Word has it that Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens, lives in Fes. But the best part? He is the muezzin who recites the adhan! He’s the guy who’s voice is heard on the loudspeakers perched on the minaret! He’s the guy that calls the prayer! Suddenly I’m star struck.
Of course I think of him singing his prayers like he might sing ‘Wild World’ or ‘Morning Has Broken’ and then I laugh…
It’s always good to hire a tour guide. Two main reasons I can think of now. 1. He can show you details about a place you might’ve otherwise missed, and 2. He keeps people from driving you crazy in the souq. My guide was Aziz. And a very sweet man at that. We picked him up at a cafe and he presented wearing a sports jacket, nice polo shirt, and slacks. Spiffy. I liked him instantly. And he didn’t skip a beat. Immediately upon being sat in the car he began describing to me Fes and how it has the largest medina in the whole of Africa. And how it is more tranquil than Marrakech. But I already knew that part! What a laid-back, calm place this is. So different from the hustle of Marrakech.
Of course there’s the requisite visit to the handicraft center to see the pottery being made from start to finish, and then being sat in front of a book of mosaic examples to choose the perfect piece to be made specifically for you and then shipped home. For $1200 for a table about 15″ diameter. But other than that, it’s a wonderful experience to see Fes with a guide.
Flour and grains
As part of my tour through Fes, Morocco, I visited the tannery. It’s beautiful! But a little stinky. People carry sprigs or bouquets of mint with them and wag them in front of their noses to divert the smell. I wasn’t effected by it. But it wasn’t all that hot on the day I visited.
The thing about the tannery is that it’s all done by hand. The skins are treated and then scraped of their hair. It’s all soaked in lye and then in vats of dyes. Orange from saffron (and probably some chemicals), red from beets (and probably some chemicals), yellow from flowers (and probably some chemicals) and so on. This makes for some excellent picture-taking, for sure. It’s gorgeous. And it’s interesting to see that these workers work so hard. For so long. And under these conditions: beating sun, vats of liquid, lifting heavy skins, and just managing to get from here to there on the edges of vats about 3″ thick. It is amazing. And it made me feel a little bad taking the photos of these hard-working, weary men. Generation after generation of men work here. Year after year. “If they could do something different, they would.” Aziz, my guide, told me later.
The guide who is licensed to walk clients through the tannery, Hamza in my case, walked me through and explained things to me. But not before trying to sell me every purse, shoe, or pouf in the place! “The lamb’s leather is the softest,” he urged. I had to agree. But no. I don’t want a jacket made from it. These purses (“pieces of fashion”) are perfect for you! No. I don’t want a purse. “These are the best quality shoes we have. The red ones look so good with your skin tone,” he prolifically described. BINGO. “Yes they do,” I effused. “I’ll take them along with an orange pair!” I now own two pairs of gorgeous shoes for $50. Bloop. Bloop.(And this after I just wrote I felt a little bad for taking their photo!)
So when I asked if these workers get sick, Hamza said, “Of course! Everyone gets sick. We’re humans.” “No, I know, but do they get sick from standing in these dyes all day? Honestly, Hamza.” No reply. Then I added, “Do they die from it?” Hamza said,”Everyone dies, miss. We all die. We just don’t know when and often why.” Yes, I had to agree. Everyone dies.
Returning to Fes from Volubilis we passed two women hitchhiking. “Do you mind?’ Mokhtar asked. Of course not so we stopped to pick them up. “She’s an old lady,” he added. I agreed. They both looked like old ladies though of different gradients of old. In they hopped after many smiles and handshakes, hugs and ‘chukrans.’ Beautiful women with bright faces. Their story? Mother and daughter. Mother is on her way to Fes (50km away) to have neck surgery – – or hopes to. She was a maid for some people in Dades Valley and when her neck gave her so many troubles, the family let her go. Daughter came to get her and was so surprised how bad she really is. So now she is taking care of her old mom. Mother is 49. The “old lady” is 49.
I’m waiting for the flight to Paris and then Casablanca in the lounge at Logan Airport in Boston. Ready for my third trip to Morocco in 13 months. Morocco 3.
Luggage is light this time yet I know I still brought more than is needed. 18 kg is the heaviest bag. 6 kg is the backpack. So I’m pretty proud of myself since a week of business travel just before this trip requires me to ship one bag home. Lots of packing and re-packing and organizing. Hoping I didn’t forget more than the eyeglasses I already realize were forgotten.
Everything seems situated enough on that end with plans for a brief stay in Casablanca overnight and then on to Fes sometime on Saturday.