It’s Complicated in Fes, Morocco

Imagine going somewhere so different that it would be difficult to explain what you learned when you got back home. That type of complication and pleasant type of bewilderment is exactly what followed me home from Fes.


The blue on the front side of the Bab Bou Jeloud Gate represents the color of the Berbers- the ethnic group of Morocco.


The green on the back represents the color of Islam


Leather tanneries with dye made from plants and pigeon droppings

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I’d been blabbing about going to Morocco for a while. You can read all about my love for tagines & olives, checking out farming communities, learning about hijabs and family traditions here on my trek to the Blue City. If you’ve done any reading on this location, you know about the tanneries, and the world famous labyrinth of the medina.  But what really goes on in the middle of town? Here are my unexpected and lesser known take-aways from the cultural capital of Morocco:

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    washing at prayer time


    Mosaics & Architecture that Will Blow Your MindB1.JPG

    I digress- I’ve never been a small details person. Picture me, furrowing my brow while touching all sorts of things I shouldn’t–  city walls, mosque entrances, and fountain back splashes . . . and putting my face really close to them. I was so inspired by the mosaics imprinted throughout the city  that I actually came home and immediately signed up for pottery classes. One of my favorite memories was staggering around one of the many artisan ceramics studios and being spotted by an artist while *having a moment*. He could tell that I was totally enamored with the process of hand carving every eight point star he was carving out. We didn’t need words. He just handed me one of them and motioned for me to keep it. b4.JPG

    It’s now  one of my most memorable souvenirs because it spoke of his peoples’ generosity and giving nature. And that’s something that you can’t find at your local tourist t-shirt shop.


    2. Unbelievable Tasting Citrus

    All of the food we ate was home-grown.  I sampled tangerines and oranges like I was a wine connoisseur. I lugged pounds of oranges around for days for snacks. I could almost taste the Moroccan sunshine inside of them. There’s something magical about eating sunshine on dusty streets with the same sun warming your face.

    I’ve also been thinking about how most of the food consumed in the developing world is organic. Yet, at home we  pay twice as much for organic food. That’s almost the definition of irony.

    3. Hotels and Courtyards That will Make You Feel like Royalty

    When we weren’t being served sweet mint tea in silver tea pots I was frolicking around feeling a bit like Princess Jasmine.

    4. Adorable Cats Everywhere


    Cue the moment when the fishmonger threw him a treat for us.

    5. The Welfare & Rights of Pack Animals


    It was quite amusing listening to the old men of the medina roll their eyes and talk about an “American woman” who started a school to take care of the donkeys. What they really were talking about was Amy Bend Bishop, a traveller who felt terrible for the 40,000 pack animals around Fes in the 1920s. So she started American Fondouk, a veterinary nonprofit that offers free care to the hardworking mules and donkeys of Morocco. b9.JPG

    6. A Really Cool Old Jewish District

    If you’re heading to Morocco, explore the lesser discussed part of town.
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    7. Jobs for Young People

    I’ll tell you what clued me in on this issue– the swaths of young people noisily gathering in the streets and around corners. I’d walk by and the same ones would be in the same spot the next day.  I’m not going to try to analyze the economics of the country (you can check Google if your interested in reading more about it).


    These little guys and I became friends. They were playing in the street outside of their houses. They let me take their picture when I asked them. I gave them a handful of butterscotch in return.

    8. People Tell You What You Want to Hear

    That’s a nice way of saying that people lied. I’m sad to say that there were several times when we caught men lying to us in Morocco, especially when they were trying to make a buck. It was blatant and a huge turn off.  Even respectable people, who we became friends with didn’t tell the whole truth. I got to a point where I just had enough of the lying and felt jaded. With that being said, this website doesn’t support stereotyping– but I’m not going to sugarcoat what actually happened. Most of the lies were to avoid unpleasantries.  Bring on the hate mail!

    9. Salesmen That Could Sell You Sand in a Desertb9999999999999.JPG

    This is what no one will tell you about your upcoming trip to Morocco. I’m going to get some hate mail for this one too– and I really wish I had a better attitude about it! If you follow me, you know that I am frugal– and I take pride in the fact that I rarely ever get scammed.  Just know that the men of the medina are very good businessmen. (Just assume that they are smarter than you are at all times).  So if you’re not on your way to Morocco you can stop here. If you are travelling to Morocco read on: Let me tell you what happens inside of Fes.

    1-You’re told that you need to hire a guide if your going to go to  the heart of town to avoid being hassled and getting lost in the maze.

    2-So you hire a guide (maybe through the hotel who makes a commission off of you).
    3- Your guide takes you down to the medina and passes you off to a whole bunch of his friends at shops.

    4- You go to a rug shop, a dress shop, a shoe shop, a leather shop and on and on.  They push you to try on garments . . . you keep saying “no” “no” “I don’t  need that” “no!” It’s like a nightmare where people just keep popping up to sell you things; then it turns into a insane musical where you just want to yell “noooooooOOOOooOOO” opera style!!!

    5- If you buy items your guide makes a commission and he’s nice to you.

    6- But if  your cheap (like me) and you don’t buy things you end up with a whole bunch of pushy guys mad at you (including your guide).

     7- Your guide gets irritated with you so he drops you off at an extremely overpriced lunch where you are surrounded by confused looking tourists who are arguing with the waitstaff about the overpriced lunches.

    8- You demand to be taken back to your hotel in an awkwardly silent car ride with a pile of shoes, rugs, clothes, and leather goods that you didn’t need bouncing around.

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    Embarrassing photo time: here I am getting harassed to buy this (pretty, but where would I ever wear it?!) I needed it about as bad as I needed a flying carpet.

    Basically what I just described to you is the biggest racket ever. And I’ve got the 70 dollar “handwoven” blanket (that I didn’t need) to prove it. I’ll just give credit where credit is due– the men of the medina are really smart businessmen.


    The sales pitch . . . meet “Charlie”- do you really think his name was Charlie?

    10. But then you will meet honest people who will totally change your mindMorocco Spain 449.JPG

    Meet Karim. I’ve gushed over his good character before on other posts.  He’s a totally normal & honest person who gave us a heads up on the huge scam that I mentioned above. (Karim comes from a long line of men who have worked in tourism). We had a heated discussion where he even was (politely and apologetically) yelling about it.  It actually angers him that tourists are treated in a way that totally misrepresents his culture.

1 Comment

  1. Jess have John says:

    The touristy selling thing happened on part of our trip to India; we were so lucky to have gone with friends and family who were not new to the whole thing and gave us guidance and a good lesson or two on bartering. Haha we finally figured it out on our last day shopping in Delhi.


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