On a downhill walk from my riad near the moniker the people of Fez call ‘the blue gate’, I felt like I was ‘brown’ on parade.
The men in Fez “love the brown”. And, with that love comes invitations of all kind, ‘take a look’ ‘see my stall,’ ‘just a look,’ ‘American? you want argan oil, pizza,’. ‘Jamaican, come, sit and have tea’ ‘rasta,’ and the invites and associative calls go on and are as varied as the men calling.
Wearing a head scarf was a nice buffer for me -some days having my hair out and free felt like too much among so many women whose heads were covered and at times only their eyes left visible. But, while I thought I was becoming more inconspicuous, nothing could be farther from the truth because then it became, Sahara? Mali? Mauritania? I love hearing all these countries as calls of a people figuring out a question, a hmmm, a wonder? Because we all question, hmmm and wonder and some of us are bold enough to do it loud, risk making mistakes and being wrong.
While their calls were often wrong, it created a conversation between us even if it meant my acknowledgment, a look, a 30-minute conversation about heritage over an invitation of tea, that soon came out of nowhere with mint perfuming air and water. Could I rightly just assume citizenship from everywhere?
As that road took a wind to the left; then down, another turn right, then to a medina center where everything was held by baskets waiting for hands to grab its contents, hands to slaughter what was in its grip, I saw a man, this man. He just seemed nice and that was enough for me. He was making fish and chips. I tell ya, signs of my father and his cooking rituals have been all around me this trip – letting me know that he is never far, nor is home.
I ordered chips – french fries – to go and he seem surprised and happy. He handed them to me without a spoken wonder and with the words “all natural.” I said ‘thank you’ knowing that greeting was understood though no other Engosh words were. I continued down the road for another quick left at the mosque and then right, which would lead to the infamous and historic leather tannery.
After a detour to a woman of spices and the tannery, where I had mint tea and my own personal attendant, who wanted to show me every single floor of the place so as to eventually convince me to buy something I didn’t need.
I made my way back uphill through the maze of leather bags, young boys telling me where I should and shouldn’t go, chickens scrawling, fish flapping, men grabbing red peppers and nectarines and people not from here, bargaining here.
Upon seeing him again, working in a little stall with a couple of others, I wanted in – I wanted a seat at his burner stove. With my eyes and a motion of my hands I asked, ‘could I sit down and eat with them?’ Motion was quick. I loved how they put out a fresh paper for me, how they made room for me, how he let me sample lentils from a pot almost gone and convinced me with the gathering of his fingers that the fish in the round balls was good. It was!
He didn’t try to lure me with a special, he didn’t call me by a descriptive that was familiar for him, he didn’t even ask if I was hungry;he just smiled.
Sitting there, with bread, chips, lentils and a Coca Cola – which he retrieved for me from another stall – and the customary outdoor flies in the air that only non-locals brush away, I was happy that the road led me here. When he finally asked for something, it was a photo, a selfie. And shoot, then I wanted one too. So here we are, he, in American wonderment and I in Moroccan.