Royal Air Maroc
I hadn’t prepared myself for Morocco smelling like Africa, too—that sweet, earthy, dusty smell of sand, vegetation, and fires. As soon as I step off the plane, I take whole lungfuls of that sweet air, smiling as I saunter down the stairs of the gangway onto the tarmac. This land.
I get through customs and find Ryan with only minor hassle. WiFi helps. We negotiate a taxi to the train station and he hands me the breakfast treats he’s gotten me: sparkling water and pain au chocolat. My best friend. They help keep me from doing the math of my sleep deprivation.
We arrive at the train station, buy tickets to Fez, and sit at the café to have mint tea while we wait. Two men sit at the table in the shade behind us. We greet each other cordially and I take my leave to change and freshen up in the restroom. (No toilet paper, no running water in the sink, urine all over the seat. Actual squat toilets are much better in situations when you must squat. Joy at being somewhere with these sorts of problems to solve again.)
When I emerge, Ryan’s striking up a conversation with our new friends, Abdul and Abdul Ali, who goes by Ali. They’re both from Fez, though neither is returning there today. Eventually they arrange us a guide in Fez—their friend, also Abdul—with whom Ryan speaks on the phone to arrange our rendezvous. We speak with Abdul and Ali awhile longer. Abdul helps Ryan buy a SIM, and we exchange numbers so that we can dine with him and his family when we return to Casablanca. They tell us how to arrange our stay in Fez.
Ali is going to Rabat, so we ride with him on the train until his stop. We talk, read, and I nap briefly. We speak at length with another passenger in our car, Hamid, once Ali departs. Hamid reiterates much of the advice that Abdul and Ali have given us, and I write much of it down. He warns us of swindlers, but reiterates that Morocco is a very safe place, which it is. Swindlers are not necessarily bad people; they’re just trying for business.
‘Pray to god for money in your hand,’ he says, ‘We all want money in our hand, but men with money in their heart will always be sick.’
He welcomes us to Morocco, and we feel very welcome. We discuss how all of the people in the world are just people; we all bleed red, we all have white bones under our skin. He gets off at Fez, too, walking out before us.
Abdul is waiting in the platform right outside the door we happen to exit.
‘Ryan!’ he exclaims, ‘Ali Baba!’ Abdul has told him to find Ryan by his enormous beard. The nickname sticks.
He takes us by taxi to our Riad (like a B&B), run by Allah, an Iraqi, and his wife Kate, a Norwegian. As we wind through the narrow city lanes, he reminds us when we should be careful, and not to be stupid. People are not inherently bad, but, ‘We are all human,’ he says. We are all human, indeed.
We are in Allah’s hands. Our room is probably the most beautiful place I have ever stayed, although I liked our accommodations in Zanzibar nearly as much. Something about Arabic architecture makes me feel so comfortable—I think it’s the simplicity coupled with functionality, with great attention to detail in the intricacies of decoration: mosaics, other tiling, delicately carved wood, hand-painted patterns, high ceilings, curved doorways, etc.
After settling and showering, we meet up with our guide Abdul again, who takes us on a tour of Fès. There is the old city, the Medina inside the walls. It dates to the sixth or seventh century or so, with the walls around it built in the twelfth century. There is also the new city, a trendier area built by the French after the turn of the century. Fez is the cultural capital of Morocco (and was the former capital).
We stop by the windy ruins of an old Berber empire’s citadel before stopping off at the state-supported pottery works for a tour and some tea before driving to the Blue Gate (blue is the city colour of Fez, and there are fourteen or nineteen or some such gates in the wall) near the Jewish Quarter, the King’s Palace, and dinner.
All in all we’ve made new friends, found warm hospitality, and felt very welcome in this most beautiful of countries. Driving around the city, I marvel at its cleanliness and structure, its organised chaos. It is simple, no place of pedestrians with their faces in their phones as they narrowly miss walking into the T. There is time to relax here, and mint tea in abundance, which no one would dare think twice to insult themselves by charging you for. I understand some of the impulses of these people: the need to welcome people, to take them into your home and feed them, to give them tea to enjoy as they relax and appreciate your land.