August 16, 2009

Oh Morocco

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It has been a while since my last post due the fact that we got lost in Morocco. Intentionally. We left the Semester at Sea crowd and took the first train out of Casablanca to have a few days of R&R, family style. My wife Shawn has been to Morocco, and she knew where to go --- Fes. Fes el-Bali (Old Fes) is one of the largest living medieval cities in the world and according to the Lonely Planet Guide, the most interesting in Morocco, and with the exception of Marrakesh, Cairo and Damascus, nothing remotely comparable anywhere else in the Arab world.

Its narrow winding alleys and covered bizaars are crammed with every conceivable sort of craft workshop, restaurant, meat, fruit and vegetable market, mosque and medersa, as well as extensive dye pits and tanneries -- a veritable assault on the senses as you squeeze past recalcitrant donkeys and submit to the sounds and smells of this jostling city.

From camel heads hanging on hooks, to young men waist deep in leather dye pits, to olives as far as the eye can see, to colorful spices piled high, to incredible ceramics and Berber rugs (yea we bought one), this place was INCREDIBLE.

We retreated from the hustle and bustle by staying in a beautiful riad. From the outside you would think this place was a filthy cave. Once you got past the elaborate wooden door, you opened into a spectacular courtyard complete with a tinkling fountain, intricate mosaic work, and an open ceiling filled with daylight by day and starlight by night. We drank more fresh-squeezed orange juice and ate more olives in four days than we had consumed the previous year, basked in the call to prayer (5 times a day), and yet again were reminded of the blessings we sometimes take for granted back home.

A personal highlight was my last day in Fes when I decided to visit the public bath. In Fes few folks have baths or hot water in their homes, so once a week they go to the public bath where wood-fired hot water is offered up in buckets and BIG guys scrub/massage off years worth of dead skin cells, and leave you feeling cleaner than you knew you could be. It was wonderful to literately and figuratively hang out with the local men as they argued, laughed, prayed and solved the world's problems while getting clean. They smiled and laughed at me. It seemed to be a combination of "good for you, you ventured where most tourists don't go" and "what, are you crazy, you shouldn't be HERE." Regardless of their point of view, they were kind, helped me navigate the process, and touched their hearts (a typically greeting in Morocco) when I finally headed back to the riad.

Morocco got to me more than any of the other places on this voyage. I felt at home here, even thought I was clearly a foreigner. Strange but true. Of all the places on this voyage, these people have the least, and yet, they seemed to be the richest. This has been a consistent unfolding for me on this voyage. Morocco sealed the deal.

(and a colleague of mine did a simple calculation that helped me gain even more perspective about relative impact -- an earlier blog topic. The fuel each of us used for this voyage equals over 10 years of total energy use by a typical Moroccan)

And now we are headed "home." It's strange to feel that on some level, coming home will feel like returning to a foreign land.

To check out a PHOTO MONTAGE from Morocco, just click on the Oh Morocco link under the photo below. Enjoy!

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Oh Morocco

Posted by rohwedde at August 16, 2009 2:11 PM