Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fatiha and her beautiful family

To start things off, a little overdue announcement:
Very popular travel guide Lonely Planet has selected this blog Destination Anywhere to a special list of featured blogs on their website. It's actually pretty cool, now both my photos and stories of my travels & adventures are on Lonelyplanet.com, shown next to related content for other travelers to enjoy and benefit from.


Every time i’ve visited Fes, i’ve stayed in the same riad. You already read about riad's the bellboy Muahsin a few posts back, now i’d like to write about the riad’s cook & cleaning lady Fatiha. She is lovely and prepares a wonderful breakfast, but that’s not what i wanted to share with you. Today i wanted to tell you about her beautiful family.

I first met Fatiha when we visited Fes with my friend Kaidi back in October 2008. She was managing the riad's domestic side, keeping the house spotless and preparing our breakfasts. Fatiha speaks only Arabic, so we couldn’t really converse, but she had her daughters with her at work and i entertained them and myself by snapping photos of both the kids and Fatiha herself. They posed for me sweetly and seemed to take pleasure in being photographed. When i got back home, i made big A4 prints from those photos and bound them in a nice photo album. When visiting Fes this time around, i took the album with me and gave it to Fatiha. At first she looked puzzled, she turned the closed album around in the her hand, obviously a bit confused as why i gave it to her and looked at me with an odd expression. I gestured her to open it and when she did, a big smile came over her face. She was slowly flipping through the pages and watching big glossy photos of her beautiful girls. She said something to Muahsin who was nearby and he translated to me that Fatiha would like to invite me to lunch at her home. Of course i said yes, how very interesting chance to catch a glimpse to a very private life of an average Moroccan family.

Around lunch time she came to riad again to pick me up. We walked quietly, every once in a while exchanging glances and little smiles until we reached her home. Her house was about 10 minutes walk, just a few steps from the noisy market street by Blue Gates. The house itself was a pretty typical quirky house in the Fes's medina, small and dusty, tightly squeezed between the other houses on the street. The family itself lived in a small two room apartment up the very narrow and steep staircase.

Her family was much bigger then i had expected. Turned out she had 4 girls and one son + a husband. They were all waiting at home, the album had obviously become a highlight of their day. Children were all huddled together and carefully turning pages while chattering excitedly and pointing with finger to each other photos. There was a certain gleam of sadness in the eyes of those who's photos were not in the album. 

I was a bit worried about my skills of pantomiming for hours and hours in the row, but it turned out that the son Mohammed spoke pretty decent English and was also very enthusiastic about talking to me, clearly taking great pride in being the only one in the family able to do that. So i was able to talk after all, Mohammed was translating everything to the others and vice versa. Languages are still amazing things, it’s just incredible how they unite and sometimes also divide people, depending on how much you paid attention back in school :). 

The center of the home was definitely the TV, it was beautified with artificial flowers and doilies. Nobody seemed to pay much attention to it the whole time i was there, but it was turned on nonetheless and every once in a while somebody would go and change the channel or make the volume louder. There was very little furniture in the living room, just a big table for eating, couch , few chairs and a cupboard with the TV. The other, bigger room was obviously for sleeping, it was full of carpets on the floor and bedcloths piled up in the corner. They all probably slept on the floor on the carpets and during the day the bedcloth were just folded away. I caught myself thinking about those juicy cockroaches again who no doubt were roaming around the apartment in the night and mostly on the floors. The kitchen was very small and seemed to have only a stove in it, no fridge or other household appliances.You know how they say about photographers - it's not the camera, it's the guy behind it that makes great photos. Well, i guess real cooks can also do miracles without a fridge or a blender.

Mohammed explained that since it was Friday, we were going to be eating cous-cous. Soon enough the older girls started setting the table. First they brought out small bowls with some unknown berries that were absolutely delicious. Reminded me berries that grew around my grandmother's house and which i always feasted on when i was spending my summers there. Next course was cookies. Since i don’t care much for the sweet stuff, specially dry cookies, it took some pretending and self-control to eat a few and make a very good face while doing so. Then the juice and tea was served and small plates with fresh salad. I remember wondering how much of it was their ordinary normal lunch routine and how much was added specially for the guest. Moroccans are famous for being warm and generous with their guests, i wouldn't be surprised if they usually went straight to the main course. When the whole family was seated, the big plate of cous-cous was brought on the table. Everybody got a piece of bread which in Morocco is used instead of a fork or spoon. You take a piece of bread and use it either by scooping up the food with it or sort of smashing the food with the bread and then putting the bread with smashed food stuck on it to your mouth. I was of course supplied a fork, but i must proudly report that after living a month in Morocco i’d become very handy with the bread. My favourite food in Morocco is beef tajine (casserole) and it’s actually much easier to eat with the bread than with a fork. In any case, i think i scored some extra points by not using the fork :). 

While eating from a big communal dish you should only stick to the food that's right in front of you. It’s considered rude to dive after a piece of meat in front of somebody else or grab some food across the plate from the other side. The cous-cous was very tasty, it was fragrant and gentle, mostly with vegetables and just a bit of meat. Fatiha, who was sitting next to me, was continuously ushering  pieces of meat in front of me, so i ended up having to eat most of the meat in the dish, because refusing would’ve been even more rude. Some of the family members ate with bread, others with fingers. I have no moral qualms about eating with bread instead of cutlery, but using one's fingers is definitely not for me. That is something i last did in the kindergarten and therefore it somehow feels .. wrong/weird. It just seems so messy business, maybe even dirty, though the person’s hands could be freshly scrubbed and very clean. Some preconceptions are just rooted so deep that it would feel like few thousand steps back in my personal development if i'd started to eat with hands. Watching people eating with hands in Morocco always makes me think about the toilet hygiene where they use the left hand instead of toilet paper and though they wash the hands after that, it still seems unclean somehow. 

Fatiha’s husband was a quiet and serious man. Not at all the pushy merchant type one is used to seeing on the street. When he had had time to look through the album, he made a point of asking Mohammed to translate and thank me for the gift. He said that i would be this family’s friend forever and always welcome. My skepticism bells went off of course, thinking something in the lines of: „Riiiight. We’ll be bestest of pals, won't we?“ and my somewhat paranoid nature didn’t even entertain the thought that he may not be working an angle here. But i smiled kindly and kept my nasty presumptive thoughts to myself. By the end of my stay it was quite clear that he had actually meant it, from everything he did and said (which was little) was no way to deduct any other conclusion. Maybe his words were a bit overly dramatic, but the idea was the same.

After lunch we were attempting to converse some more with Mohammed translating and me frantically trying to remember to keep my sentences short and concise. I had my camera with me and i ended up taking more photos - both of those who were not featured in the album in the first time around and of the whole family together. Unfortunately it seems i have lost the small slip of paper where Mohammed wrote their home address so i could mail them the new photos as well. But i guess it might’ve been for the better, it’s quite possible a big parcel of photos would not even reach to it’s destination, being that the house locates somewhere in medina with quite possibly no official address. I've also heard that Moroccan postal system, while erratic and slow, is also a bit .. shall we say greedy - they often make you pay to get your packages and those payments can be times and times higher than the packages themselves are worth. And i didn't get that vibe from Fatiha and her family that they have too much cash to spare. So i guess i'’m just going to have to take the photos myself when i return to Fes. Hopefully soon. Maybe in the autumn? Anybody wanna join?

Back in October 2008:

Visiting Fatiha's home and meeting the rest of her family:


Note: This article is part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa Travel Blog Carnival #5 "Kids Around the World", hosted by Glennia Campbell of http://glenniacampbell.typepad.com. Click on the following link to see more photos and stories about "Kids Around the World" from some of the world’s best travel bloggers. 


  1. I really enjoyed reading this, nice story and great photos!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your account of this. Thanks for participating in the Blog Carnival!

  3. Hey nice interesting blog . I found your blog when browsing for europe tour package


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