Experiencing 800 Years of History in Medina, Morocco


In December 2011, my son Paul, my grandson Calvert, and I drove from Stuttgart, Germany to Frankfurt to catch a plane to Morocco. We were flying on Ryan Air and when we arrived at the gate, I got a lesson in inappropriate European airport etiquette. For example, as at most airports around the world gate you stand in line to check your tickets, but it didn’t do much good because when the line starts moving, people just butted in front of you, and no one said or did anything about it.

It reminded me of what it must be like to herd cats. Everyone has their own mindset, and they go wherever they like. I was surprised that people didn’t throw punches, but I guess it is a culture thing and people have learned to just go with the flow. 

Another interesting event happened just before boarding. An airline attendant was measuring our carry-on luggage by having us insert it into a metal structure (box) that indicated whether the luggage was a suitable size to be carried on. 

I watched one young man try to put his bag in this box, but he couldn’t make it fit. He was with an older man (perhaps his father or grandfather) and the next thing I saw was the frustration of this older gentleman as he grabbed the bag from the boy and started shoving and pushing it into the testing container. He couldn’t get it in either, turned it upside down and continued pushing and shoving it, trying to force it in. Finally, he was successful but the last thing I saw as I boarded the the plane was him working harder trying to pull it out so he could also board. 

We landed in Rabat, Morocco at 11:15 p.m. and as soon as the plane touched the ground there was a spontaneous eruption of clapping and cheering from the passengers who were grateful for reaching their destination alive. 

We had reservations to stay in a hotel located in the ‘old city’ in Fez which  was probably 600 or 700 years old located in Medina.

Medina was founded in 808 A.D., and it is 15 square kilometers in size. There are 72,000 businesses in the city with merchants still doing business like they did more than one thousand years ago. It contains 25,000 buildings with 350,000 residents and approximately 75,000 tourists enter the city each day.

It’s a labyrinth of narrow streets where only small cars and trucks can go. It’s a maze where tourists get lost without a guide. Donkeys are still an integral part of doing business and you see them being led up and down the narrow streets loaded with merchandise. Live chickens are found in the butcher shops and are purchased and then beheaded and handed to the customer. Peddlers roam the streets looking for tourists to purchase their jewelry or other trinkets and if any interest is shown but nothing is purchased you will be followed for 15 or 20 minutes being pressured to buy something. Our guide warned us to not show any interest in them, but I didn't listen, and they pestered us until our guide chased them away.  

Because the hotel was in the middle of Fez the car rental agency furnished us with a Moroccan driver to help us find it. We quickly realized that we couldn’t have found it without his help. 

A man from the hotel met us outside and led us down a narrow street and when I stretched out my arms, I could touch both walls. When we arrived and I saw the entrance I was worried because it was unlike any hotel entrance I had ever seen. There were no windows, swinging doors, doormen, or even a front desk. I was worried about the neighborhood and our safety and really wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. However, when we entered it was gorgeous and all fears melted away.

It was late and we were hungry, so we went to a Moroccan restaurant that was still open and close by. The building where the restaurant was located was built in 1357 A.D. and it was beautiful on the inside. 

Paul and I ate some chicken and Calvert ate pigeon. I tasted his pigeon, and it wasn’t too bad. As we sat eating our meal, we were treated to some local Moroccan musicians playing music from their culture. Before long I was playing alongside them using a homemade instrument (soda pop bottle). People in the restaurant seemed to appreciate my efforts and the musicians smiled and laughed as they played along with me. We had a great time socializing and interacting with them. I am certain that these musicians had never seen the likes of three crazy Americans like us but when we left, we had some new friends.

The thing I learned from this trip is that people all over the world are friendly if we give them a chance and do our best to make them feel comfortable. From this experience I learned that creating a bond of friendship is not difficult. We can make them smile and laugh and be themselves and learn from them. All it takes is for us to get out of our comfort zone. 

Also, we can help our children learn to appreciate what blessings they have especially a home where love and respect abounds, differences are accepted, and life’s needs are met.

Happy Failing Forward,

Calvert Cazier

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