Chefchaouen, Morocco

We paused behind an olive cart. The farmer persuaded the donkey with slight taps. His son sat on the back of the cart with a blank stare on his face.

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Rolling green hills dotted with goats and speckled white rocks set against the landscape of the Rif Mountains, that’s what the countryside outside of Fez imprinted on me. I had a long and complicated conversation with Karim, possibly the most honest and interesting man in Morocco. (Interestingly enough his Arabic name directly translates to generous & noble).

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An empty produce stand

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At an impromptu roadside stand, Karim stopped to buy us a colossal bag of oranges and an entire bag of tangerines. They were the best I’d ever had and we snacked on them the entire stay in Morocco.

 

“Do sons do the same jobs as their fathers?” I asked him.

“Of course”, with a nod of his head, as if there were no other logical answer. “If a father is a farmer, his son will be a farmer”.

“What does your father do?”

“He works in tourism in the medina”.

“What’s your family like?”

“My oldest brother is in the army. My younger brother works in tourism too”.

“Do you have any children or a wife?” He didn’t. Spouses are somewhat arranged in Morocco. Ties between families are important. We saw very few women working. Women must have permission from their husbands, fathers, or brothers to work and are accompanied outside of the home. I wasn’t able to go anywhere without Andrew on our trip.

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Karim and Andrew looking like friends.

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Sometimes I wore a hijab on our trip out of cultural respect. I found that I didn’t get as many questioning stares from men for my light complexion. It’s best to err on the side of  tradition when venturing outside of relatively modern cities to the countryside.

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Karim surprised us with another impromptu stop to see how the farmers’ olives are crushed into olive oil after he realized my fascination with the boy on the olive cart.

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Olive oil being loaded for market

“Are people here happy?” I asked.

“Oh yes- people are very happy . . . we have a GREAT KING!” We drove through the farm estate of the king. “See? The king even built street lights out on the roads out here and a sidewalk”. It was so his farm workers wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. “The king, he really cares about the people”. “The king married a woman from a poor family in Fez”. I’d seen pictures of Princess Lalla Salma. She has fiery red hair—I knew this because she didn’t wear a hijab. She’s educated—and speaks for her country during diplomatic affairs. She’s a fine example of changing times in a society dominated by fathers and sons.

It’s illegal to criticize the king in Morocco.

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In Karim’s words we were “lucky” enough to drive through the monthly Berber market. Berbers are an ethnic population with their own history. Berber families load donkeys and walk up and down hills for miles to meet at their own market.
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The iconic entrance of Chefchaouen. I liked the photo better with the little man wearing the traditional djellaba.

Karim helped us pass through the entrance of Chefchaouen without being harassed to buy trinkets. There was a specific moment he allowed some giggling women to put large hats with colored balls on us; it was meant to make us look like traditional Berbers. I couldn’t pull it off. Karim guided us through Chefchaouen like a shadow hovering over the land.

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The community laundry wash at the river in the entrance of town.

The blue city was founded by the descendants of Muhammad.  Jews fled here during the Spanish Reconquista. Jews painted their homes blue, and it’s been done ever since.

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The most photographed street in Chefchaouen.

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93% of Morocco is religious and predominately Sunni. Jews and Christians sill have freedom to practice but it is illegal to own a Bible in Arabic in order to prevent the conversion of Muslims to other beliefs.

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Ground plants and spices make dyes. The yellow, saffron, is the most expensive.

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Notice that the sign is in French? There is a community of French expats here.

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You know I make cat friends everywhere I go. Cats are a revered animal in Islam because of their cleanliness and Muhammad taught about loving cats.

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Morocco is one of the United State’s oldest and closest allies.

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In 2015 a 23 and 29 year old were stoned by the townspeople in the beach town of Agadir for wearing skirts that were deemed too short. Their skirts were of normal length, just above the knee. It’s reported that the issue occurred after the pair denied a man their phone numbers. In 2012 a woman was stripped naked in the street after wearing clothes that her Salafist assailants thought were too provocative. Violence is not the culture of Moroccans. However, intense debates over personal freedoms has been renewed as young Moroccan men and women  are turning to social media like Facebook to call for individual freedom.

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“What do you like to do for fun?” I asked Karim. He responded that he liked to play cards, hang out with his brothers and friends. He said that he spent a lot of time with them.  He said that, on occasion, when he had time off, he liked to go to his family’s house up in the mountains.

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We ate lunch at Beldi Bab SSour. Tagines are pots with magical surprises of stew-like spices inside. The food is actually cooked inside of the ceramic pots generating mouthful after mouthful of surprises. We looked out over the rooftops watching intimate moments of women without their hijabs hanging laundry. Our waiter longingly commented  “Ahh, The American Dream” when he asked where we called home. I thought of the boy on the olive cart. He returned with the tagines singing Bob Marley. We laughed together.

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When it was time to go Karim stopped at a fountain beside the river. He grabbed one of the community cups and took a swig of water. We discussed how the water came straight from the stream, and that people came to this fountain to drink. We were a tad hot, and Karim smirked as he said, “I don’t drink on the tour during Ramadan, and it’s hotter during Ramadan!”
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On the way back to Fez: (from the department of misadventures) Karim did have to save me from a tongue lashing from an angry goat herder because I thought it would be cute to pet the goats.  Little did i know that they were head butting billy goats.

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After walking back to the van and examining the countryside I watched the sun go down over the vernal land. I silently reflected on what I had learned over the day and thought, “This country is changing and every little thing IS going to be alright. ♫

If you’d like for me to dig up contact info for Karim or you would just like tips for visiting Chefchaouen or Fez leave me a comment in the space below or email me at katiesylvest@gmail.com

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