Fes - My First
|The Berber grandmother I had lunch with.
September 7, 2007
My day in Fes got off to a good start when I realized that I would be able to spend an extra night here. It was nice to know that
my little Moroccan piece of tranquility was going to be here after a day exploring the medina.
The only way to really know what you are looking at in Fes is by arranging a guide to show you around. My guide was Odine (I
know I am botching the spelling of this) – he was one of the guys in the cab that took me to my riad last night when I arrived
from the train station. I tried to ask him how much his services were going to be and each time he answered “As you like.” I
know better than to accept this as an answer. I kept prying a bit and finally he gave me an estimate of what would be
acceptable. Done. I had a tour guide.
Different doorways I would have normally passed up were filled with people fueling fires for the hammams, traditional barbers
using a straight-edge blade to shave beards, two men working together to make an article of clothing and a ‘bakery’ where
locals drop off their bread to have baked there (people don’t have their own ovens so they made an indentation on the dough to
know which one is theirs when they pick it up). I came across overflowing mosques with people sitting outside (in the direction
of Mecca, of course) while the prayer call was occurring.
Everything was starting to feel a bit more normal for me again. Well…at least a bit.
The next occurrence wasn’t so great – though it happened in a blink of an eye so I barely even remember it. It involved me, a
pair of flip-flops with poor treads and a slippery walkway. Of course this walkway had to be smack inside the main gateway to
Fes. It is now a blur but I do remember the area being wet and my foot literally slipped up right in front of my face as my body
went crashing back. A group of older tourists almost yelled out of shock and started asking me if I was okay. Aside from
embarrassment, I was more than fine. Well, except for now having one side of my leg completely wet and dirty. To be honest,
the main thing that bothered me was that my pants were now completely dirty after only one wear.
From here, we went to Odine’s family’s house for lunch. While Odine only spoke some broken English, I was able to
communicate with him 1000 times more than with any of the family members. His aunt and grandmother only spoke Arabic
and Berber. His niece and nephew only spoke a bit of French. So that left Odine as my somewhat interpreter. I went up to the
terrace with his nephew to see the view. He then grabbed a duck somewhat forcefully and had me take a picture of them. I was
a bit concerned that this might be lunch. When we did sit down for lunch, we ended up having a few sides along with a lamb
tagine (to tell me what the animal was, his niece told me ‘baaaa’ since she didn’t know how to translate ‘lamb’- at least it wasn’t
the duck from the terrace!) and then some mint tea. Also, midway through the meal I realized I was making the biggest faux
pas – being left handed it was only natural that I have a tendency to eat with my left hand. But then mid-way through lunch it
dawned on me. I was eating with the wrong hand in this Muslim household. I apologized to Odine and told him I am left-
handed. He then translated and everybody laughed. Phew! Then came time for dessert – a plate full of melon. If someone were
to ask me my three most loathed foods, melon would definitely be on the list. But it’s all about respect out here so I forced my
taste buds to not be too mad at me. I even tried to eat slowly and embrace the melon flavor. While I am not going to rush to
eat this stuff regularly, I am happy to know that it doesn’t make me gag should I ever find myself in a similar situation.
After lunch, I needed some ‘me’ time. I came back to my riad and relaxed for a bit. After all, I have to take advantage of
having comfort and tranquility while I have it!
I then headed back into the medina and a Moroccan man approached me. He looked a bit familiar but I couldn’t place from
where. Was it from lunch? Was it from the riad? Then he reminded me that he had spoken to me earlier in the day. Right after
my fall. He told me that he felt so bad for me when I fell. Oh, geez. People are recognizing me now as the girl who ate crap in
the middle of the medina!
Fes is known for several things (one of them being the biggest ancient medina in the world), amongst them is their tanneries. I
went to one and watched the action from the terrace. I came prepared for the smell as I had heard about it prior to coming. It
actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. But the mint sprig that they give you still comes in handy. I was also informed that
the ammonia in pigeon poop is used to clean the hides. They have vats of it. Lovely. There goes my theory that pigeons are
good for nothing.
When I got back to the riad, Kate told me there were people hanging out on the terrace. The terrace? I had no idea there was a
terrace! Since I got in so late last night, I didn’t really get the full tour of the place. I went up and got sucked in instantly. A
group of us sat and chatted while watching the sun disappear and the lights of the medina come to life. Amongst the different
people staying here, there is an American who lives in D.C. And guess where he works? The passport agency at the
Department of State. Finally I could give a hard time to somebody (all in jest, of course) regarding that exact office typing the
wrong birth date on my passport. I also learned that to get it fixed I would have to surrender my passport for a new one. No,
siree. My passport is currently my pride and joy – I just got 24 new pages added to the 48 pages I previously had. It expires in
2015. I want to have it filled completely – plus I still have a valid visa in there for Brazil for the next 4+ years. And so it stands
– I will continue to have an official and an unofficial birthday.
September 8, 2007
Since yesterday was a Friday (i.e. the Muslim holy day), the medina wasn’t in full effect. Today was a different story. While I
already had experienced the labyrinth aspect of Fes, I hadn’t experienced the labyrinth aspect mixed with street vendors,
locals and donkeys. I am a master at not being able to navigate things well and I did not disappoint here. But here I could
actually benefit from it. It’s really when you get lost that you stumble across amazing sights – whether it’s a local, an ornate
mosque or an amazing doorway.
Now that I mentioned the doorways, I think it should be said that I could create a photo album of solely doorways. They are
like pieces of art out here. I think the locals are boggled by tourists who find them so fascinating – more than one time I had
people looking to see what I was taking a picture of and they looked a bit confused when they saw it was just the door.
The only form of transportation for products in the medina is the donkey. They carry everything from sodas to animal hides to
construction supplies (as there are renovation projects galore going on out here). That being said, there are lots of donkeys.
Every few minutes you need to cram against a wall for them to walk by. I was thinking that you only needed to watch out for
them when they were coming from behind you or when they were walking towards you. I came to find out that you also need
to watch for them as they pass you because you might just get a donkey tail in your face (can you tell a certain person had this
After the brush with the donkey tail, I decided it was time to duck into a riad and enjoy a glass of mint tea. It’s amazing how
once you enter the doors you are oblivious to the chaos going on right outside the door. One thing a person will never be
oblivious to out here is when it is time for the prayer call. I am fascinated by this every time I am in a Muslim country
(however I am not one of the people at my riad who has a room that wakes up daily to the 4:00am prayer call – I don’t think it’
s quite as fascinating at that hour).
I ran into some peeps from my riad while in the medina and we grabbed lunch on a terrace restaurant. I was quite pleased
with my vegetable tagine with raisins and chickpeas.
I spent my last few hours in Fes up on the terrace at my riad with the rest of the crew. They were all planning on going to
dinner – I had a night bus so there would be no dinner for me. They were all the sweetest, though, and walked me to the taxi
stand outside of the medina (as they knew I lacked the confidence of my navigational skills). Getting a taxi was more difficult
than I thought it would be – but it eventually happened. Talk about one big free-for-all. I said good-bye to my Dar Seffarine
peeps and headed to the bus station for my overnight bus (didn’t I say a few months ago that I was done with this thing called
an ‘overnight bus’?).
I loved my time in Fes. It was a mix of hustle and bustle with tranquility and relaxation. I didn’t find people to be too over-
aggressive and they also seemed to be more trustworthy than I would have expected. People were forthcoming with giving
information and answering directional questions, if necessary, and not expecting dirhams for doing so.
What a great introduction to Morocco…
The old medina behind me.
My room in the Dar Seffarine.