Tetouan Morocco

After a quiet breakfast in the central courtyard of our Riad, we walked the twisting streets of the Medina to the King’s Palace.

The Palace is closed for visitors, as it is the royal residence of the current king.
He only uses this palace once a year, when he visits Tetouan.

We saw a photo of how this palace used to look years ago, when the streets surrounding the central court, were paved with mosaic tiles.
Today the circle is paved with grey stone and offer no public access.

We saw the photograph of the old palace, in a small hotel on a narrow alley that was filled with small Medina hotels.
A tall skinny and energetic man named Abdul, pointed to the narrow lanes and asked if we saw the tanneries, the Kasbah, and the Berber market.

We knew he was fishing to become our “Unofficial Guide” for the day.
We read other tourist accounts warning us not to fall pray to those “guides,” who can get aggressive when you are unwilling to pay them what they want, after the forced “Tour” was over….

But Abdul spoke very good English, seemed to have a pleasant demeanor and I got a good vibe….beside, I remembered how hard it was to find our way back last night to the Riad we are staying in, in this ancient Medina….
So we went along with Abdul, knowing that our good nature and better Karma, will not lead us into trouble.

The Medina on the way to the Kasbah, was sloping up into the nearby mountain.
The streets were painted in bright colors on the lower half of the buildings.

There were pink streets and green streets, blue streets and yellow streets.
There were huge wooden doors with metal studs in them, old giant key locks, and hinges out of the middle ages.

In one of the uphill lanes, we came upon a mosque that is used by women only.
Rahma, is the name of the healing old lady who lives in this woman’s mosque, where she prays and read the Koran all day.
She does not gossip or engage in the trivial daily hassle of living in a community, her eyes are turned only towards God…

She is over 104 years old.
People with all sorts of ailments come to her seeking for healing.

They must come very clean, right after they have been to the Hammam.
She sits with them without speaking a word for about fifteen minutes…. Her calm and spiritual being radiating healing and wholeness….
She then gives them a small glass of water from the Hammam’s fountain and touches them by their heart or moves her wrinkly hand over their affected area.
It is said that those who believe and come to her, are healed.

Up the narrow steps on the lanes leading to the Kasbah, I turned around to see Jules helping an old lady up the steps.
He took her plastic bag with her bread and daily shopping, and with his other hand he was holding her hand and helping her climb.

Our guide Abdul run down to help Jules guide the old lady up.
When they got to the top of the stairs, Abdul sat her down on the side for a rest, before she will gather strength to continue.

Abdul told us that she lives alone with no family.
About twelve years ago, her husband died, and that she has no relatives, so she lives alone now.

The neighbors help her with small amounts of money, and she makes the long trail and climbs down the steep uneven steps into the market, where she buys three pieces of round bread, a few tomatoes and half a kilo of potatoes.

She then climbs up the many steep steps back to her home.
She stretches this small amount of food to last for a few days, after all… She eats so little…….until she has to climb back down into the market, and take the long climb up again with more provisions.

I suggested we give her some money, just as her neighbors do, and when Jules handed her the money, she kissed his hand and showered him with blessings.
Abdul said that the blessings of old ladies ALWAYS come true.

On the last narrow steps to the Kasbah, we could see the construction debris and rubbish of the collapsed ruins, spread from this ancient Kasbah down into the lanes below.

Kids were playing in the rubble, as we walked and looked at the remains of this once glorious fort.

We were told that a large tunnel many kilometers in length, running all the way to the Spanish border, runs right below us from this fort onwards.

The tunnel was used in the year 1700 by the army, and the tunnel had an underground prison in it, as well as a cafe for the soldiers.

There are huge palm dates trees standing in the rubble and rubbish, and there are still the remains of beautiful mosaic tiles around the crumbling Kasbah.

The current king who comes once a year, recently vowed to replace the rubble in front of the Kasbah, with a green garden with flowers…. I hope that he will….

We walked down from the Kasbah, where we got a vast view of the ancient Muslim cemetery.
There is also a large old Jewish cemetery as well as a Spanish Christian cemetery, both right adjacent to the Muslim cemetery.

Currently there are around 200 Christians who still live in Tatouan and only six Jewish people remain living here.
Four of them are over eighty years old, and the other two are in their mid forties.

“Yes, they do get along with the Muslim community”…… Said Abdul, “But in recent years the Israeli – Palestine conflict brought sad images of children being hurt, which angers the Muslim people greatly…” He said, nodding his head with a moment of sadness.

Through one of the ornate gates, we entered this large cemetery, into the ritual courtyard.
When a person dies, they bring the body into this courtyard.
They place carpets all over the courtyard, then say prayers over the body, mourn and perform ululations.

They bury the body and place a grave stone with a long rectangular opening on the top, in the following years, when they come to visit the departed beloved, (usually done on Wednesdays and Fridays,) they place fragrant branches of leaves in the rectangular opening, and sprinkle water on it.

We saw many ornate Mosques along our stroll around the Medina.
Most have beautiful arches at the entrances, with stone carvings and beautiful mosaics, but the interior is just a large hall, sometime supported with ornate columns, with nothing but wall to wall Moroccan carpets on the floor.

I saw a dying man laying inside one of the mosques.
His emaciated body was shaking in tremor, he seemed unconscious…. Fluctuating between this world and the next….
People came in and out of the mosque, not paying much attention to this man who was laying on comfortable cushions.

“They sometimes do that…” said Abdul.
They bring those who are on their last breath, so they will depart in a holy place, in the presence of purity and prayers.
After they die, (it is hoped they’ll die peacefully,) they are taken to the cemetery for the burial ritual.

At the entrance to the Tanneries, the smell of decomposing flesh mingles with the undeniable scent of urine.
The leather tannery has very old vats, which the locals use to process leather.

There were vats lined with bricks, or plaster, round and elongated vats.
They use urine and pigeon poo, mixed with water to soak the skins of camels, goats, sheep and cows in those vats.

They then lay them in the sun, with the furry side down, and spread salt grounded with more pigeon poo, and repeat the soaking and drying process a few more times.

In one of the small tannery huts, we saw a man scraping the leather.
He had the leather pulled on a horizontal wooden pole, and he had a device that he used to push the sickle crescent knife with his chest, and guide it with his hands.
He repeats this scraping many times over, until the leather is flat and smooth.
He can do 4 or 5 whole sheep skins per day.

This tannery is no longer owned by anyone.
It is a cooperative venture of the whole community.
People bring their own leather and do their own treatments.

The tanneries were fascinating, but I took a deeper breath when we left the urine, poo, wet fur and flesh smell behind.

For our olfactory delight, we paid a visit to a herbal pharmacy, where I bought some Moroccan spices, essential oils of an orange blossom, concentrated block of musk, and a very light and fragrant Damask rose facial cream.

From a street stall, I bought some blue rock pigment that when mixed with water, is used to dye the houses and the streets blue, thinking that I can use it in future art projects.

I also bought some Kohl, which is used by Moroccan women to accentuate their eyes, by adding this Kohl under their eyes and over their eyelids.
In my youth in Israel, we did the same…
We painted our eyes with Kohl and felt that it gave our eyes a mysterious gypsy look…
A touch of the exotic and a whisper of dark mysteries……. Hey, we were immature young girls with dreams…..

We said good bye to Abdul with a nice tip of 150 Dirhams. (about $20)
He accepted graciously, but said that if it were possible…. And only if it were possible…. He would be happy to get paid fifty Euros, €25 per person.

Knowing that a local salary for a full day of skilled hard work is only 150 Dirhams, and that Abdul was with us for only a few hours, we kindly said that we were not comfortable with fifty Euros, but we were happy to tip him 150 Dirhams.
He accepted and we parted with mutual blessings.

We truly enjoyed his attentive and kind spirit and were happy we hired him, even if he tried to push for more.

We ate a late lunch along Avenue Mohammed V, which is the main street outside the Medina, in the “Restinga Restaurant.”
It has been around serving the same food since the 1960’s.

We had coffee and tea sitting on the same street, where we sat and watched the constant river of people walking by….
Taking their Spanish “Passajera,” the traditional family stroll along the main pedestrian street in town.

It seemed that the whole town was on this street this evening…..
Besides most interesting people, tribal people, modern looking people and all sorts,
we saw people making trades.

Some were walking with only two small packages of open cigarette packs, selling one cigarette at the time, at one or two Dirham per cigarette (15 cents)
Others walked with three small packages of individually packaged tissue paper, at two Dirhams per package.

Children and disabled people were begging and many merchants laid their merchandise on blankets on the pavement, selling pirated DVD’s, plastic watches, used clothing, sweets, drinks, belts, wallets, toys, leather bags, cactus fruit, nuts, perfumes, cell phone accessories, school supplies, balloons in the shape of superman, spiderman and SO MUCH more……

Darkness fall on the city almost abruptly.
Stores close down and more people flood the streets, looking for food and entertainment.
It is time to pay for our Flan and coffee and tea, and make our way back to our Riad… That is IF we can figure our way without getting lost…

I have to admit that I am having SO much FUN……

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