Neighbors with Djinn... 'Mab travels to Morocco - Episode II: Fes'

This episode begins in the early morning hours on the night bus to Bergamo airport, with a bunch of kids carrying stolen street signs. The air is warm and the sky is dark when I fall asleep in the bus seat, and a few blinks later it's dawn, and we join the stream of travelers going through airport security. I still don't fully comprehend  that in a few hours I'll be leaving Europe and landing in Africa, right now my biggest concern is getting a coffee ... and then the gate opens, and it gets real. Morocco here we come! 

Fes airport is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and we join a few others in a taxi that drives us to the main entrance of Medina, the old city of Fes. The beautiful gate and the busy winding streets of the market seem like another world, and we sit in a cafe for a long time, watching people pass by and cats climbing trees inbetween the narrow walls. Everything tastes of mint tea and sugar, and when I eat the 'galettes' which are kind of potato dough pancakes, I recognize the familiar taste of 'lokse' which is a typical Slovak side dish eaten with duck. Morocco welcomes me with a taste of home and it couldn't be more fitting. By the end of the day I feel at home - however different it looks, it tastes and feels familiar. We've arrived.

We make our way to Bab R'Cif where we play a spy game 'spot the tattooed American guy'. Our host Omar sent his friend Alex to pick us up and said to look for tattooed left arm, and there he is! Alex takes us through the gate and as we try to remember the way through the market and the side streets, we somehow make it all the way to the narrowest street in Medina and up the pitch black stairway to what feels like the top of the city. Omar lives on the top floor of the house, and whole roof is his terrace. If we were brave (or stupid) enough, we could jump from roof to roof all the way around. The birds fly so close you could touch them if you reached your hand far enough. Then the muezzins begin their call, from tower to tower, in a complicated canon of dissonant melodies, carrying the sound over the roofs and to every corner of the city. Omar translates the words of the call to prayer, and soon I too can recognize the words as they echo all around us. I'll hear them often in the next days, and every time I'll stand still and let the wave of sound wash over me, a connection to every single being listening to the same call. Amiine tells us that the call never stops, making a circle around the world. Everything is connected.

We talk, we eat, shisha is being prepared. sugar cubes disappear in the teapot, and as midday melts into the evening, we bring out the cameras and have a spontaneous photo session, taking turns posing and photographing. Alex's awesome colorful tattoo, the shisha smoke and Amiine's posing instructions make for great pictures. Sunset finds us on the roof, chasing the reflections in the camera lens, and the beautiful prayer call with a chorus of falcons and gulls and pigeons flying in the last rays of daylight. We fall asleep around midnight, to the sounds of bubbling shisha, and packing, as Alex is leaving very early for London. 

Morning turns out to be noon, and we set out to find a place with breakfast and coffee. Cafe Clock near the Bab Boujeloud - the Blue Gate - is a travelers' favorite, with English-speaking Staff and quite a western feel. It is also a great place to meet people and hear live music in the evening, and we did all of that. Meet Omar Chennafi,  the guy behind Fes Photography Club and several awesome projects, pushing the photography scene in Morocco and leading many people to fine art. His passion for art is obvious and contagious, when he talks about his plans and ideas, many of which he brought to life and successfully presented to the public. We promise to stay in touch, and he remains an unforgettable encounter.  

We leave Cafe Clock and choose one of the winding market streets, soon finding ourselves in a crowd of people pushing their way here and there, until a sign catches my eye, leading to a seemingly empty side street. I like those best, and find the shop belonging to the sign, full of herbs and perfumes, nice-smelling things and secret herbal recipes. We try out practically everything, talk with the owner and shop a little, enjoying the break before joining the crowds again. 

The evening leads us back to Clock, now alive with live music and full of people. Omar and his friends find us there, drink tea with us and dance around the table, it is impossible to sit still with the music filling the air! On the walk back to Omar's house we pick up his friend Simo, and get a tour of his small but fine slipper shop. He points out the differences in quality and craftsmanship, and makes use of our many cameras to take photos. We walk through the Medina, now lit by lamps here and there, and shadows of cats, running, sleeping or sitting on the low steps by the side of the streets. Side-step a donkey or two, breathe in the smell of soup cooking in the street kitchen, say a few ...good evenings.... and we're on the roof again. Tea and shisha, and finally we ask about the Djinn allegedly inhabiting the empty ruin next door. Omar has a strange smile on his face when he reluctantly tells us about his experiences and theories, but doesn't want to believe that he has Djinn for neighbors. 'You wouldn't sleep if I told you about them,' he says. 'You must promise you'll stay if I tell you.' When I suggest we give them something of our food, so they are not angry, he says Djinn want money. The conversation then turns to other topics, we go through music, traveling, jobs and all the different people we met. The girls from lower floors climb to the roof and are probably as excited to meet us as we are to meet them. We sit on the roof, talk in English-French-Arabic, they sing songs and ask us about out travels, till it's time to sleep. 

The window opens on its own and few of us yell 'Djinn!' Nonetheless, much later when I turn the light off and close my eyes for the last night in Fes, I offer a silent greeting and goodbye to the mysterious neighbors in the ruined house, and a thank-you to the kind hosts who accepted us in their house and heart, and made me feel at home, on the top of the world where sun sets over the roofs of Medina, and the birds fly so close you could almost touch them...

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