Suitcase and World: Christmas in Fez.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Fez.

Merry Christmas! We’re still in Fez. I hadn’t planned on anything for today which was just as well since poor Mildred is still nursing a very, very sore ankle. She’s been resting in bed since she got back to the riad yesterday afternoon.

Being a  Muslim nation, they don't celebrate Christmas here, it's a day like any other. For us though, I wanted a special memory of this day.  I had brought along stockings, filled with chocolates, for my three travel mates so I handed those out.  Of course, there were extra chocolates so I gave those to Ahmed with instructions for him to share with Sayeed and Sabah.  I hope he follows through.

Before coming to Morocco, I had arranged with the owner of the riad, Sonhild Gray, to have her cook prepare Christmas dinner for us. The arrangement also included us going shopping for the food. We would cover the cost of the food and 20 euros for the cook’s time and efforts.   I had invited Ahmed, Sayeed, and Sabah to join us for dinner so we needed to buy enough food to accommodate for seven people.

Of course, we now know the cook is Sabah. She is ever so sweet and has been taking care of us beyond our expectations. For example, when she cleaned up my room, she folded all my clothes and put my slippers into the closet. When Soon and I hung up our clothes to dry in his room, she took everything down and hung them up on the line outside.

"Grocery shopping Fez medina style This morning, after breakfast, Soon, Aaron and I left with Sabah to go food shopping in the markets around the Place R’Cif area. The medina was jam packed but Sabah wove through the crowd like the long time resident that she is. I was able to keep up her pretty okay but the guys were lagging a big behind. Every now and again, she would stop and look back to make sure we were all still following her.

She went from vendor to vendor buying whatever it is we wanted. At every stop, she checked with us to see if what the vendor offered was something that interested us. Veggies here are dirt cheap….pretty much 3 dirhams for a kilo. That breaks down to less than 20 cents for a pound of veggies. So cheap that we bought a kilo of each of the following – fava beans, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, zucchinis, onions, lemons and potatoes. She also bought parsley, cilantro and spices. To this lot of food, she bought a small bag’s worth of olives and pickled veggies, a kilo of beef and ½ kilo of anchovies…..and desert which was some sort of fried dough that had been dipped in a sugar syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  We bought a TON of food!!  Not good to go food shopping when you're feeling greedy :-)

The only thing we passed on was the camel meat.  Yes, they had a camel butcher here - you can't mistake the sign.....and the head.  Except for Soon, I didn't think the others would even be remotely interested.

Sabah would not allow the guys near the food so I helping with all the picking and choosing of the vegetables. Soon was the dispenser of the dirhams. As she bought the food, I wanted to pass the plastic bags over to the guys to have them carry the bags which they were more than willing to do but she wouldn’t even allow them to do that. She barely allowed me to carry anything. So, this tiny woman who stands barely five feet tall, lugged around probably close to 25 lbs of food all the way back to the riad, winding her way up and down the narrow lanes of the medina.

It didn’t take us long to get all the food we needed – couldn’t have been more than an hour’s time spent shopping. Sabah is fast and efficient!!

"Too many cooks in the kitchen Back at Dar Sienna, Sabah wasted no time getting down to prepping. I had drafted Soon and Aaron into helping and although both pretended to protest at having to do kitchen work, neither actually minded.

They started by shelling beans and then peeled the potatoes. Aaron peeled the carrots and I finally jumped in by cutting up the potatoes, carrots and peeling the cucumbers. I got the difficult prep work to do :-)

That's Sabah standing next to Soon and Aaron.  You can see how tiny she is.  Such a sweet, sweet woman!

It was fun sharing in the prep work and the guys were good sports about.  There was a lot of good natured teasing and laughter.


I also kept watch over the green peppers that Sabah had put over the gas flame to roast.


Sabah cooked the beef in the pressure cooker with onions, garlic and spices. That was going to be the start of the beef tajine.

"Anchovies....who knew Nothing I wouldn’t know how to do so that wasn’t so interesting. What was interesting was how she prepared the anchovies. First, she cleaned them. With the deft fingers of someone who has obviously done this countless times before, she, in one move, took off the head, split the body and removed the spine – basically filleting and deboning each sardine. She then made a filling of chopped parsley, cilantro, grated garlic, a touch of lemon juice and spices. She topped the flesh side of each anchovy filet with a bit of the filling and then topped with another filet – basically making a *sandwich*. She then left the fish to marinate in remaining filling.  

We didn’t help much in the kitchen, scurrying off to different corners of the house as soon as we thought we had done our part. Even I, who normally relishes being in the kitchen, had little interest in cooking that day.

We’ve been enjoying free Wi-Fi at Dar Sienna and since I’m running on UMA, I decided to take full advantage and call Mommy and Daddy to wish them Happy Holidays and to chat a bit. It was nice to hear the sound of their voices and to know that they are okay. I know I’ve only been away for a week but somehow, when there is such great distance between us, I tend to worry about them more.

We left Sabah in the kitchen and to be honest, I think she was happier without us there.  As a cook, I can understand that. She went about prepping and cooking. I was in the living room writing up my blog post for yesterday. Every now and again, she would come by and give me a sample of something to taste, including a tomato and cucumber salad and the anchovies which she had coated in flour and deep fried. Individually, everything was tasty so I knew that collectively, we would have a great meal.  Can't wait, salivating already.

Early afternoon, the guys wanted to go out so I sent them to get the drinks for dinner. When they came back, they had a bottle of Coke and some other sort of fizzy apple drink. They also found an ankle bandage for Mildred just in case she needed something *stronger* than the gauze bandages that Ahmed had put on her last night.

"Timeout for a bit of shopping " Late afternoon, I decided I wanted to go out and do a bit of shopping. With the exception of a pair ot blue babouches that I had bought on our first day here, I hadn’t really done any shopping. I took a 100 dirham note from my wallet and as I walked out the front door, bumped into Ahmed and Sayeed. I had invited the two of them to join us for dinner but we had not yet decided on when dinner would be. We settled on 7pm.

I headed out on T’alaa Sghira making my way to Bab Boujloud. I don’t know if it’s because the vendors had seen me many times before and knew I wasn’t interested in their wares but pretty much all of them ignored me. I had thought I wanted another pair of shoes and found a pair that I liked but for some reason, the vendor really put me off. He kept insisting that I buy a pair of shoes that were ½ size too large. After that exchange, I lost all desire for shoes. No matter. Plenty of nice things to buy but when you only have 100 dirham, you’re definitely limited.

My eyes caught sight of a red Berber bag. I asked the vendor how much and he replied, “150 dirhams”. I pulled out the 100 dirhams from my pocket and told him that’s what I had to offer. He then asked if I could throw in another 20 dirhams. I turned all my pockets inside out to show him that I didn’t have any more money. He then nodded and shook my hand. I handed him the 100 dirhams and with a smile, walked away. I had my souvenir from Fez.

Sometime, while I was out, Soon emailed me to tell me that Sabah was leaving. I arrived back at Dar Sienna about 20 minutes after she left. I wondered if she was coming back because I had wanted to thank her and say good bye. She was such a sweet and caring woman.

I looked in the kitchen and it was spotless clean. I looked in the fridge and Sabah had already put the olives into individual serving dishes. Several of the other dishes had also been plated up as well so all we had to do was set the table.

"Christmas dinner, Moroccan style" Ahmed and Sayeed showed up just before 7pm, bread in hand, and promptly went into the kitchen and went about getting the table set and serving the meal. I really hadn’t expected them to do this as I thought we would all chip in to help but I’ve come to learn that they consider serving us hand and food to be part of the job. I’m not used to being treated that way so at moments, it feels a bit awkward for me. I still feel compelled to at least help clear the table after a meal.

Sabah was at home tending to her own family so she would not be dining with us. I was sad to not have had the chance to thank her and to say goodbye.

That's Ahmed in the blue jacket with the white stripes and Sayeed has the hooded sweatshirt on.  What a spread of food!!

The guys insisted that we start eating before they were ready to join us and so we did but we took it slow so there was still plenty of food and drink when they both sat down. In fact, there was so much food on the table, it was insane. What were we thinking when we bought the food?? Greedy people, we are :-)

We were all stuffed after finishing the first round of food that when Sayeed and Ahmed served up the beef tajine, none of us could take more than a bite full. There was so much tajine uneaten that I hoped Sabah would not think that it was because we did not enjoy it. In fact, we never made it to dessert. No room in our bellies, which were all ready stretch to the match.

After dinner, Ahmed tended to Mildred’s foot which was recovering though it was still painful for her to walk. It will take time. She’s not a complainer though, taking it all in stride and not letting her injury stop her from enjoying herself as she is able to.

Ahmed kindly helped us arrange for when and where to meet up , tomorrow morning, with our tour guide from Morocco Explored for the next part of our trip which would take us through the mountains and desert. With Mildred’s injury, we needed to meet at the nearest gate with was Bab R’Cif….about a 10 minute walk from the Riad. It was agreed to meet up with the tour driver at 8am and which meant we would need to leave Dar Sienna no later than 7:45a. Ahmed and Sayeed would be back in the morning to walk us over to Place R’Cif but for now, they bid us good night.

I spent my last few hours at Dar Sienna writing my blog post, sending photos to Soon’s tablet via Bluetooth so he could post them up on Facebook and packing.

Today has been a Christmas day like no other and I will always remember it. As I get ready to leave Fez, I can honestly say that I have really enjoyed my time here and am sad to leave both Dar Sienna and Fez. But I know that new adventures and experiences await me and this I greatly look forward to.

Goodnight Fez!