotel, you’ll notice how many local Moroccans and Berbers there are all over the city who do not have a lot of money. I don’t mention this to sound pretentious in anyway, only to link it to the maintained existence of the so-called witch dentist(s).
When “Marrakech-ians” (the native people) have a bit too many sweet treats and don’t look maintain the best oral hygiene standards, they inevitable develop carious lesions (cavities) that rapidly progress resulting in severe toothaches! And with proper dentistry not exactly being the cheapest service in Morocco or indeed anywhere in the world, many locals aren’t able to afford formal treatment.
So the witch dentists have found this niche where they offer their services to a huge number of locals with decaying teeth. It’s all about supply and demand, good for them!
This is definitely not classed as a form of medical tourism – I’m sure the “patients” are all local Moroccans as opposed to desperate individuals who are in so much pain that they travel specifically to get a botch job, dirt cheap tooth extraction.
Armed with my prior knowledge of the witch dentist’s existence, I made active efforts to seek him out when we were walking around the square, and in fact, I asked around to see if anyone knew where exactly I could find him. Honestly, locals had no idea what I was going on about…Different people, I asked told me different sections of the square where he might be, and someone told me he’s only there on Thursdays? I’m not sure which of them, if any of them, were telling me accurate knowledge – none of it helped!
I pretty much gave up hope after that first day walking through the square; I looked for him in the afternoon, under the scorching sun to no avail, then again (rather stupidly) at night, when it not only is dark and therefore impossible to see, but the square is also ridiculously busy at night!
A few days of the holiday passed, and I had given up on locating the witch dentist but on one of our final days in the City, we went strolling through the Old City to see famous leather tanneries and as we were walking back towards our hotel I decided to have one last look around the square for him.
Success! I spotted a man who fit the description of what I’d read online and walked over to see him with nervous anticipation. It was a witch dentist, sat in the square with a mountain of extracted teeth laid out beside his dental tools (pretty much just some pliers and few other bits).
Unfortunately I didn’t hang around for too long and regrettably didn’t get any photos! All the Sahat Jemaa Al Fna locals get a little aggressive when a tourist lingers and gets out their camera. They won’t let you take a photo unless you pay them, otherwise, you have to be super sneaky about it.
Anyway, my family and I were sweating buckets after having walked a solid 2/3 hours around the City directly under the sun so they weren’t keen to wait for me.
I would have loved to sit and talk to him for a bit to ask him:
- What exactly he does?
- Did he train in any way initially or did he literally just start pulling out people’s teeth
- How much he charges?
And obviously to ask him which dental school he qualified from…
Fortunately, Claire Robinson, the travel blogger I mentioned and linked earlier took some pictures and I hope she doesn’t mind if I share them here..?!
The old school tactics in full force: if in doubt, pull it out.
Now that I’m actually a dental student, I’m getting to know all about the different approaches we can take to alleviate toothache and restore the natural function of teeth 0 making them pain-free. Just looking at that picture above, most of those teeth look like they could have been saved by a fully trained dentist!
So if anyone in Marrakech has a toothache and is considering a visit to the witch dentist for a quick fix – please try and find some money to get yourself looked after properly!
I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has been to Marrakech and come across or heard of the witch dentist?
I’m sure it’s not something limited to Morocco, it’s just the only personal experience I have had. Where else are these street side dentists operating?!
Thanks for reading 🙂