A shopping trip in Fez

Fez MarketFez Market

My first job is to buy a chicken, and as usual I go to "al-Haj" (a title given to a man who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca). He has a tiny shop in a narrow street, and outside there's a bench where customers can sit while they wait, or just to rest a bit.

This morning al-Haj himself is sitting there. Dressed as always in black, with his big grey beard, he is a man of great dignity. He's obviously praying. I greet him respectfully and he returns my "Salaam."

To me, he is a person of contemplation. In my imagination, where there are no borders, he looks like a monk of Mt. Athos [famous Greek Orthodox monastery], or a teacher in one of the great religious schools, where everything is centered on God. He moves serenely, and I've never seen him impatient with his young employees.

I leave his place strengthened in what I believe as a Little Sister that nothing is too small to be important: it all depends on our own attitude. God is present in our "Nazareth."

I go on my way and arrive at the street called "Sellaline", "little baskets." On the left are small shops, and on the right along the 12th century walls of the Annouar Kasbah (castle) there are stalls with displays of fruits and vegetables.

I stop at one vendor, who has large baskets of black olives and a pile of oranges. He's middle-aged, with a beard, and dressed in the traditional style. He looks more like a character from the time of Sultan al-Mansour than a 21st century shopkeeper.

I greet him and ask, "How much are the oranges?" He answers, "Four dirhams per kilo. If you have no money, I can give them to you for free." Well I didn't expect an offer like that... I must be looking rather poor... But my problem is not that I have no money, but that I only have a 100-dirham note.

I ask him, "Do you have change for 100 dirhams?" He shoots me a look of contempt, "I don't have anything to do with money." I think, "What detachment! Still, he's working for a living... We'll see."

I choose two kilos of oranges, he weighs them, and I hold out my money. He stretches his hand out toward me, and wrapped around it he has a kind of "rosary," the string of beads the Muslims use for repeating the 99 names of God. He asks, "What about you, do you have one of these?"

I immediately go on the defensive: another one who's going to try to convert me! But I see I'm mistaken. I tell him, "Yes, I have something that looks like that, but the prayer is different." He asks, "So how do you pray?" At this moment a lady arrives asking about the price of the black olives. He answers her sternly, "Right now I'm not selling olives!" At first I think he's joking, but not at all. He goes on, "Don't you see I'm busy with her?" And he adds, "I want to learn from her."

Fez Entry to the mosqueFez Entry to the mosque

Now I'm embarrassed that he doesn't want to take care of the other customer. Fortunately she doesn't seem the least bit angry; rather, I'm astonished to see how she's ready to enter into what's going on. She allows herself to be drawn into the conversation, which now goes on among the three of us. The shopkeeper goes back to his spiritual conversation. "Do you also say 'Subhan Allah (Glory to God)?'"

I confirm, "Yes, I can say that too."

So he turns to the woman, "We are all brothers and sisters: Muslims, Jews, Christians, French, Moroccans...and this lady here, she is our sister."

He goes on, "In the Qur'an it is written, 'Rabbi al-alamin' (Lord of the Universe). It is not written 'Rabbi al-muslimin' (Lord of the Muslims). He is the God of all. It is God who is God. As for us, we take different roads to reach God—to each person, his or her way!"

Fez CeramicsFez Ceramics