Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sheikh Deek en Afrique

Sheikh Deek in his palace in Fez              Foto Joa Keis
One of the many advantages of being unstuck in time is the freedom to ricochet geographically from place to place at will, in my case from France to Morocco. Another is the possibility to experience very distinct historical time periods simultaneously as I did recently in at the Necropolis de Chellah in Rabat, Morocco. I was standing in the center of a necropolis that included Roman ruins dating back to the time of Christ and Moorish structures built by Sultan Abu al-Hassan in the 1300's. They existed side by side and were surrounded by the the modern world of 2012 where cell phones and satellite dishes dominate the terrain. Such random time travel is extremely complex and requires multiple identities in order to be "culturally correct", hence the addition of my new title as "Sheikh Deek". 

Olive stall in souk - foto Joa Keis
My son Joa had a week of R&R from his Save the Children post in Mali, and we chose Morocco as a convenient halfway rendez-vous point. After meeting up in Casablanca early the morning of November 10th, we took a train directly to Meknes where we had a reservation at a friend's guest house, Dar Zidane. Andre and Khadija were our gracious hosts and despite a rainy first two days, we were able to eat very well (Khadija had a Moroccan restaurant in Lyon before returning to Meknes) and André took us to the medina there to visit some ancient sites and wander through the souk (market) at dusk. The souk was full of activity and delightful things to eat and wear. 
Meknes marketplace at dusk
There was color everywhere, and the unfamiliar bantering of Arabic added even more to the experience. It had been a long time since I had been in a culture so different and with a language I could not understand. It is good to feel uncomfortable at times, to feel helpless and dependent on others. It reminds you what it is like to be a stranger in an strange land. Since most people spoke French or English, communication was not a huge problem, but the excited Arabic syllables bouncing of the earthen walls of the medina, and the Islamic call to prayer echoing through the narrow alleyways, left no doubt that I was a guest in a foreign culture.
Fez Medina before the arrival of the tourists

Our next destination was Fez, a UNESCO World Heritage Center and site of the largest medina in the western world. It was founded by the Idrisid dynasty between 789 and 808 A.D and is over 920 square acres and has more than 9,600 small, winding streets that create a medieval labyrinth that completely disorients you in a matter of minutes.God forbid the local youth detect your lostness, because once they notice, you are fair game. It will cost you to get back home, and if you do not accept their help, you will still be wandering around helplessly in 3012!
Fez Medina after Lonely Planet and Guide des Routards ratings

Our lodging in Fez was nothing short of majestic. This trip was on Joa, and he decided to treat his Papito royally. The thought of getting his own harem did, however, cross his mind. The Riad Dar Zeffarine was a living museum with intricate Moorish motifs and Islamic designs that boggle the mind. The terrace on the rooftop overlooked the entire medina, and sunrise and sunset were truly magnificent. An abode fit for  a sultan, or a sheikh for that matter.
Deek waiting for the prophet to speak

After paying out a good portion of our travel allowance to the street youth who helped get us back home to Dar Zeffarine every night, we decided it best to move on to a less maze-like setting. So we set off for Rabat on train for the final few days of Joa's stay in Maroc. It was a good choice, a combination of the very old and the very modern. The medina there was less impressive visually than Fez, but it was frequented by the locals who did their shopping there and shopkeepers were not high pressured or aggressive as they often were in Fez. We roamed the souk peacefully,visited the colorful blue village of the Kasbah des Oudaias and enjoyed a brilliant sunset on Rabat Beach where Joa surfed that day. We even found a few places to have a cold beer, not an easy thing to find in Morocco!
Sunset on Rabat Beach

Joa in the Kasbah
Our last day together was a trip to the Necropolis de Chellah, mentioned at the beginning of this post. The beauty of the place was breathtaking, even under the heavy rain that intermittently drove us to seek shelter where ever we could find it.
Fortress walls - La Chellah, Rabat
Walls in the Chellah
And as many good things come to pass, so did this one. Joa boarded the train to Casablanca to catch his flight back to Mali, and I caught a train in the opposite direction back to Meknes to spend a few more days at Dar Zidane with André and Khadija before my return to France. It was a wonderful reunion, one that I will never forget. Merci Joa!! We will do it again soon in some new and exciting place, Inshallah.
Sudanese street musician


Lulú said...

Hola Dick! me da gusto saludarte y saber de tus viajes. Tienes pensado regresar a Cholula? Aqui te esperamos con un rico champurrado.

Abrazos de Lulú y Zazil

Anonymous said...

Hola Dick, me da mucho gusto que estés visitando varios lugares, en otro momento habrá tiempo para que escuchemos tus aventuras. Por lo mientras la biblioteca ya está funcionando, pronto te enviaré fotos. Te mando un abrazo!!! Gaudel

Quena said...

Wow! What colors! Satellite world seems beautiful!

Sandy.Riverman said...

Had I known you were going to Morocco, I would have recommended you try goat eye tajine. It's a culinary experience to remember forever.