Ali Baba gets lost in Fez

-You never know when standing out comes in handy.-

Entrance to the Medina
Following a breakfast goodbye with the Ha family, we were dropped off at the taxi stand by their neighbor, a math teacher.  Luckily there was a taxi bound for Fez that was nearly full.  The ride lasted two hours and it passed mainly through farmland and little towns.  The road used to be a major thoroughfare but it slowed down after a highway was built up north.

As soon as we arrived in Fez, Lisa was approached by a guide who reminded us that it was Friday and the city would be shut down during Jami Masjid, the Friday prayer service, at the mosque.  Fez was considered the most scholarly and holy city in Morocco.  The Mosque regularly had 20,000 persons in attendance.  For this reason, we headed down into the heart of the medina, so that we could still see it alive with business.

 Fruit Stand
Sweets for sale at a shop

Medina Market Stalls
Lisa moved fast as she guided us through the streets she remembered.  All around us were shops selling anything you could want- sweets, cheese, milk, birds, special scented waters, jewelry.  It was one endless market and you could be sold something anywhere.  I was convinced that part of the sell was the disorientation.   This was a city were it was easy to get lost in, or pulled down a mysterious alley.  One of the oldest medieval cities in the world, it was built in a confusing manner that made it like a labyrinth for a new person.  As a result of this, I felt all the more likely, to buy something in exchange for a favor, like directions, a bathroom, or respite from the crowds.

My favorite Ali Baba likeness for Cam
Fez was also the most touristy location we'd visited yet and we were constantly spoken to by children and shopkeepers.  We kept hearing them say, "Ali Baba".  After awhile I realized that they were calling Cam "Ali Baba".  It happened so often that I couldn't help but wonder:  What did this mythic character look like?  Why did everyone think Cam looked like him?  All I could remember was a man with earrings and a harem.  Little did I know this resemblance would be of great use later.

We were looking for a tannery.  Everyone offered to be the tannery.  Essentially there was a main tannery dyeing location and all the tannery shops were built around the main tannery.  The shops offered up "views" for visitors to see the main tannery from up high.   There were small home tanneries along the way but they were often just a vat set up in the yard.  It was important for us to wait for the real location.  Further the catch was that if you entered the tannery shop, you would have to, at some point, listen to a sales pitch to buy something.  (kind of like a Condo timeshare from what I understand).  When Lisa knew we were near the bottom of the hill, she accepted an offer into a tannery.  The man at the entry to the stairs gave us each a stem of mint.
He said," This will help you with the smell."

Main Tannery

When we reached the viewpoint, I was surprised that it didn't smell worse.  The wind must have been right because it wasn't very strong this day.  We watched men stir, stomp, twist, and flatten the hides.

Detail of Dyeing vats
After we'd taken pictures for a while, Lisa and I went to look at the leather bags.    Meanwhile our guide took Cam to see the leather jackets.  He later invited us to join Cam and bring the bags we'd selected to have priced with us.  Although the guide was willing to give Cam a good price on a jacket,   it was still too high for our traveling budget.  The guide became more insistent on selling the jacket to Cam.  He went as far as to even try to light the jacket on fire with a lighter to prove to Cam the jacket's strength.  Cam declined.

Lisa poses to show her new bag and henna hands.
Meanwhile it was Lisa's turn to bargain for the purses.  The guide quoted Lisa a price.  Lisa made a low bid.  This was followed by mutual guilt tripping.  He showed us how they were hand made and one-of a-kind.  Lisa told him that we were poor artists and community workers.  More numbers were thrown around.  Then there was lots of sighing from both of them.  Then a whisper from the guide.  It was almost uncomfortable if it wasn't so routine, a part of the sales dance act, and hence comedic.  In the end he gave us "an artist's deal".
"This one is from the family" he told us.

He said that since it was so low, we needed to keep it a secret (I do realize he may have said this to everyone).  Nonetheless, we left with new bags, triumphant and happy that we had received a good deal.

The moment we entered back into the streets of Fez, the was a giant rush of people, like a dam being released.  Everyone was leaving from prayer, all 20,000 were rushing down a hill towards us.  I was following Lisa closely, when I heard here say turn right.  I turned right and we paused relieved to have  escaped the crowd, only we didn't see Cam!  We'd lost him.  We returned to the corner and stood next to a man selling figs.  He asked us what had happened and we explained that we'd lost Cam.  The fig seller pulled a man from the passing stream of people and asked him a question.

"Your friend is moving fast up the hill, I saw him." his friend said in clear English.

The fig seller offered to go look for Cam.  I said, "Look for Ali Baba".

He was gone for about ten minutes.  I was about to cry, fearing we'd lost Cam and not sure how we would find him again.  But suddenly there was the fig seller smiling, with Cam behind him!  We thanked the fig seller for being our hero and bought figs from him.  As we walked back up the hill, I asked Cam what the fig seller said to convince him to return back with him.

"You are looking for two women.  They tell me look for Ali Baba."

Sometimes it really pays to have a fitting nickname.

Exhausted after Cam's disappearance and the long trek back up the hill.


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