Monday, May 31, 2010

The old cemetery and a twisted adhan

A little Moroccan story # 3

There is an old cemetery in Fes, right on top of the hillside, keeping watch over the medina down below. It's old, it's actually very old. Most of the tombstones are already gone or least turned into almost indistinguishable pieces of rock due to years of persistent wind and rain.

There are ruins of past buildings and big sandy rocks with cave-like shallow openings. The place is quite remote and not exactly on the trail of tourist traffic. It's a pretty cool place to sit and watch over the city, minus some creepy guys who sometimes gawk around there. But if you pay no attention to them, they eventually fade away. 
You can see far and wide from there. From surrounding nature to the busy city. The view over the city (medina) isn't much to look at actually. For a sensitive eye of a European, trained in modern clean and sterile architecture, it all looks like a big pile of something .. unpleasant. 

The houses are unfinished, extremely dull, gray and undecorated. They all look the same and they cover a lot of ground, like someone just CGI'd the whole medina. But that's the way Moroccans roll. The houses are unfinished because the families are ever-growing and you never know when a new floor needs to be built. The rooftop is an important part of the house - women do a lot of their major household chores up there (like washing etc); rooftop is also place to store things, dry laundry and maybe even keep a small garden patch; it's a playground for kids and if necessary even a farmyard for birds/animals. So nobody really goes out of their way to keep it shiny and trendy. But all that makes the city look like a huge heap of trash piled on top of garbage dumped on top of construction remains. 

This cemetery is a perfect place for listening the sounds of the city, including adhans (prayer calls). An extremely religious city like Fes is filled with bigger and smaller mosques, all of them serving their nearby community and reminding  Muslims to pray when mandated. For a non-Muslims like us adhan basically only marks the passing of time, but Muslims are faith-bound to honor Allah five times a day by praying to the direction of Mecca and reciting their individual prayers. 

So, me and Kaidi were once sitting up there, enjoying the summer breeze and warm sun on our faces.  The prayer time was just being announced and you could hear how muezzins from different mosques were one by one calling Muslims to the prayer. The flow of adhans (prayer calls) started from one side of the city and gradually moved over it to the other side, it's direction tied to the movement of the sun. It seems to me that Fes has either 1) very bad recordings of adhan, or in case it's actually sang live then 2) most mosques must have severely substandard speakers-equipment. Because the quality of the call is often so bad that it's painful to listen. The constant audio noise gets in the way, distorts the speech and provides an opportunity for two tourists with their non-religious pagan ears and filthy minds to hear exactly what we heard. And i swear, we both looked at each other, blinked wildly and confirmed that we did indeed hear how the muezzin was singing and singing and suddenly ended with " ....  kebab!". I know, we're going to hell for that, but an ear hears what an ear hears. Or maybe it was all that old creepy cemetery .. Later when we told our little observation to the riad's manager Nabil, who by the way is the least religious guy around, he actually got annoyed with us and said it's was a horrible thing to hear! I guess we're lucky we didn't recount our little auditory mishap to an actual devout Muslim. 


  1. Ezan calls Muslims for praying according to time zone. It is quite normal to hear polyphonic sound when you consider the distance between mosques.

  2. You are right. Awful recordings and speakers. After living in Fes for a while I took a trip to Utah in the USA and I swear the cows were giving the call to sounded just like Fes.


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