Ancient Morocco: From the Inside-Out - My Family Travels
Fes Loom
Fes Tannery
Fes Tannery
Blue Gate Fes

Africa is where life began. The deserts embody the hot forges of creation, the whole continent the fiery womb of the human race.  My family and I recently journeyed back to this land of our species’ origin; more specifically, the country of Morocco.

A ferry carried us across the Strait of Gibraltar, from the port of Algeciras, Spain to Tangiers, Morocco. Two days later, we sat in the first class compartment of a train whisking us through the desert to our final destination–Fes. Known as the cultural capitol of Morocco, Fes sprawls across rolling hills and is home to over one million people. We stayed in the old medina.[1] Surrounded by stout walls, the medina’s cobblestoned streets are so narrow that cars cannot enter.

â–º  quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

When we arrived, the thermometer read 43 degrees Celsius. Brutal. The taxi stopped abruptly at the arching blue gate of the medina and a man with a wheel barrow rushed out to transport our luggage. The porter guided us through twisting streets, adriotly pushing our bulky luggage through thick throngs of people. Sweat was running freely down my back by the time we reached our guesthouse, Riad Hala. [2]

The entrance to the riad was nothing more than a glorified alleyway. I had to stoop to walk through. After about twenty yards it opened into the lobby. Dark and cool, the first thing I thought of was a cave–a tall, gorgeous cave. The ceiling was three stories up and intricate mosaics lined every square inch. Plump, exotic looking couches beckoned invitingly as the proprietor served as ultra-sweet mint tea. Compared with the dirt and squalor of the streets, the rooms of the riad were very clean and comfortable. The contradiction surprised us.

At our breakfast of ‘harcha’ (semolina pancakes) the next day, my parents decided to take a guided tour of the medina. Our guide arrived promptly and introduced himself as Thami.  His broad shoulders filled out his jalabiya (a religious robe) and his affable presence immediately filled the room. He spoke five languages and professed himself a devout Muslim, with the callous on his forehead to prove it.[3]

Our tour began with a visit to the first university. Literally the first; it was founded in 859 AD by a woman named Fatima. Here, Thami taught us that when Muslims pray, they position themselves in four different forms, which spell out the world Allah in Arabic. Each form spells one of the letters (allh would be the literal English spelling).

Thami showed us tanneries and potteries and looms, all the renowned artisans of Morocco. He taught us a great deal. Greed, both in Islam and Moroccan culture, embodies a cardinal sin. One should never outwardly display wealth, for that engenders jealousy. With this in mind, Moroccan cities are designed with emphasis on the inside, not the out. The streets are grimy and the doorways seldom more than boarded up holes. There are no windows, only upper floor peepholes so women can see who is knocking below. When you enter, you never know whether you will walk into a marble palace or a peasant’s home. This value so contrasted with America, where houses boast manicured gardens and giant windows.

In Fes we experienced a different way to live. Under that hot desert sun, I gained a new way to look at the world.


[1] Medina literally means town, but translates closer to “old city.”  

[2] A riad is an old house that’s been converted into a sort of bed and breakfast (

[3] When Muslims pray they press their foreheads on the ground, sometimes creating a callous.


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