Written by current student Nadia Abboud (Bethel University, Minnesota)
One of our days in Fes we traveled far & wide. After a delicious breakfast at our hotel, us MESPers were taken on a tour of the ancient (and oldest) Medina in Fes (supposedly the oldest ‘continually occupied’ Medina in the world!) For those unfamiliar with it, a Medina is an old Arab quarter of a city in a given North African city (it is many shops of basically anything you could imagine from tanneries and pottery-making workshops to restaurants and supermarkets as well as mosques in this particular Medina)
After, we went to Art D’Argile a pottery and mosaic factory to see how these are made in Fes. There is a special clay that’s used for making the pottery and mosaic (also for facial mask) this is then moulded (the pottery on a wheel that’s manually propelled with the feet). Next, it sits out to dry and if desired the clay is dipped into a glaze (for colors like saffron or blue). Then comes the detail. For the pottery it is artfully hand-painted then let to dry before selling. The clay for mosaic is cut into shapes that fit each other like a jigsaw puzzle, then they are pieced together into a design of varying shapes i.e. for a table or coaster. Since we were students, the store owner gave us a ‘special offer’ of 30% off anything in the store (I didn’t have money on me, otherwise I would have been tempted to buy).
Afterwards we went atop an ancient castle for a panoramic view of Fes. Then was lunch (and a cup of guh-way nos-nos– half expresso half frothy milk) and our interesting speaker who discussed moderate Islam of Morocco.
Finally, free-time! Six of us went to a café (which had at least 4 terraces…we went for the top view) to got a bite before our shopping expedition. I ordered an iced tea which was a Moroccan tea iced. It had quite the flavors going on with lime, ginger, mint, and one other herb I couldn’t quite identify. Little did we know at that point what that evening would have in store…
While waiting outside the Medina for friends to get money from the ATM, we were addressed by a young man of 11 yrs.- Omar. He, like many restaurant representatives, came to get us to come eat at his mother’s restaurant. Of course, we’d already eaten but props to my fellow student, Abby, for still pursuing conversation with him because in the end he lead us on an ‘extended tour’ of the ancient Medina which resulted in fairly good deals on textiles and leather goods. **Side Note- Omar was a quite a gentleman for his age.
Sometime along the way, I believe when we were at his uncle’s weaving/textile shop we picked up another young boy who happened to also have the name of Omar (and of about the same age). This textile shop was deep in the heart of the Medina. It was dark and we walked for a good 30-45 minutes to get to the shop (some of the byways seemed kind of sketchy but we made it, ‘our guide’ had quite a good sense of direction). Once we arrived we were warmly welcomed by Omar’s relatives. One of his cousins gave us a demonstration of how the weaving on the horizontal loom was done for the scarves, tablecloths, and bedspreads. Following this, she proceeded to dress us up in the traditional Saharan (desert) garb. To each a robe and turban was given and the outcome looked like this:
Afterwards, good Moroccan mint tea (compliments of Omar 🙂 was offered to us as contemplation began on our choices of purchase. Deals were made and money exchanged and the next thing I knew we were on our way to a tannery were I planned to buy a belt. I had to haggle a fair bit (with the help of Omar to know good pricing) but in the end I got it for 200 durum (~$20 USD). Here too we were offered tasty mint tea before our trusty guides (Omar-tain –Arabic pun suffix meaning 2 of a given commodity :)) took us back to our hotel for the night. By the end of the evening I was the proud owner of a Moroccan style blanket, 2 scarves (1 was a freebie in a combo), a coin purse, and a leather belt.
Wow, what an experience! As I said, I could have never imagined the night would’ve turned out as it did and we made two new friends out of it.
Well that’s just a taste of our MESP Moroccan experience.