First Time in Fes

Rabat is Morocco’s official capital city—its governmental and administrative capital. Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, is its economic capital. But Fes, you’ll hear people say, is the cultural capital of Morocco. The ancient center of art and architecture and science and scholarship in North Africa.

It also has a reputation, both among tourists and Moroccans, of being very harassment-heavy. Maybe that’s why I lived in Morocco for a year and a half before setting foot in the historical medina.

If it weren’t for Project Design and Management (PDM) Training, it might’ve been even longer!

To develop our Story Project more, Bochra and I hopped on the train to Fes—and it turned out to be a wonderful few days that turned both of our expectations upside down.


The training itself was inspiring and momentum-building. We moved our project action plan forward, and got to learn about other peoples’ ideas for improving their own communities. We spent our days in a conference room full of radiant ideas and positive energy (and coffee).








Samira and Mina, the Regional Managers who coordinated and facilitated PDM, did a wonderful job. Their expertise and enthusiasm were what brought the whole workshop together. I also captured an inordinate number of photos of Samira with her arms raised! Go Project Design and Management!

Of course, between the serious work, we had plenty of time to be silly!

While the coffee-fueled days were spent going over sustainability tests and timelines and asset lists, the evenings were ours to spend as we liked. And when you get a group of PCVs and counterparts together like this, you’re bound to get some adventure.


Our group crowding into Cafe Clock in the old medina for Traditional Storytelling. (I’m in the bottom lefthand corner.)



Bochra is an apprentice storyteller at the Cafe Clock in Marrakech, so the Fes Master Storyteller and his apprentices successfully roped her into doing an impromptu performance. She rocked it, of course.

We were able to explore the New City and the Old City, both with their own charms.


PDM was actually the first training of my service. Robert attended the Community Health Workshop last year, but I didn’t go to any because I didn’t want to cancel my classes. This year though, with concrete projects in the works, I know that trainings like PDM will be of invaluable benefit.

Robert subbed for my classes while Bochra and I partied it up in Fes. (Hamdullah for supportive spouses!) Besides the obvious work-related benefits of the trip, we also had an amazing time hanging out and exploring a new city. We roamed around in a giant half-Moroccan, half-American pack, code-switching constantly in our Darija-English mix, probably confusing many Fes locals!


We had such a great time that Bochra and I decided to stay in Fes for an extra day, since she had the weekend off anyways and I had an extra day between PDM and Mid-Service Conference in Rabat.


Breakfast at our Riad

We spent the extra day exploring all that we’d missed while cloistered in our conference room. We saw University of Al Quaraouiyine, the world’s oldest continuously functioning university. It was founded by a Muslim woman in 859. We saw all the old madrasas and mosques with thousands of years of history. We saw the famous tanneries and the beautiful leather goods they produce. Before we entered the area, the tanners handed up sprigs of mint to hold under our noses because of the rank tanning smell.

Not only did we see all the typical things that might be on a visitor’s list, but we also spent an indulgent amount of time exploring bookshops and book souks. Bochra, sister of my soul, is a fellow bookworm of the same intensity. Robert once said to me, “It’s eerie when Bochra talks about books, because for a moment, I always think it’s you speaking!”



Fes, of any place I’ve been in Morocco, has the best selection of books! Bochra, wistfully lamenting the lack of selection in Marrakech, agreed. It makes sense, Fes being the cultural capital of Morocco and all. So many ancient scholars came from this place. And some not-so-ancient ones as well. Fatima Mernissi, the feminist writer and sociologist whom I admire greatly, was from Fes. Bochra, I should add, is absolutely a future Mernissi.

Ah, Fes. I’m sorry for judging you prematurely. Turns out, I adore you. You are teeming with books and adventures. And you contain the hands-down BEST tea I’ve ever had (Bochra also agreed, so it was Moroccan approved). Rather than the constant harassment I’d expected, we had so many genuinely lovely conversations with folks. In Fes, people rush through the crowded streets, dodging donkey carts and artisan vendors. But they slow down to sip tea and flip pages in their books.


Inshallah I will see you again soon, Fes.

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie


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