A Welcome Note: On Filling the Gaps

Dear Friends and Family:

Although I haven't added any posts since the summer of 2007, this blog continues to be a warehouse of my thoughts and experiences from my time abroad.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Morocco: Day Seven, Part III

3.1.07 - So we followed him as he began leading us down the winding crowded streets towards hotel Kawtar. We passed a slew of sneaker stores hawking pumas and brand names for 300 Durham before ducking through a leather store and completely losing our orientation. Soon enough however, we landed ourselves in front of Hotel Kawtar and despite the “druggie” green lantern illuminating the room in which we were supposed to stay and the stained sheets, we figured that we had better not waste any more time and dropped our stuff. The only window in the room was about six inches across and eight inches high and the lock on the door was a simple luggage lock that could probably be snapped in two with one hand if one really wanted to get in. I put the sliver of a key into my money-belt so as not to lose it, and went downstairs with the rest of the homestay crew to pay. Our slick guide began offering us a tour around the city. We had read before that it is necessary to hire a licensed tour guide to see Fez, but this guy seemed pretty knowledgeable and had grown up in Fez his whole life so he certainly could give us a good tour. Although we were skeptical, Abdul’s offer was to tour us without accepting any money until the tour was over and in the case that we were not satisfied, we simply did not have to pay him. It all seemed pretty risk-free, so despite the guidebook warnings, we let him take us around. We began on the street by the hotel and he really seemed to know everyone. We learned that every main street in Fez has five things: A hammam, a place where young children can learn to recite the Koran, a bakery where women can bring pre-made dough to be baked, a mosque, and a fountain. Sure enough, each street had one of these and as we meandered along the dusty alleyways, our guide stopped in a number of shops and allowed us to take pictures, something we were unable to do on our own. He also brought us to an amazing white palace with intricate woodcarving and tile-work where they teach traditional Islamic music. From there our guide began directing us towards the infamous tanneries of Fez via the maze of the souk. Confident and debonair, Abdul walked a few steps in front of us with his head up and shoulders back. We were somewhat at a loss when by the souk entrance, another guy in a black jacket came out of a mosque and confronted our guide. The two men had a strange encounter and a hushed dialogue, resembling that of friends or family. Before we knew it, our guide began walking away with the man into the mosque and told us he would only be a minute. Confused, the four of us stood there hypothesizing about possible mob dealings or scams this guide was involved in, but soon enough one of the men in black coats came out of the mosque, radio in hand, and explained to us in French “faux guide.” Holiday, our unofficial French translator, spoke to the undercover policeman who had apparently just arrested Abdul and learned that we weren’t allowed to continue with him and were required to move on alone. We explained that were without a map and totally lost, so the officer allowed Abdul to come out for one last time to point us in the right direction. Completely hunched inward and seeming on the verge of tears, Abdul walked over to us and pointed in the direction of the souk. Without a guide or map (Which wouldn’t have done us much good since there were no marked street names anyway) we decided to give it a go and get lost, the only way to really get to know Fez. That we did, and ended up on the outskirts of town in an Internet cafĂ© looking for some sort of direction. There, a boy who looked younger than us, offered to take us back to our hotel. He and his friend walked us back without asking for any money at all, and promised to take us to the tannery the next day if we were interested. And so, we made “reservations” with our second faux guide and stayed within the confines of the few blocks (if you could even call them that) we knew within the area around our hotel. Dinner was more Moroccan soup from Chez Rashid (House of Rashid) and more infamous mint tea (made buy another guy across the street) and procured by Rashid himself who spent more time running around the small network of shops and gathering ingredients than cooking in his own kitchen.

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