I had initially planned to return to Rabat on Saturday, early in the afternoon. But I unexpectedly enjoyed myself so much in Fes that I have only just returned home.
Fes was my first introduction to Morocco; three and a half years ago I spent three months in its ancient medina to study Moroccan Arabic and get myself acquainted with Moroccan life. Although it never managed to kill my interest in Moroccan society, they were not an easy three months – and I still often equate Fes with a sense of limitation, a lack of freedom, and a sense of always being watched. I like living in Rabat so much in part because it is so different from Fes in these regards. Having walked around in Fes again and having noticed the amount of attention I receive (not to mention the biting cold of the inland climate), I am still happy I decided to make Rabat my home base in Morocco. The capital still felt like a breath of fresh air when I emerged from the train station at 6 PM and walked down the wide and tree-lined boulevard Mohammed V toward the medina.
But it was more pleasant to be back in Fes than I had expected, and I have decided to go back much more often, once I return to Morocco. I like the idea of getting reacquainted with the city, and I love the idea of going back to café clock for more of those meetings.
I spent most of my Saturday traipsing around the medina with Hatim and a friend of his, who is an official tour guide. Chatting in a combination of French, English, and Arabic, we stopped by the medina’s major landmarks: the Madrasa Bou Inania & water clock, the Qaraouine university, Moulay Idriss shrine, and the tanneries. We did not see too much more – the rest of the tour, Hatim explained to me, usually involves shopping, and he’d correctly guessed that I was not interested.
It was raining heavily (as it is in all of the country), and the winding and slanted lanes had turned into slides of mud that did a serious number on my new boots (though I have now discovered that they are comfortably water-tight). Despite the slipperiness, delivery men still urged their heavily laden donkeys on as fast as they always do – luckily, the rain had kept most of the human traffic indoors, and so I could dodge the donkeys without too much difficulty or risk. There were so few tourists, in fact, that we had the entire terrace overlooking the tanneries to ourselves. Unfortunately, though, the rain had also kept the tanners inside, so we did not get to see any work going on.
Hatim had also arranged for me to stay with some of his friends, who have a large apartment in the ville nouvelle: a group of four British girls studying abroad in Fes as part of their Arabic studies program. I spent my evenings with them and their friends – in fact, last night I recruited one of the girls to help me cook a meal for the group as a way of saying thanks for allowing me to stay over. Dinner turned into a random combination of dishes – on the recommendation of a new Fassi friend I made a sort-of-Moroccan stew with turkey ‘kefta’ (ground meat) and bell peppers, and had cooked some pasta to go with it. Rachel made us baked potatoes, as well as a meat sauce. But it was fun; once the meal was finally ready at midnight, nine of us sat down to eat, and over a mixture of French and English conversation, we enjoyed the random combination.
Hanging around this apartment, with these new friends, I realized that the only thing that makes me yearn for home right now is the lack of privacy and freedom I have with my host family. I think that at this point, I would be perfectly happy here in Rabat, easily able to live here for two years – if only I had my own apartment. My own kitchen, my own dominion over the electricity and hot water, my own judgment about what to eat and when, what to watch on TV, who to have over. It would be heaven.
And I am going to make that happen – as soon as I return. The only question is when… Maybe I can do an intensive course of French here? It’s a thought…