Discovery in a City So Old

This is an excerpt of Scot’s journal, which he kept throughout his Summer abroad in Seville. He shares with us a peek into the Moroccan trip that is part of the Summer in Seville program.

Written by Scot Lycan
Seville, Spain
Summer 2013

Fez is a city founded in the twelfth century, nestled into a lush agricultural valley in the northern interior of the country. It is home to the first medina, a self-contained city within its own walls. After entering its narrow corridors you might mistake it for a market, but it is a working self-contained village with donkey coaches bustling through the winding streets in the shadows of tall buildings from the ninth century. It is also home to the world’s oldest university and the first tannery as well. As we were being told of all of this, one of the girls got sick right in one of the streets, and the steep, winding cobblestone streets were taking their toll on my rebuilt leg. This was all interesting, but we were toured out at this point.

What interested me more was that in a poor country such as this, I sensed that there was money here in Fez. I don’t know what gave me that inclination, it was just a feeling. It could have been the amount of French residents or simply the business owners that I spoke with. Achemlal Rachid runs a successful fast food place known as the Chicken Spot, right on one of the main drags in the heart of the bustling city, Avenue Hassan II. The fact that it is successful isn’t so amazing, it is who he is. He can speak four languages, lets his employees practice third languages with tourists when given the chance, and in my entire conversation with him, I never once noticed that he was in a wheelchair until I went to shake his hand, which was rather limp, as he had some sort of ailment. Even the two of us spoke in Spanish and English. A true businessman at heart.

It turns out that I was right. Upon further research, I found that there are three clans that control this city, Morocco’s first capital. The Fassi, who have money, control the politics of the metropolis. On the other hand, it is the Jewish merchants who control the money, and the Berbers who control the farming and agricultural aspect of feeding the city. What many Westerners fail to recognize is that just because this is a Muslim country, it is not an Arab country. It in fact welcomes not only Jews and Christians, but caters to many foreign tourists. It is stable and was not touched by the raucous Arab Spring. It is a constitutional monarchy. There has been no overthrow or military junta. A little known fact is that in 1779, the first United States embassy to be established on foreign soil was in Tangier; this was the first country to recognize the United States of America as a sovereign entity.

That wasn’t the discovery that really gripped me, however. Morocco has two official languages, French and Arabic. Everyone must learn those. At a certain point in their primary education, it is compulsory for them to learn a third language of their choice. English and Spanish are quite common because of how widespread they are and how near they are to this county. Because I don’t know French, my way of communicating would start out, “Hablas español o, do you speak English?” For some odd reason, more people knew English…Spain after all, controlled northern and southern sectors of the country at one time and Moroccans still make use of the siesta. While this was easy for me, it was a letdown. When someone would answer, “Yo conozco poco español,” I went for it. For two people from two different countries who have never met, to bridge the gulf between each other by both speaking in a tongue other than their own, was pure magic.