Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'm sitting the courtyard of a villa in the ville nouvelle of Fes. As part of our orientation we're taking classes in derija or Moroccan Colloquial Arabic at the Arabic Language Institute of Fes (ALIF) which is housed in a converted villa. Alif is a 10-15 minute taxi ride away from our homestay which is in the Medina of Fes.

The Medina of Fes is an amazing place. It's right out of the middle ages with winding streets, high buildings and arched Moorish doorways. Since its Ramadan, the Medina is fairly sleepy throughout the day, empty during the breaking of the fast (around 6:30) and then comes alive from around 8:30 until midnight. The Medina contains more than 200 mosques, medersas (schools), fountains and hammams (traditional baths.) The large number of Mosques in the Medina adds a particular flavor to Ramadan. One cannot ignore or mistake the setting of the sun each evening, as the call to prayer (which signals the ftour or fast-breaking) is blasted from every minaret of the Medina and often accompanied by fireworks, whistles bells and general noisemaking.

The Medina is the spiritual and historical heart of the city as well as a major center for commerce. Walking down the winding cobbled streets of the Medina is not a spectator sport; the flows of people going about their business are like a stream in which your every step and movement is taken with a heightened awareness of your surroundings. This experience is only heightened by the high walls of the buildings along the streets which can widen and and narrow at a moments notice. On top of this the streets are lined with stalls crammed full of everything ranging from traditional rugs, djellabas, teapots and souvenirs to Gucci knock-offs, Qurans and foods of every sort and description. Every turn brings new sights sounds and, above all, smells.

As you may imagine, life in the Medina is an experience unto itself. During Ramadan, the busiest hours of the day are from 8:30 to midnight, but since many Moroccans choose to stay up all night for the iftar the "dinner" which occurs before sunrise during Ramadan, you will often hear shout yells, singing and music until early in the morning. It is not uncommon for us to hear children playing, cats fighting or motorcycles roaring past as we are going to bed. Although this may sound unpleasant, one need only wait a few minutes after which the noise blends into the background and simply becomes part of life in the Medina during Ramadan.

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