Posts Tagged Africa

Fes, Morocco

Fes, Morocco

Our train pulled us deeper into the Atlas mountain range and seemingly back in time. The City of Fes is the third largest city in Morocco but that doesn’t quite give an accurate picture. Dating back to 790 AD, Fes has the largest car free urban area in the world. The ancient medina lays over a valley, up a hill and spills into the next valley. A million people live in Fes and while the homes may be hundreds of years old, as we look out across the city, it is punctuated with satellite dishes and low power florescent bulbs. We head into one of the seven gates that used to protect the city but now strangle the flow of people and supplies.

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It is so easy to think of North Africa as a primitive and backwards place, stuck in the past but their past and those of the Muslims are rich with advances and educational leaps that pulled Europe out of the Dark Ages. One example here in Fes is the University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 AD is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. Having taught mathematics, science and cartography literature during all that time,  it as one of the most important reservoirs of knowledge anywhere on earth for hundreds of years. Next to the University, is the oldest and largest Mosque in Africa. Being of the wrong religion we were unable to enter the building but I was able to take a snap or two. While Europe spent 500 years living in squallier and cooking food with cow dung, this University taught advanced algebra, geometry and physics.

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As we wandered around the city, listening to the haunting wail of the Muslim’s call to prayer, we begin to smell something so horrendous that we can only be in the world famous leather district of Fes. Here they have continuously been making leather items the old fashion way, with sweat, natural dyes and bird poop. The large vats have dyes, lime and other caustic concoctions somehow make amazingly wonderful leather goods. For the price of a dinner back home, Tamara bought an beautiful hand made leather jacket that feels as soft as cotton.

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Another highlight of Fes is the ceramic district, where they make anything and everything from handmade, fired and painted ceramics. We watched men breakup the clay, others form the clay into tiles and some painting. The kilns looked very old and it seems like a neat thing to know how to do….turn mud into plates, fountains and tiles.

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The more I learn about the city of Fes and see how people live, I wonder about the value the “skills” I am learning like Word Documents, online banking and navigating a Starbucks. I also wonder think of how little we miss the skills we have almost completely lost like making clothes, glass and the ability to do advanced math/geometry without a device. I have a foreboding resignation that at some point, I will regret or hold as of no value my ethereal skills that I live by.

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