We returned this week from an excursion in Fes, which is home to the world’s largest car-free urban zone. Instead of cars, the old medina of Fes is crowded with shops where craftsmen are selling their metal and leather creations, donkeys carrying goods through the narrow streets, and rows and rows of street food vendors. It was alive and bustling with people buying and selling everything from orange juice to drums, but also felt frozen in time.
The Fes medina is known especially for its traditional crafts, and the masters of any trade, including carpet weaving, jewelry-making, and wood-carving, still diligently train younger Moroccan apprentices to continue to carry out their trade and pass the tradition down to younger generations. Though craftsmen have had to be incredibly innovative in order to keep their goods relevant to contemporary Moroccans, there is also a lot of value placed on maintaining the integrity and tradition behind the creation of each kind of craft.
Although Fes boasts an especially impressive market, the crowded and vibrant markets “souqs” are an important part of life in almost all Moroccan cities. In the Rabat medina, you can find anything — traditional clothing, dancing Spongebob toys, fresh produce, and electronics, for example —for sale in the souq. As someone new to a city, it can be very overwhelming to try to find what you need, but most locals know the souq like the back of their hands, and know the method to the madness.
Last week after school, I went with my host mother and sister to the produce market in our neighborhood, where my host mother regularly buys our fruits, vegetables, and eggs. It was fun to see how the ingredients for our beautiful home-cooked Tajines are acquired every week, and inspiring to see our host mom in action at the souq. She went from stand to stand examining the produce, stopping at her favorite vendors, and comparing prices before bargaining them down like a true Moroccan.
The individual interactions our host mother has with each vendor as she goes from stand to stand to bargain for and buy pomegranates, potatoes, eggs, and carrots is indicative of the importance that personal connections and conversations has in Moroccan culture, even when you’re just running weekly errands.
Living in a time where life is so fast-paced and the emphasis is always on efficiency, the way that life can be slowed down in Morocco can be really refreshing. This is true not only for the way that our host family buys produce at the souq, but also in the way that our mom and host sisters take time to cook each meal, and to sit and eat it with the whole family, usually using our hands from one big communal dish in the center of the table, and then often sitting, relaxing, watching the news, and talking for an hour in the dining room after everything has been eaten. In the souq, the kitchen, and the dining room, the beauty of Morocco is in enjoying the process, not just the end product.