Morocco is a different place. They speak predominantly Arabic and French (not Spanish or English), and have a much different way of life than in the USA or the EU.
We are currently in Fes, a city in central Morocco. Inside Fes is something called The Medina. The Medina is the old part of Fes. Surrounded by walls, this place has tiny, packed streets, all sorts of merchants showing off their wares, and is exactly the vision you have when you think of when you think of a busy, bustling city. People run by you carrying big pieces of furniture, and even short old men carry huge packs on their backs. Donkeys run past you on the streets, and people invite you into their shops to show off their lamps.
I am going to talk about things inside the Medina.
Everything in the Medina is for sale. Even if you just so much as pass their shop they will invite you to come in, or to list off all the things that they have in stock for you. Some examples are: when getting off the boat from Spain to Morocco, several people in the almost empty parking lot offered us a taxi ride. We had to decline like 5 times. People also tried to sell us drums, toy camels, and dry food. We had to say “we’ll come back later,” but then never return in order to get away.
The streets inside the Medina are completely full of things to attract the eye. Tiny streets branch off from others, and people have the weirdest things on display. One shop had a basket full of live snails. The snails were all squirming around in the woven basket, some trying to escape. They were probably kept there to be fresh for when somebody comes and wants to buy some. I felt bad for the little snails. I wondered if they knew if they were going to be eaten. I wish they didn’t have to suffer that fate. As you walk along the streets of the Medina, you pass by more interesting and strange stuff. A big theme today was chickens. Some people would walk by you on the street with bundles of live chickens slung over their backs. The bundle of 5-6 chickens would have all their feet tied together, and basically every other part of the body immobilized by the restraints. Except the head. The only reason I knew that they were alive was because sometimes they would cock their heads or blink an eye. The chickens were bound to suffer the same fate as the snails. Some people would have a chicken in their shop, just in case if someone might want to buy the chicken from them. I would not want to buy a chicken here in Morocco. They sell them to you live, and they will break the neck right there in front of you prior to you buying it. I would refuse to purchase it because I don’t like chicken, and I cannot bear to have them kill a chicken in front of me just because I want to buy it.
If you keep going along the streets you will arrive at more sights of different objects displayed along the narrow paths. My mind was just in awe, still trying to process the fact that we were in Africa. We had settled into a wonderful riad/Airbnb and explored our wonderful neighborhood (the Medina), seeing things we thought no one would dare display for everyone to see. One such thing was a camel head. Yes, on display, camel head for sale. You could see the flesh from the back of its head. Its eyes were closed. The animal it had belonged to had already suffered that same fate that the snails and chickens were looking right at. Slaughter.
Enough of the poor animals. If you kept walking you would begin to see certain patterns. Some streets would have carts with candy in them. Five or so carts all lined up on one side of the 5-foot wide alleyway. Bees would buzz all over the candy, trying to find an opening in the plastic so that they could taste some sweet candy. The people running the stands didn’t seem to care about the little insects that were crawling all over their food. Some streets would have a band of musicians in them, others would be lined with carpentry shops. It seemed that all the fruit stands were collected together, on one street. Same with the metalworkers, jewelers, lamp shops, fabric stores, pottery crafters and tanneries. Meats and desserts would each be with other meat and dessert shops, and it was very common to find little stands selling spiny pears or nuts.
All of these shops had an interesting way of closing down. Some would do the usual, shut the windows and close the doors, but others had a lot more trust in fellow people walking past. They would just set a rod, or a broomstick horizontally across the entrance to their corner store, and it would be considered closed. Anyone walking by could, potentially just shimmy on in and take whatever they please. But I guess people just don’t steal from their fellow people, and the neighbors watch out for them.
A lot of that is very native to the busy Medina in Fes, but there are some things that apply to all of Fes, and some to the whole of Morocco.
I know Morocco can be dangerous in some ways, and pickpockets and robbers can be a risk. That’s why we watch ourselves when we walk, Alex and Janet don’t put their phone in their back pockets, and we set an alarm on our house when we leave. People are very friendly here but sometimes offers of help come with an expectation that they will be paid.
But all those things are not the biggest concerns in this place. The bigger threats are getting lost, run over by a donkey, or drinking the water here and getting a tummy ache. Moroccans are very friendly to guests, serving you not themselves, and love children like us. Moroccans will often greet people on the street and talk for a while. Moroccans have a different relationship with each other, which I find to be very beautiful. Moroccans look out for each other.
Morroco is a unique country, with special, unique, greetings. If a pair of friends see each other on the street, they might stop and talk about the welfare of each other’s families. But when you see someone, and you greet them, there is something you must do. In America, you might say Hello, and give your friend a hug. Here in Morocco if you are a man greeting a man, you will shake hands and then touch your right hand to your chest as a proper greeting. If you are a woman greeting a woman, then you shake hands and then do 0-4 “air kisses” depending on familiarity. “Air kisses” are the 2 women touching cheek to cheek, and then kissing the air around the other persons ear. If you are a woman greeting a man, then you put your hands to your hearts, and then optional handshakes or air kisses.
In Morocco, definitely the majority of the population is Muslim. There are no churches or synagogues in the Medina, only mosques. Most of the population follows the rules of what it is like to be Muslim. For one, only the Muslims are allowed to enter the mosques, and women are highly recommended to cover their shoulders, knees, and wrists in clothing. They are to not wear any tight-fitting clothes, and if they do, it must be covered up. If you are Muslim, then you should cover your hair. I don’t know why these restrictions are only for women, but they sure have a strict protocol what they should wear.
This religion comes with something that I have never seen anywhere else. Calls to prayer. Five or six times a day (depends on the day), a loud megaphone atop a mosque will shout out in a loud, deep, booming voice in Arabic. The voice will say prayers. It is during this time that all Muslims pray. Once one tower calls out the prayers, then more voices will call out in prayer, and bells will ring in the distance. It is something that I had never heard of before my time here in Morocco.
Morocco’s currency is in dirhams. 9.5 dirhams is equal to 1 dollar (lucky for us), and it is illegal to take them out of the country. They are Moroccan money only.
Here we have to be careful, because the water here will give you a tummy ache, or vomiting, or diarrhea, or a combination of all three. We have to be careful when we wash hands, to not get water in our mouths, and when we take showers we have our keep our mouths closed. The surfaces here are also dirty and we are not used to the germs here, so we have to wash our hands frequently, and make sure to not put our hands in our mouths.
Traffic here is also a lot more chaotic. You can inch close to other cars no problem, and take risks you wouldn’t dare take in the USA. You can zoom by pedestrians, and you don’t even have to stop for people on crosswalks. As pedestrians, you can walk slightly in the streets, and you only really have to get out of the street when a car comes. Traffic is all mixed up, and we have to stay alert.
Morocco is fascinating, and I enjoy being here very much!
Below: Pictures from our time in Fes