Let’s keep it going all the way to the conclusion this time (EDIT: Didn’t make it there. We’ll get there next time)
More Fes stuff– We went back and visited my old host-family from my abroad term. That was fun and a complete trip. They’re remaking their ancient Moroccan home into a riad (a sort-of bed and breakfast in a traditional Moroccan home. If you go to Morocco, you MUST stay in one. There is seriously NO other way). I went to go look at my old room, and it had been destroyed in the reconstruction. Lame! Nonetheless, it was good to see them. Then, we hiked up to the tomb of the Merinides. (History cliffnotes– the Merinides ruled Fes 700 or 800 years ago).
So, in the middle of our time in Fes, my brother James and I decided to go seek out my old friend Brahim. I met Brahim on my first night in Fes about five years ago. Here’s the story:
The Fes labyrinth is formidable for even the most experienced of travelers, and so, as a complete first-timer, I had no chance. To make matters worse, the kids on the street consider it a fun game to mess with tourists. “Excusez-moi monsieur, vous cherchez quelque chose? You look for something? Excuse me!” Invariably, at your wits end, you will take one of these little bastards up on their offer. Then, they lead you deep into the medina and triumphantly display their brother’s pottery store. You say, “I don’t want pottery, I need to go to… *looks down at piece of paper* 16 derb ben salem. Where is that?” Of course, then the kid will say, “Just up there and to the right”. And so you get even further lost in the city.
This was my exact experience on my first night in Fes five years ago, and before long I’d been at it for 3 hours. The sun was going down quickly and I was running out of time to find my house before dark. My arabic was meager at the time, and my awkward French only served to further identify me as a tourist (there is no love lost between French and Moroccans). Anyway, I’m standing there looking confused when yet another kid comes up to me with the same old routine: “Excusez-moi monsieur!” Suddenly, another guy about my age comes out of a rug store on the side of the street and says, in English no less, “He’s trying to hustle you. Fuck off kid!” I was pretty stunned. Then, to me, “Where are you going?” “Thank you, I’m going to… *checks paper* Derb Ben Salem.” Without a word, this well-dressed young guy leads me the full 20 minute walk back to my house. Then, when I offered him some money, he gave me a look of absolute disgust at the thought of payment, and walked away.
Later, once I knew my way around the city, I went back to his rug store and bought some stuff from him. We talked. His name was Brahim. We became facebook friends. Then, the next time I returned to Morocco it was during Ramadan; Brahim and his family invited my friends and me to break fast with them. A pretty incredible experience, to say the least.
So, to flash forward to this most recent Moroccan excursion: James and I met Brahim at his rug shop and he had someone serve us tea. His English was much improved since the last time I hung out with him. After tea, he brought us to the area where his family’s business makes rugs. We looked at some rugs and drank more tea (in Morocco, they drink green tea 5-7 times per day. It’s fantastic). Then, he dropped us off at a good dinner place and we had yet another delicious tagine d’kefta. Brahim returned to the restaurant around the end of our meal and sat with us. When we went to pay, the bill was 130 dirhams (about 17 dollars). We only had 100 and 200 dirham bills. Before we could pay with the 200 and get change, Brahim just said “no no that is fine” and put down our 100. We looked at him confused, but he seemed so confident that 100 was perfectly fine that we followed him out. The waiter called down to us as we were almost out of the door and said “This is only 100, the bill was 130!” Brahim says, “Close enough!’ And we walk out. This was the first sign that perhaps Brahim is actually a huge baller.
Then, we met up with Brahim’s friends for more tea at a local cafe. It was at this cafe that my brother’s misconceptions of Arabic/Islamic culture were smashed– these guys were sitting around showing each other pictures of their girlfriends on their iPhones. I shit you not! It turns out that these guys were college students at various places, including Seville in Spain (where we had just come from). After tea they invited us back to one of their apartments (which was empty, just us) and we hung out and swapped stories. Many of the funniest stories were sexual in nature–just because they live in a Muslim country doesn’t mean they don’t hook up. And, they’re still guys, so they like joking about it. It really didn’t feel too different from hanging out with my friends back in the USA. Oh yeah, and when we left the tea place, we didn’t pay then either. Brahim told us, “its cool”.
Then, one of the guys who had been educated in Seville, spoke up, in English: “I don’t think Osama Bin Laden was a real person. I think he was invented by the US Government”. Oh boy. We proceeded to have a very cordial conversation in which I politely poked holes in his massive Jewish/USA conspiracy theory to attack Muslims. Suddenly, some of the concerns many Americans hold about the Islamic world came to life in a very real way. There are two things to keep in mind here, though– first, the conversation was extremely cordial. It was a political conversation among amicable people. Second, some of the people in the group of Moroccan students weren’t buying it either. As in all things, nothing is black and white. After a 30 minute conversation (and one in which James desperately wished he spoke Arabic and could participate haha) my conspiracy-theorist friend bid us adieu and we returned home for the night.
The following day was our last morning in Fes– we got breakfast with Brahim (again, we didn’t have to pay). James said that the previous night he’d seen Brahim slap the cafe-owner with a 100 dirham bill (5 times our actual tab). In short, Brahim is a boss. We bought some totally sweet Moroccan blankets, and headed out of town for the 7 hour train ride to Marrakech.
On the train, we had a coach that was a revolving door of interesting people (almost entirely young women). Conversation began when I offered them some of my water in Arabic, and then we ended up talking about all things–politics, religion, dating, etc. In all places on earth, the difference between educated and uneducated people is clear. It was really cool to meet so many people who were educated.
Anyway, this was a TON of text and no pictures! So, I’m going to leave this up for a part 4 with more pictures and descriptions of our time in Marrakech. And THEN I’ll be done.
Hope everyone is well!