Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
104Trip End Ongoing
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Since Marrekesh is really far away, we chose Fes. The ride to Fes was a piece of cake. In fact, it went by so quickly, that we didn't even realize that we had arrived in town. Since we were taken by surprise, we needed a bit of time to get our bearings. Normally we study the map and try to pick out a hotel or two on the bus, but today we just started going door to door looking for a place to stay. This is not the best way to do things. Especially when Kelly tends to be crabby every time we get to a new city. At least until we get settled anyway. So we humped it door to door in 45 degree centigrade heat. Finally, we found a place that didn't look too bad and took it. To say this hotel was run down would be a bit of an understatement. But I liked the people running it, and that goes a long way with me. Despite the bugs, dirty cold shower, and big black hairs on the pillows, we ended up staying three nights.
Fes is famous for its Medina. It's HUGE. According to one piece of literature, the Medina has over 7500 alleys and roads in it. Actually, aside from the Medina, I didn't find that much to do in Fes. Kelly and I both took French in high school, and sadly we don't remember any. On our first night we got turned around trying to find our way around the Souk. As it turns out, we were more lost than we realized. Once we got our bearings, we discovered that we hadn't actually even entered into the Medina at all. I think the local kids could see that, as the offers to show us out kept pouring in all night. "Bonjour", they would say. Having taken three years of high school French, to say hello back is about as far as my conversational skills could take me. "Espangol?" "English"? These kids have a remarkable affinity for languages.
In the morning, we decided to try the souk again. We made our way through the maze and all sans guide. We saw many strange things. Some fantastic and some not so. Someone warned me that everyone who goes to Morocco ends up buying a carpet. I can see why. They are stunning. Each Berber carpet is made up of hundreds of thousands of hand tied knots. They are very special and no two are exactly alike. Kelly and I might be the first gringos ever to escape without a carpet though. Their expert sales tactics are nothing compared to my cheapness. In addition to the terrific hand made goods, there is also a stupefying amount of cheap Chinese made crap for sale as well. This is not what you expect going into this Arabic market.
As we rounded one corner, we saw something that was very strange and troubling. A bunch of people were standing around watching a fight. The fight was between a man in his early twenties and a woman of about the same age. He had her by the hair and was pulling for all he was worth. She had his shirt and was clawing at him like she was possessed. She was bleeding from her mouth as she had clearly taken a punch and she was now trying to exact revenge. The girls mother was trying to break things up, but other than that, nobody lifted a finger to try and step in. The fight ended when the girl ripped the mans shirt off. He stormed away. The woman, however was not through with him. She tried in vain to chase after him. I have never in my life seen such raw, primal, rage. She spit venom his way as blood dripped from her chin. Now is when the bystanders decided to step in. They held the girl back so the man could make his getaway. If she had a weapon, I have no doubt that she would have killed this man in the street. I guess this leads me to a point. This is a very sexist culture. It seems to me that the men spend their days chatting and smoking with their friends. You don't see them with their wives or families very often. Conversely, you don't see too much of the women folk. I assume that this is because they are working. Now, I'm not implying that Moroccan men are lazy or don't work. It's just an odd sort of dynamic. So in this case, it was fine while the man was ripping hand fulls of hair from this girls head, but the moment she decides to go on the offensive, it's time to hold her back.
Later that day we passed a guy who spoke impeccable English. He stated that he was not a guide and that he could show us where the tanneries were. Indeed, he led us down and around the maze until finally he introduced us to another guy. This guy WAS the guide. These cats are slick man. Oh well, so he took us up to the top of a building and explained how the tanning process works. They do things the ancient way here in Fes. The same way that they've done them for over 7000 years. It was really amazing to see. What was more amazing was the stuff that they used to do the tanning. Pidgin shit, cow urine, and mud are just a few of the myriad of ingredients that go into the tanning process. I have a tough time getting motivated to go to work in a sterile cube. Imagine Monday morning when you have to go put your hands in bird crap all day. I think I'd be working for the weekend like Loverboy.
We managed to ditch (read payoff) our guide and made our way to a light shop. Now this was an interesting exchange. This cat, Aziz was no pressure. He spoke to us in fluent English and let us look around his shop. As we looked, he went in the back and smoked hash. He then came back and chatted with us for a while. He answered questions eventually made us some mint tea. He was candid about how the guides get commission, and how gringos with guides get ripped off. We found a few luminaries that we liked. He started at 700 dirham and in what felt like the worlds slowest back and forth, I eventually got him down to 450. I left feeling quite proud of myself, but then realized I could have bought, basicly the same items at Pier One Imports for about the same cost. But this way I've got the story...
Here are a few other lessons from the souk:
Everything is delivered by donkey or handcart. There are no cars in the souk as they could not fit down the streets.
Kids follow you everywhere. You are not supposed to give them any money no matter how pathetic they look or sound. If you do, they tend to follow tourists instead of go to school. Next thing you know, they are sniffing glue.
Everyone is related to everyone else. If you express interest in anything, they will have a brother or cousin who sells it. Furthermore, everyone has a relative in the states. I find this kind of funny, as I don't think I've ever met a Moroccan before this week.
If you meet a Moroccan man, chances are his name is Mohammad.
The next day Kelly and I took it easy. It was a Sunday. We slept late, got some coffee at a shop that allowed women and played chess at the cafe. When Kelly beat me, for probably the 50th time in a row, I flipped her off with two hands. This good natured, sore losing gesture was met with much laughter and approval from the men at the cafe. It was pretty funny. But seriously, Kelly kicks my ass every single time we play.
After the chess bludgeoning, we meandered to the bus station to get tickets for the following day. In the bus station there was an adorable little black kitten with Paul Neuman like blue eyes. Incidently, there are cats EVERYWHERE in Morocco. Which suits me fine, but they make Kel sneeze. Anyway, as I'm playing with this kitten Kelly gets to talking with a local man named Khalid. Khalid is the driver of a Grand Taxi. You can hire these to go just about anywhere in the country. He spoke flawless English and eventually he invited us to have some tea with him. Khalid was an ex-hippie who had pretty discerning taste in classic rock music. I was impressed. He explained how his brother lived in the LA and we began talking about the differences between the states and Morocco. Khalid explained that his brother was not all that comfortable in LA, because the people are always in a hurry. Also, they tend to always want more. This is directly at odds with Khalid's way of thinking. He turned away from the hippie life some years back and now is a pretty devout Muslim. He wasn't worried about getting a fare that day, because he has enough to eat and a place to sleep. From the sounds of it ole Khalid didn't have a whole lot to his name, but he seemed happy and comfortable. A lot of people think that they are happy, but I don't think many hit the level of contentedness that Khalid has achieved. I hope that I'm able to find it someday. It dawned on me that we are all not so different. Sure there are cultural differences and economic differences, but we all have mothers, and they all worry about their kids. This conversation with Khalid was time well spent. I hope that someday when I'm melting down in traffic or I'm depressed about losing a sale, I can remember this simple, yet happy man.