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Magical Morocco, Part II: Fes

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: March 2007

In between our various stops, Hassan gave us a thorough education on the medina. He pointed out little details like the wooden, barrel-shaped windows with little peepholes in the sides, through which women centuries ago could watch the goings-on on the streets below without compromising their modesty. He also told us that the medina used to be divided into dozens of little districts/neighborhoods, divided by gates (most of them now missing) and each possessing five key elements: a mosque, hammam (steam bath), Koranic school, fountain and wood-fired bread oven (where folks could bring their dough to be cooked).

The rest of the day was an overwhelming haze of sensory impressions. We wandered through all sorts of souqs, selling slippers, copperware, fruits, spices, vegetables, pottery and meat (including sheep and camel heads! Eek!). We also saw kids playing soccer in a dirty lot and a man panning for jewelry in the filthy, trash-strewn river that divides the two parts of the medina. We walked past dozens of alleys leading off to homes hidden deep in the heart of the medina, and peeked into mosques and hammams that only hinted at the secrets within.

We felt very much like outsiders here; though there's a bustling public life in the souqs, much of the private life really goes on behind the walls of the medina -- walls that have very few windows to the outside. I guess when these buildings were constructed privacy was a really high priority, so folks have a central courtyard inside rather than a facade on the front of their house -- very different from the front lawns and bay windows in America. I got the impression that there's a whole world in Fes that you can't see, except through glimpses into tiled entryways and down shadowy alleyways.

That's why it was a valuable experience to have our Libyan companion along for the tour; because he spoke Arabic, he was able to understand much more of what was going on than we could. For example, at one point we walked past an elderly woman crouching on the side of the street with her hand outstretched. I'm ashamed to say that I barely noticed her, but suddenly our companion was asking the guide to stop the tour so he could go back and give her some money. He told us that he'd overheard her praying to God in Arabic that these people (us) would give her some money so that she could eat that night. I hope that she did.

That was an eye-opening moment for me. The poverty here wasn't as overt as I'd been expecting, but I think it might be more apt to say that I simply wasn't paying as much attention to it as I should have been in the beginning of the trip. It was easy to get annoyed over the fact that we were constantly being approached for money, or that we were almost certainly paying inflated tourist prices for various things, but the truth is that most Moroccans make about $4 or $5 a day -- so who were we to quibble over a few bucks for a taxi ride when those same few bucks could feed a family for a day?

Read about the rest of our journey in part three!

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