Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 3 in Fez: Getting Used To The Moroccan Way

My third day in Fez I decided to escape the hustle of the old medina and take the hour long trek up a mountain to the old Jewish neighborhood, or Mellah. The trek to the neighborhood was interesting, I was able to get away from most of the touts but not the ever-so-shocking differences of Moroccan culture from my own. On the walk up I nearly stumbled over the backbone of a large animal before noticing the skull (it looked like a camel) on the side of the road. The busy traffic and lack of sidewalks kept me on my toes and I noticed a blind man trying to cross the street a few hundred meters away. Before I was close enough to offer help he started to cross, a taxi came to a sketching halt and horns started to blare. The blind man started to step backwards slowly before eventually the cars told him to cross.

When I arrived in the old Jewish neighborhood it felt like a completely different city (but not a different country) from the old medina in Fez. The jewish neighborhood apparently only has a couple hundred jews remaining but UNESCO has protected a couple synagogues and a large very important Jewish cemetery. Before making it to the cemetery I walked through a couple markets. I walked through a meat market which was quite different than any meat market I have ever seen. There were stacks of goat heads, cages packed with pigeons, baby cats drinking blood stained water from the walkway, and large ballon looking pieces of meat hanging from the stalls.

After walking around the market and diligently ignoring everyone who shouted at me or approached me, I made it to the cemetery. The man at the gate explained to me (in Spanish) that there are important Jewish saints buried here dating back hundreds of years, then he asked me for 20 Dirham (2 dollars) to enter. It was really large and I was the only one inside. After walking around for about 20 minutes I headed out. On my way out he asked if I wanted to see the synagogue and I agreed, he asked his friend to take me there. For another 20 Dirham I was guided by a slow walking old arab Jew wearing woody allen glasses. Another 20 Dirham got me entrance into the extremely small synagogue.

As I walked through the market to head back down to my hostel another man approached me and asked if I enjoyed the synagogue and he wanted to take me to another one. He told me he was Jewish and was very nice. He seemed a bit heartbroke as he shuffled away when I told him I did not want to go. This is the consequence of not completely ignoring people as they approach you; either heartbreak or hours of pestering.

I was thirsty so I popped into a cafe that was filled with locals watching horse-racing on the TV. I ordered a bottle of water and a coffee. The tables where covered in flies and the old men sitting at the table next to me where scooping hashish out of a paper satchel into a long, skinny, decorated pipe. I paid about 10 Dirham for the large water and coffee and headed back to the hostel.

Note: The 20 Dirhams I paid for each entrance and the escort is very high (5 would suffice) but I did not feel like haggling over what converts into less than 1 dollar. That and I knew that the 20 Dirham would make them all very happy.

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