After two long flights and transits, and a four-hour train ride from Casablanca, I finally reached Fez, where I met with my friends. It was the starting point of our Moroccan adventure, but our excitement faded quickly as we ventured into the Fez Medina.
Upon my arrival, we wasted no time to finally see Fez. A few steps from the riad, a friendly child emerged from nowhere and approached us. Being new to the place, we indulged him with his questions. Even though I was already feeling that something was off, we continued to be nice to him, as he was to us. After all, he was innocent-looking, nothing like the street kids of Manila.
He insisted that we take his photo, and we did. That was when things took a nasty turn. He insisted that we give him money, and upon giving him a few dirhams, we thought he was going away—he didn’t. When we resisted from giving him more money, he took a rock and used it to threaten us. We were scared but mostly shocked. We’ve never been threatened like that, let alone by a child. He made the street kids of Manila seem like amateurs with his thuggish behavior.
After that rather appalling welcome, we headed for the other side of the Fez Medina, a thriving, chaotic market full of wares, food, trinkets, and everything in between. Although we weren’t Caucasians, we still stuck out like sore thumbs, as locals loudly called out to us, “Japan! Malaysia!”—as if those were the only Asian countries they knew.
Again, we were approached by a local who wanted to take us around. Still somewhat shaken by the kid who almost stoned us, we politely refused him and walked ahead. But he wouldn’t relent, following us around, making unsolicited suggestions and wanting us to follow him somewhere. I was getting irritated, so I finally gave him a forceful, “No, thank you! We don’t want!” He then threw a small fit, saying stuff in Arabic, gesturing, and shouting at us. We were shocked, of course, but less so, as we were in the middle of a crowded market after all.
The rest of our visit was more relaxed. The locals were curious about us, still wondering what country we were from. When they tried to talk to us, we kept our responses short yet polite. Shop owners befriended us, but they were simply coaxing us into buying their stuff. Thankfully, none of the locals threatened us anymore.
Although all three of us are seasoned travelers, having gone to a number of notoriously dangerous places, we collectively admitted that we’ve never been that culture shocked. And we were so traumatized by what had transpired that, at one point, we said that we weren’t really looking forward to spending another day in Fez.
In the end though, appreciating how beautifully mysterious Fez is, we decided to give it another shot. We just hoped that the next day would be better.