Tunisian coppersmiths bring fresh shine to Ramadan

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The eve of Ramadan is a frantic time for Tunisian coppersmith Chedli Maghraoui, who skillfully sheds new light on family favorite kitchen items before the start of the Muslim holy month.

From pots of couscous to beloved tea sets, the metalware receives a professional polish from the 69-year-old craftsman who works alone in his workshop in Tunisia’s old city.

The pre-Ramadan rush is so great that he has to politely tell customers that he can’t work faster: “I can’t do it – I still have other orders and, as you can see, I’m working in ‘alone. .”

Maghraoui scrapes items and uses a method called hot-dip tinning where he coats the copper with a thin layer of tin to stop metal oxidation — a process that makes pots shine like new.

While restoring one piece of pet food he loves, he waits for an oven fire to be heated in a pot with the inside, before brushing it and immersing it in a large bucket of water.

Maghraoui says he is proud to be among the few who still practice the time-honoured craft in the ancient North African city: “It’s a tradition that has existed for hundreds of years and is still alive. “

Tunisian women often receive gifts of copper or white copper when they marry, or inherit the items from their mothers. Many bring their beloved heirlooms to Maghraoui to protect them a little longer.

“I feel a special feeling when I use my shiny pot during Ramadan”, said Sana Boukhris, 49, accountant. “The tradition reminds me of good times as a child, when my mother would prepare for the holy month.

“There is a blessing in these things that I inherited from my mother.”

– Cracked skin –

Dalila Boubaker, a housewife, said she could only afford to clean up two pots for Ramadan this year as families across Tunisia struggle with inflation and high unemployment.

“Everything has become so expensive,” Boubaker said, with the cost of a polish job now ranging from 20 to 200 dinars ($6-$65) per item, depending on the size and shape of the item.

Abdejlil Ayari, who has worked as a coppersmith in the medina for 48 of his 60 years, said the period before Ramadan was tough every year.

“People prepare their kitchenware to be treated before Ramadan so it looks great for the whole month, so the kitchen looks good and women enjoy their pots,” he said.

There is also a lively trade for beautiful antiques in the Souk En-Nahhas (copper market) where around 50 shops sell restored coffee makers, teapots, incense burners and small cups.

The demand is so high that “we are no longer taking orders,” said Mabrouk Romdhane, who at the age of 82 has three such shops in the market in the heart of the medina.

Ayari said he learned the trade from his father and started before he was even a teenager, but now worries that not many young people want to follow in his footsteps.

Maghraoui, who bought his workshop 20 years ago from someone who inherited it but didn’t want it, agreed.

“Every death among my colleagues is a loss to this profession and a step towards its disappearance,” he said.

Maghraoui reached for the palms of his hands, the skin cracked and blackened from his trade, and said: “This generation wants an easy job and they don’t like to have this.”

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