The Smells of Fez

September 25, 2013

in Africa, Fall 2013, Kendra Burpee, Morocco

Morocco is a land of color, culture, beauty and history. But without a doubt, it is a country of smells – smells that I fondly consider a part of my life here.

I wake up in the morning to the smell of minty steam rising out of the teapot my mother is preparing. When I step into the shower, I uncover the drain to discover the smell of sewage leaking into the house. Not surprisingly, my shower doesn’t last very long. It just doesn’t feel as refreshing washing my body when breathing is difficult. Luckily at breakfast my nose is introduced to warm stale bread and it gets even better when I open up the apricot jam. When I step out of my front door into the labyrinth that is my city, I am forced to lunge out of the way of a herd of donkeys as they pass. They have huge bags attached to their backs and the man following them is collecting garbage in the bags. These donkeys are the garbage trucks of the old medina. The smell of their dirty bodies and the garbage is too strong for that early in the morning, but that is just the beginning. As soon as I rush by them, it’s the smell of cat pee that fills my nostrils. I swear that cats outnumber humans in this city. As I pass the spice market, I can almost taste the cumin, cardamom and ginger in my mouth. There’s a good chance that in this area in the morning I’ll also encounter someone slaughtering goats or sheep. The smell of fresh meat and guts sits heavily in the air and mixes strangely with the cumin. A pair of hooves stands on the counter in a pool of blood. I pick up my long skirt so I can move a little faster and escape the smell only to find that around the next corner there are grates of chickens and pigeons placed along the narrow path, each with one foot tied to the bars, as they flap their wings violently. I imagine I may even catch a whiff of the sweat dripping off the man seated next to the birds as he sits sipping on his morning snail soup.  As I continue on, if I’m unlucky I’ll smell the rancid pigeon feces drifting over from the leather tanneries. The feces and sulfur that are used on the leather distract me from the pleasant oily aroma of the newly made bags and shoes. I turn another corner and have to dodge the man pushing the cart of sardines. By this time my stomach starts to feel uneasy, so I hardly see the animal skins and wool hanging out on clotheslines as I speed by.  Just as the bread covered in apricot jam threatens to come back up, I walk past an old man sitting on the ground squeezing out oranges into a bowl. He waves his hand at me and yells something in Arabic and I assume he’s offering me some juice. By the look of his dirty hands I decide it’s not worth it, but I want to thank him for bringing the smell of citrus into my morning travels. The constant lingering smell of donkey dung never leaves me as I turn and climb my way out of the winding carless roads. As I turn the last corner to exit the medina, I pass a café packed full of men. I wonder how they finish the steaming muddy coffee that sits in front of them because the ends of hookah pipes seem to be attached to their lips. These last smells relax me and as I reluctantly reach the road, I hail a taxi to help finish my journey to school.

 

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