It is Saturday morning and we are heading back up to Spain after a week-long visit to Morocco. We are taking train #7, which is approximately five hours from Fes to Tangier. A week ago we got to Morocco with flight #27, a two hour flight from Madrid to Marrakesh, spent a few days there, drove through the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert, and took an 8-hour train to our last stop in Morocco, Fes.
I’ve got to tell you I felt like a fish out of water when I first arrived. If there was a lineup of 1000 people in Morocco and you were asked to pick the American, I’m sure I would be picked every time. Also I really didn’t know much about the Muslim culture or how they feel about us in other countries. I was even hesitant to tell strangers that I was an American at first, but it’s hard to hide with my pale complexion, light hair, and my only language being English. Denise has no problem blending in and when we walked together most assumed we were everything but American. Morocco is a short flight from many European countries therefore there are alot or Europeans traveling around this beautiful country. There were several Moroccans that associated me with our president when they found out I was American and they all liked him. It took a few days to settle into this culture shock, but by the time we arrived in Fes on our fifth day I was taking it all in and feeling welcomed.
Driving from the airport or train station, Morocco does not seem like the mysterious and rustic country that it is. It is when you enter into the walls of the medina or city that you feel like you stepped back into time. The walls are the first sight you see. They are around 20 feet high and look nearly impossible to get over. The medinas have several entrances and are left open all of the time. In years past they were shut in the evening. Also in the past it was not so easy as today to enter. If you did not live inside you were given a pass and it could expire in as little as 3 hours. Now all are welcomed and are encouraged to stay longer if you can. Once inside the medina there are 1000s of passageways large enough for a donkey, but not a car, and in some of the holiest parts there are boards across the path about 6-feet high preventing you from entering on your donkey. The paths are surrounded by 3-4 story houses with some palaces and a lot of hotels, or riads. There are two doors in one at every entrance. The smaller inner door is for humans and the outer and larger door for the donkeys. It is very easy to get lost in the medina because every passage looks like the last and the street names are in Arabic. Aromas of grilled meats find you throughout the medina and there are a ton of restaurants and venders selling everything you can imagine. Most of the shops and restaurants are in small stalls and if caught looking inside you are greeted and encouraged to come inside to “just look.” Our American dollar goes a long way here, a nice lunch can cost as little as $6.50 for two and a Moroccan’s pay can be as little as $30.00 for a month of work. In Fes we visited a tannery, which is the largest of 3 in the city. It is a factory that dates back to medieval times. Leather from goats, cow, and lamb are treated and colored here with all-natural ingredients, no chemicals are used. Some of the ingredients are poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green) and saffron (yellow). Other materials used for dyeing include pomegranate powder, which is rubbed on the hides to turn them yellow, and olive oil, which will make them shiny. The workers here can make up to $120.00 a month, but the work is pretty intense. The tannery is lined with pools of cold water probably around 5-feet deep and here the different natural dyes are created and clothing is soaked for hours at a time with the workers in the pools soaking and rotating the clothing throughout the day. The smell of the factory is very strong and we were given mint leaves as our gas masks while walking above the tannery. Another aroma found is baked Moroccan cookies that are made daily by the ladies and are cooked in communal wood fire ovens as big as a New York apartment. Nobody has room for an oven of this size at home so everyone is welcomed to use it throughout the day. Most Moroccan women wear veils and cover most of their body, but non-Muslims are seen without veils in regular street clothes. Spotted along the paths are small windows sticking out of buildings with curved iron gates surrounding the window. These windows were designed in the 800s, when the medina was built, so women can look outside and their faces would not be seen. There is a daily routine of prayer for Muslims and 5 times a day all across the medina starting at 5 a.m. you can hear the sound of the prayer. The volume was comparable to a tornado warning in the Midwest. This is one of the things I will miss most in Morocco. I think the world can learn a great lesson from the Muslim community about stopping throughout our day to give praise and thanks for all that we have.
Lastly the food and drinks in Morocco were just the way food should be, natural. In the morning our breakfast began with freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh baked breads. Pancakes, rolls, and fresh fruits were also available on occasions. Coffee was available, but I think it was for the tourists because tea was drunk by the local Moroccans. Beans were also served for breakfast. One of my favorites was lentils and Denise makes fun of me and my obsession for lentils. Lunch and dinner was usually started with a Moroccan salad, tomato and green peppers diced and tossed with a touch of oil and vinegar, or Moroccan soup, a simple vegetable soup with parsley and chickpeas. There was also a varietal salad brought to us occasionally which was a variety of vegetables with rice. The vegetables varied from green beans, potatoes, beets, carrots and Denise’s and my favorite, spiced olives with pickled rind of lemons. Our last dinner in Fes, which we had at our hotel Riad Layalina, started with bread, which is served with every meal and is a like French bread in the shape of a hamburger bun served with a tomato, pepper, and onion blend served cold as a spread. Our friend Lori makes it back home and reminds me of a dish my grandma use to make for us with eggplant. The main entree is often tagine, couscous or an omelette. They are all served with fresh vegetables and meat choice including D’s favorite, lamb, or beef or chicken. We didn’t see a lot of seafood, but the street venders had snails cooking in a large pan waiting for you to throw a couple down while passing. There is generally no alcohol served in Morocco, but if you try hard enough tourists can get their hands on some. Desserts were fresh fruits and Moroccan cookies that were great then or saved to dip in your coffee the following morning. Tea is served with every meal and if poured correctly you can hear it across the room because it is poured 3 feet above the cup for mixing purposes.