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.
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).
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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. ♫