For Alex Landine, a University of New Brunswick Bachelor of Education student, a trip to Morocco felt preordained.
His grandparents, Bob and Debbie Landine, were in their early twenties when Bob received a scholarship to study Civil Engineering in London. The recently married couple from Saskatchewan boarded a ship that took them from Quebec to European shores. That summer, they travelled through Spain and flew from Gibraltar to Tangier in Morocco. It was their first plane ride and first time visiting an African country.
“I feel like I’m following their footsteps,” said their grandson.
In early 2017 Landine planned to participate in the “auxiliares de conversación” program, where he would be an English teacher’s assistant in a Spanish school. He began researching all the places he could live and became familiar with country’s varied geography and rich history—even though he had never been there.
“I felt like I knew a country I had yet to visit,” he said.
Although the original plan to live in Spain for a semester did not work out, Landine jumped on the opportunity to visit Spain this Christmas break when a friend, who is doing a year abroad in Madrid, suggested he come visit.
A couple weeks before Landine’s arrival in Madrid, his friend sent him a webpage link for a seven-day trip through Morocco.
“I did a lot of research about Spain, but didn’t do much on Morocco—though it was definitely a place I wanted to go; it was on my radar,” Landine said.
On Dec. 27, only seven hours after his snowstorm-delayed flight from Fredericton landed in the Madrid-Barajas airport, Landine got on a bus that took him to Tenerife, south of Spain, to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco by ferry.
The ferry docked in Tangier the next morning. The air was humid and the city structures became visible just as the fog retreated to the mountains.
“We had crossed the sea for not even an hour; it was a very short distance, and because of that a lot of things looked the same. The geography and the buildings looked the same—but all of a sudden, church steeples turned to minarets, signs were in Arabic and French, and the way people dressed changed.”
Morocco is located on the northern tip of Africa, separated from the rest of the continent by the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert. This often gives visitors the odd sensation of not quite being in Africa. This feeling is further reinforced by the country’s history of Indigenous Berber, Arabian and European control and cultural influence.
Landine set out to tour Morocco’s major cities including Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, and Chefchaouen, as well as the Sahara. Once in Fes, the second largest city of Morocco, Landine ventured into the Medina—the oldest walled part of the city dating as far back as 789 A.D.
“You can see how over the centuries, they built these little streets and alleyways. Building one on top of another,” he said.
It’s like a maze that stretches for kilometers, where if you get lost, you can walk straight for three days from one end to the other. Even Google Maps can’t keep a record of the narrow streets.
Inside the Medina, every turn led to a new experience. One turn to the right and the smell of food flooded the street. A turn to the left and the walls were covered in tapestries and bags. Walk past a door and beams of light reflect on jewelry and copper items.
But “it was not a tourist trap. Yes, there were tourists in it, however the majority of people were locals living their daily lives,” Landine said.
Close to 250 thousand people live within the Medina. That’s five times the population of Fredericton—and that’s only within the old city; Fes has a population of 1.1 million.
As Landine waited for the 55-person touring group to reconvene, he struck a conversation with a vendor named Youssef next to his 3×1 metre store. Youssef told Landine he had owned the shop for 22 years and lives 15-minutes away.
“He was so friendly,” Landine said. “Sometimes, culturally, with the shopkeepers, if you walk into their shop and start looking at things, there’s a strong expectation that you’ll buy something and then they want to get into bartering with you in order to make a sale.”
But it was different with Youssef. Landine hadn’t brought money for that particular outing and was still invited in. Youssef said “I didn’t bring you into my shop just to buy something. Come in and see what I have: leather belts and silver jewelry.”
Landine learned that tourism is a big part of the economy in a place like the Fes Medina—and in order to keep up, Youssef had learned English, as well as key words in German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.
Youssef was very proud of what he sold, and with a big smile told Landine that only 10 to 20 per cent of those who step into his store bought something. He noted that even still, it is important to always have a smile and be friendly to the prospective customer. “That’s my business, that’s my line of work and that’s what I’m here to do,” said Youssef.
After walking through the maze of little streets and alleyways in the Medina, the group took a five-minute drive to a three-story mall that had Pizza Hut and Burger King. “I thought to myself: am I in the same planet? It was so different to where we had just been.”
For Landine, these contrasts revealed a few things: First, how an ancient city like Fes can also be so modern; second, how comfortable he felt in the mall and what he considered to be “his reality.” And how the unfamiliarity and uncomfortableness of the Medina is what made it exciting, because everything was new and “your senses were totally alive because you were just reacting to everything happening around you. It was so busy and crowded, and smells coming from everywhere. That was the magic of it,” he said.
Next on the tour was visiting Marrakech, which is also known as the “red city” because the buildings are painted in an orange-terracotta colour that resembles the Sahara’s sand at sunset.
“There’s the old city and the new city, and it all flows together really well,” said Landine. The streets are wide and big avenues are adorned with palm trees and orange trees on the sides. You can see camels in the distance and a Range Rover waiting for the light to turn green next to you.
The biggest attraction in Marrakech is the market square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. The market is composed of white tents where you can find food stalls that sell Tajine and Couscous—the country’s typical dishes—and is surrounded by buildings containing small stores.
“You could tell this is the way life used to be and yet still is,” he said.
Walking through the market square and streets that branch out from it, Landine knew he wanted to buy something to add to his wardrobe, “because it is one of the most famous places in Morocco and [the market] makes it into different travel books. So I wanted to get a souvenir that I could use that would remind me of the market,” he said.
While peeking into a store, a brown leather bag with a red-and-white-pattern carpet sewn into it caught his eye. “It was something totally unique, that I knew I’d never seen before and that I knew I couldn’t get anywhere else.”
The vendor put his lighter up to the leather to show him it was real. Landine purchased the locally dyed and treated handmade leather bag for a better price than he had originally planned.
The purchase was significant for Landine, who believes fashion is a way to get to know different cultures, costumes and people.
“I think those type of exchanges give what you wear more meaning—especially since all of the stuff that we were looking at was handmade and intricately produced; you can see the detail and work put into it.” Like the bag he bought in Marrakech and the belts on display at Youssef’s shop.
“When you actually talk to the people who made it, every time you put it on, you think of them and of that story. Chatting with them about their products adds to that one-of-a-kind factor,” Landine said.
Over a year ago, Landine began posting pictures of his outfits on social media every Friday under the tag “Fashion Friday.” Instantly, a couple hundred of his friends liked the pictures. So he continued to post them with a comment to accompany the outfit’s choice.
He now uses this platform to share what he learns through fashion in the different places he visits. Landine looks forward to sharing what he learns in his upcoming trip to Bogota, Colombia, where he will spend eight weeks for his second practicum as a teacher’s assistant.
“It’s going to be my first time living abroad and my first time in South America. It’s going to be sensory overload and that’s where my creativity really comes to life,” he said. He hopes to turn Fashion Friday into a more detailed account of his experiences, including pictures and written descriptions, through a blog.