Everything All of the Time
Everything All of the Time
Tea in Morocco
In the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? a giant brick wall separates Toontown and Los Angeles, from behind it flows a medley of car horns, screeching tyres, endless music, wailing, shouting and a general impression of mayhem and disorder. At the Melilla - Nador border, between Spain and Morocco, Europe and Africa, I stood at the entrance of a real life Toontown. A gentle, tempting, Mediterranean breeze brushed against my back as I approached the main gate. Behind me a landscape of Spanish architecture, cafés with umbrelled tables serving tapas, modern efficient transport and clean streets dared me to leave. Up ahead, manic conductors shouted at potential commuters, fruit sellers thrust their wares in the faces of potential customers and border officials tried in vain to maintain an illusion of order. Without a backwards glance I handed over my passport, heard the click and thud and took one small step for man. In my search for a bus to Fes I traversed through a tumult of instructions, demands and pleas from every trader, tout and con man who tried to relieve me of my last euro and first dirham. I breaststroked my way through wads of jewellery, trinkets, currency, bottles of water and slimy hands, all encouraging me towards this or that bus company and all of which, coincidentally, happened to be the best in Morocco.
'This way sir! Fes, Fes.'
'Over here sir! Casablanca!'
'Bus sir? Where are you going? You have ticket?'
'Exchange sir? You have dirhams? I have good price.'
'Come this way, here, over here, this way.'
'Bus is this way sir, not over there.'
'You want a camel, cigarette, lady ?'
After choosing a bus, I could, from the relative safety of my seat, take a breath and observe the chaos I had entered.
Welcome to Toontown.
My first destination was Fes, an ancient inland northern city on the edge of the Atlas Mountain range. On the ride from Nador we passed through a surprisingly green, hilly countryside. When we drew closer to Fes, the housing grew denser and the centuries of in absentia city planning was evident for all to see. Concrete block houses erected at will and strewn across the rooftops, a web of aerials. Each house had at least two, if not three or four, some even boasted a giant satellite dish. They were shoddily attached, many propping each other up. With the houses in such close proximity to each other, the mass of wire and cables looked like oversized pick up sticks, randomly thrown over the neighbourhood.
Fes, the largest and oldest medieval city in the world, is Morocco's fourth largest with a population of just under one million. The city is divided into three sections - Fes el-Bali (the old city), Fes el-Jdid (the new city) and Ville Nouvelle (the administrative area). Fes el-Bali, the old walled city, became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1981 and for good reason. Fes' Medina, is an intricate cluster of cobble stoned laneways and alleyways. Two and three storey buildings line the paths, spotted with wooden shutters, pot plants sit on the window sills. Expressionless faces peer out from inside the dark openings, silently watching those below. The Mosques, which pepper the Medina, have magnificent, intricately patterned doors. In front, groups of bearded and stubbly old men, in their hooded cloaks, slowly move prayer beads through their fingers and chat leisurely with one another. The traders throughout the Medina sell a range of spices, sequined dresses, camel trinkets, pointed slippers, severed goats heads and of course, tea. Finally, the Medina is enclosed by high brick walls, centuries old. If not for the mobile phones it could have been any time from the last few hundred years.
Every day in the Medina I discovered something new and with so much happening in there at once, it is easy, for a novice, to miss some things. Wandering through the laneways I had to hastily make