Yesterday was our first trip out of Ifrane since the night we arrived at the airport. I thought driving up at night was beautiful and interesting because of all the people still out and about in the middle of the night and because of the shops selling things from ceramics to textiles with their lights still on. I was pleasantly surprised to drive down into the city during the day. The view is spectacular.
The High Atlas Mountains are stunning. The people who live along the road seem to exist in a different time as they ride their donkeys down the road to the market and live in houses nuzzled into valleys that look like something out of a painting or photograph. Many people in the area are farmers. Higher up in the mountains many people have goats that they are preparing for this weekend. This weekend is Eid al-Adha which is the Feast of Sacrifice and the most important feast of the Muslim calendar. I’ve been told its like Christmas for Moroccans. I’ll add a link at the bottom of this page so that you can read more about the scared holiday.
As we drove farther down the mountain there were men sitting on the side of the road with containers of amber colored liquid inside, raw honey. Our Moroccan friend who was driving told us that it’s very good and the area is known for its honey. Farther down the road we drove past countless vendors selling fruits including apples, peaches, nectarines, and figs. Fruits are one thing I have heard many Moroccan students rave about how good they are in this area and the best places to buy them is fresh from the markets. Seeing the vendors along the road was such a contrast to how things are done in the US. As a consumer you are able to literally see where the produce is being grown and how it is being taken care of. Arguably, it doesn’t get any fresher than that.
Once you’re out of the rural area you drive straight into the metropolitan area of Fez. Huge palm trees line the streets. All the buildings are much taller here than in Ifrane which give it the feeling of being in a big city. Fez is actually the second largest city in the entire country of Morocco with a population of 1.1 million people it is second only to Casablanca which has 3.36 million people. Most of the buildings in Fez are crumbling and falling apart. In some cases it’s hard to tell if a building is going up or coming down. In contrast however, there are beautiful elaborate houses with extravagant gates in front of their drive way and arched front doors and windows. The contrast between the impressive houses and the crumbling commercial structures gives the city an inexplicable character that I’ve never experienced before.
Traffic in the city is stressful for someone like me who is your typical backstreet driver or control freak. From what I have seen so far the lines on the street are more of suggestions. People drive right through the middle of the street and it’s perfectly fine especially when no one is around. In the US, a person could be the only car on the road for miles and they will most likely stay perfectly in the lines. Not here. There are also not many stop lights. They use roundabouts with weird rules about when to go. People kind of yield… at the same time they dart through trying to beat the giant bus that stops for no one. In all of this chaos people are walking into the middle of the street with blind trust that you are going to stop, almost point blank in order to let them cross. In Morocco people do stop, even if it’s right in the middle of an intersection in order to let someone cross. In the US, we may say pedestrians have the ‘right of way’ but in actuality it’s more like pedestrians have the right to walk where they are supposed to walk, when they are told they are supposed to walk, and only for as long as they are signaled to do so. Beyond that no one is going to stop their car for you without also using some colorful language to remind you who has the real priority on the road.
The mall in Fez was surprising and unlike the portion of the city we had just drove by. All three floors of the building were decorated with the very Moroccan geometrical patterns and colors that are usually only seen in art galleries in the US. Many of the brands I had never heard of mainly because in the Midwest we don’t have many international brands like the coasts would but also because I’m a broke college student who couldn’t afford brand names like that even if we did have them. But of course no mall is complete without an Adidas and Nike outlet which we went in because it almost felt obligatory. The coolest place however was a Japanese store. It was like a Japanese version of IKEA! We were all able to get things we needed for our dorm rooms and I was able to get a pair of sunglasses.
Walking around in an urban shopping center which consisted of mostly middle and upper class Moroccan people I felt like we, as Americans, fit in at least a small amount more than in the small town of Ifrane. There were people who stared out of curiosity but for the most part people in the mall didn’t care who we were or what we were doing there. If you haven’t as a person even experienced being the minority in the room I want to challenge you to find somewhere that who you are makes up a very very small percentage of the people in the room and really check in with the way that makes you feel. It is strange at first how aware you are of who you are as a person and how others identify you when you are not the majority. It is both humbling and nerve wracking at the same time. I experienced this feeling for the first time in Washington DC two years ago on a volunteer trip but my experience in Fez was just as intense as it was the first time.
While shopping we managed to find a store that another girl and I were able to buy cell phones at which would allow us to make calls while we are in Morocco. I debated for a long time whether to buy a sim card to put into my Samsung phone and figure out how to jailbreak it or to buy a small prepaid phone but after looking into it I decided it was way too technical for me and having a small prepaid phone would be much easier. I would only need to use it when I don’t have Wi-Fi or in case of an emergency. The new phone only cost me 239 MAD (Moroccan Dirham) and a sim card that allows 3 hours of talk and 300 SMS messages only costs 59 MAD. All of which would only cost me around $30 USD.
With as welcoming and nice as most Moroccans are is it incredibly surprising when you meet someone who is extremely rude and unfriendly. This was the man at the sim car store. The five of us walked into a completely empty store and our Moroccan friend greeted him and asked if we could purchase four sim cards. His first response was come back in fifteen minutes. Confused, we left the empty store and decided to get lunch while we waited for the man to be ready. We came back probably close to an hour later thinking nothing of the time because the store just as empty as before. We walked in and in Arabic he says, “that’s what you call fifteen minutes,” and “you left the door open when you left earlier and when you walked in just now you left the door open again.” The door… which I had just closed and was closed as he said that. We let it go in spirit of trying to get past his rudeness in order to get what we came for as quickly as possible so that we could leave and hopefully never have to come back to this store again. Next, he asked us if we had our passports which none of us did because no one who has purchased a sim card in Ifrane has needed one. We asked and not even our driver’s license would have allowed us to purchase one. So we left, ultimately not giving the man any business… a fact I am not upset at all about. This man just showed me that no matter where you are in the world there will always be that one guy who hates his job and makes it his mission to make your time there as miserable as his. By no means does he change my view of Moroccans. He was just an angry old man with clearly nothing better to do.
After our failed attempt to get sim cards we stopped by one more store and then headed back to the car. On our way out of the parking garage we stopped and asked for directions. That’s something I admire about the Moroccans I have met so far. They use the people around them as resources and not as obstacles like most Americans do. If an American is lost they would rather drive or walk for hours before finding someone to ask for directions. On the contrary, a Moroccan wouldn’t get lost in the first place because they already ask for directions before they left. It gives places a stronger sense of community. Everyone helps one another and no one is one their own.
Driving back up to Ifrane was just as beautiful as driving down had been. Our trip to Fez was complete and for the most part successful. My first mini-adventure to Fez was one I will not forget.
Eid al-Adha Link:
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