Getting here from Chef was a 4 hour bus ride through the most vast and expansive range of dirt hills that I have ever seen. A barren wasteland of infinitely fertile land with farmers too poor to plant the seeds to feed a starving world. All the while, American farmers sell corn to the bio-desile firms instead of exporting out growing power to hungry mouthes. The remainder of the American corn and wheat surplus has been converted to soy years ago, due to the higher price it tends to fetch. Africa is such a heart break. But maybe I am all wrong. Maybe the seeds have been planted and the farmers are just waiting for their yearly rain! The soil looks turned…..
Fez is a very metropolitan city compared with Chef. It is home to the largest Madena in the world. A madena is a walled city, also known as an old city that resides within a newer city. Think Indiana Jones part one. This place seems like it is strait out of a movie. A labyrinth to end all labyrinths, complete with camel head studed butcher shops, leather dieing factories, mosques, the Arab world’s oldest college (founded in 500AD), and donkeys carrying oversized propane tanks through dimly lit alley ways.
This all belongs in a movie. Being as the half mile medina in chef was enough of maze, we consented to a guide to lead us through the 5 mile leviathan. Rasheed is a 60 year old man who speaks 8 languages and has been leading guided tours through the medina since he was 20. Thankfully he was our guide today. He was soft spoken and charming. He taught French and Arabic at Cal State Fullerton for two years and has family and friends from all over the states. With lightly Jewish accents, his cleanly shaven face smells of old spice. I quickly ponder if he wore this fragrance to make the westerners feel comfort, or if he had an authentic affinity for classic American fragrances.
Morocco is one of those places where you can physically feel two oceans of culture mix and swirl in a wonderfully diverse cocktail and Rasheed is the literal personification of this. He speaks to us with the highest level of silky charm, almost too quiet to hear over the sound of the bustling world to his back. All the while stopping kids in the back alleys and kissing their cheeks and waiving hello to their mothers. He shakes hands with many of the shop owners, yet have visible rivals as some of the people trade loud comments with him in Arabic. One man tries to walk his overloaded donkey down an extra crowded and narrow alley and Rasheed raises his tone to an unsettling level. Only a moment later, he looks back at us and gives us some tid bits about the next shop without acknowledging his previous quarrel.
This is the blend of cultures at a thousand miles per hour. It’s not that he is two faced, he is just able to fully communicate with everyone and anyone. He is the most culturally aware person I have met in my 10 months and my entire life for that matter. He spends the day taking us to many places that we never would have found by ourselves. Places that we never would have had the guts to walk into even if there was a lighted sign that said “welcome”.
The sidewalks ran a deep blue was we stormed alleys of clothing dyers. Rasheed pats a few of the workers on the back; the luxuries of a 40 year veteran. He says “did you notice that I haven’t paid for any of the goods I have purchased today (as he carries a few wheels of goat cheese and a few other items)? I know everyone so well here that they trust me. They tell me to pay them whenever. Tomorrow, next week, even next month. They know I’m not going anywhere.” He literally grew up in this 5 mile stretch and is now a local icon. His price for the day (by the way) was 7 euros per person (Erin and Me only). A boy kicks a piece of trash recklessly in front of us and Rasheed smacks him on the top of the head, just harder than friendly. His calm waters run deep.
We go to a outdoor factory used to stain leather. The process takes just over a week where the animal hide first sits in a pit of lime to take all of the color out of it and then in a pit of pidgin poop (acidic) to strip all the hair off of the hides. Then, the hide sits in one of 5 colored dye pits made from minerals or plants including: saffron root (yellow), mascara mineral (black), and berry (red). After this the hides are left on a hay covered rooftops for the sun to bake into submission. Then the colors are locked in. Forever. The entire outdoor factory, every step of the process, lay beneath us, as we watch from a third story shop. Onward is a view of Fez as a whole, a ton of simple high rise mud buildings with tiny square windows and a sea of satellite dishes that religiously point to the southern sky, instead, contradicting their master’s bowing east towards Mecca. You have to love this place. You just don’t have a choice.
We move on to get lunch and Rasheed takes us to a tourist trap where they cover the table with 30 small dishes full of starters. Something clicks as not right when the waiters all wear cheezy hats, and there are nothing but old white people in the place. I ask our waiter how much this lunch will cost per person and he replies with a cheerful “20 euros”. I stand up and walk over to Rasheed and demand a different location. He takes us to somewhere with a set menu of 10 euros. I look at Erin and say “Hey, we asked for a tour. Would you expect anything less?” It’s ok to get Raped once in a while right?
But lets talk about freedom. Religious freedom to be exact. Fez is know to be the capital of artistry and culture in Morocco. They have many religions practicing openly within the tightly confined spaces of the median, but the most interesting pair is Islam and Judaism. In some of the neighboring countries , not so far from here when you look at a map, are countries who share hatred for each other’s dominant religion that leave an acrid burn in my mouth. Yet this place, not so far from those extremists, lives in a harmony. It’s far more impressive to see an African nation living in religious harmony than a western nation. You have to love this place. You just don’t have a choice.
We finally go to a rug factory where we sip on local tea as we hear the pitch. First the tea, a green and mint mix; it tastes like a hot liquid cup of chewing gum. I look at Erin and say “Best tea I’ve ever had !” She smiles with a face that can only say “ditto”. Now onto the carpets, starting at 100 euros, I think to myself, “Why would anyone pay so much for something that they step on? It’s a rug! I don’t care if it took 3 months to make by hand or if a machine popped it out in 30 seconds. It’s shit, I step on shit.” I realize hand crafted rugs are the third best useless and money making invention behind the notion of charging $5 for a 50 cent cup of coffee and charging $1 for a small bottle of something that flows out of your tap for less than a penny per 10 gallons (water). Doe’s anyone remember oxygen bars? Or corrugated steel roof tops? If I’m going to pay 100 euros for a rug, it had better be saturated with 150 euros worth of cocaine! But the tea made the presentation worth it.
After a long day of Berber-ism, we went back to the hostel, to which I write this post. I sit in my all male dorm alone, because it is the low season and we are in a nation dominated by Islamic values. Erin sets in an all female dorm alone, because it is the low season and we are in a nation dominated by Islamic values. I am not allowed to visit her dorm, but she is allowed to visit mine (I feel like I am back in camp, or 2nd grade). I am actually, believe it or not, not allowed to know where her dorm is located on the property. I think I received the shock I was looking for. Boom!!!! Morocco!!!!! My traveling spirit is revitalized in a few short days away from the ordinary.