Features: Last Seen in Fes
Last seen in Fes
We arrived in Fes at around 9.00am and made our way to the Church which is very near to the Ville Nouvelle. We were shown around and were pleased to see that it had a shady garden with high walls and a secure gate. The heat was really getting to Chaka and it would mean that we could leave him in the garden and pop out when we needed to rather than drag him around with us protesting as he went. The Church also had another resident dog called Spooky and as far as Chaka was concerned she was spooky by name, spooky by nature! She had been there for many years and poor old Chaka was put in his place once again. No reprieve for a youngster. We left shortly after arriving to visit the Medina in Fes - the largest 'working' Medina in the world - making our escape whilst Chaka's attention was diverted. To say he doesn't like being left on his own would be an understatement, but we felt that it was important to get him used to the odd occasion when this might be a necessity. We closed the gate behind us and set off. I have to admit to feeling a pang of guilt and just hoped that he and Spooky would settle down and fall asleep in the heat of the day.
Bab Bou Jeloud - the main entrance to the Medina
On route, we had decided that as it was such a large Medina we would engage the services of an official guide however, as we parked Bumble a young boy 'latched' onto us offering to guide us for a fraction of the cost. We tried to be polite however, he persisted and followed us to the entrance of the Medina. There, we found an elderly gentleman with an official badge giving his registered status as a guide and we agreed a price. As we began our tour, a friend of the young boy came running after us chastising us for giving false promises to his friend. Our thoughts immediately turned to Bumble as they had seen where we had parked and wondered if retribution might be sought. We asked the official guide if he thought the vehicle would be ok, but he was already into his spiel and not at all interested. The tour took around 3 ½ hours in total including a visit to the Tanneries, Kairaouine University, one of the oldest Universities in the world, built between 859 and 862 and the inevitable carpet shop which was actually very impressive.
Locals leaving barefoot from one of the many mosques in the Medina
At strategic points during the visit, the guide would leave us for a few minutes in the capable hands of the sellers who would try out their sales techniques on their unsuspecting prey. Not quite so unsuspecting however, in fact, it only took 4 simple words, 'we have no money'. There are estimated to be 9,400 lanes which make up the Medina, and without a good map or a guide, getting lost is more than a possibility, it is inevitable.
A multitude of crafts
The temperature was in the high 40's and the narrow, steep streets of the Medina did not seem so appealing on the return ascent. What do they say about 'mad dogs and Englishmen' well Neil and I were seriously regretting not having a hat - an absolute must when walking around in the heat of the day. We felt extremely light headed and stopped off for a quick bite to eat and a drink before heading back to the Church.
A traditional Moroccan water-seller
As we opened the gate, only Spooky greeted us and despite our calls, Chaka was no-where to be found. After a minute or so, panic began to set in as we realised that he was not in the garden. Neil went inside and found a note from the Pastor who had arrived shortly after we had left, not realising that Chaka was there, and as he opened the gate, Chaka had bolted sending David flying in the process. We were absolutely frantic, but the full scale of what had happened had not set in as we set off into the town to look for him. It was now 4.30pm and he had been missing since 10.30am, he didn't know the area, it was around 45 degrees c and the roads around the Church were extremely busy. As we walked into the town, we asked a number of people if they had seen him and as it transpired there were various sightings of him during the course of the day. He had been back to the area around the Church, the closest being the hotel next door where he had entered their kitchens. In the Ville Nouvelle, we continued our search walking through the back streets, market place, residential area, looking in shop doorways, garages, just about everywhere we could think of, but to no avail. A gentleman approached us asking if we would like a guide for the Medina and we rather curtly said no and told him about Chaka. He introduced himself as Rashid and immediately said he would help us to look for him. He told us that he was very well known in Fes and had a lot of contacts and from time to time dogs were found and sold on. A thoroughbred such as Chaka would no doubt fetch a lot of money and would be an extremely sought after dog. As he set off, I felt a twinge of doubt regarding his authenticity but I reasoned that at least people would be looking for him. Neil and I spent the rest of the evening searching and talking to people, thank goodness Neil could speak French. We got talking to a group of young men, one of which was a student at the American College and spoke quite good English. He told us that he had seen a dog similar to Chaka earlier that evening as he left his class. The dog had caught his attention due to his collar - not a familiar accessory amongst stray dogs. His 2 two friends offered to drive us to the area and we all climbed into their car and set off. We drove around for about an hour and they constantly stopped and asked people if they had seen Chaka. At 11.00pm, we returned to the Church and offered the 2 guys petrol money but they would not accept it. Their concern and kindness was very touching, particularly in our fragile state of mind. They said they would continue to look for him. As they drove away, we felt slightly more positive in the knowledge that we must have had half of Fes looking for him. As we approached the Church, the security guard from the hotel next door told us that 2 men had been to the Church looking for us on 2 separate occasions and that they had found Chaka. We waited on the steps out-side for their return but by 12.30am it was clear they would not return that night. Also, the security guards story was changing slightly as he now told us that he hadn't actually seen the dog as the men wanted to be paid before they handed him over. We decided to go to bed and await their arrival tomorrow.
At 1.40am the door-bell rang and as we rushed to get dressed and opened the gate, there stood Rashid and a friend saying that a dog resembling Chaka's description had been sighted and they wanted Neil to accompany them. It was actually Rashid who had come around to the Church earlier in the evening. Without a second thought we agreed and Neil set off with the 2 men in Bumble. Rashid said it would be better if I stayed at the Church and again we agreed. I thought they had sighted Chaka in the Ville Nouvelle which was literally just around the corner from the Church and had estimated that they would be no more than an hour. By 3.30am, they had not returned and I was absolutely beside myself. It suddenly dawned on me how belligerent we had been. Letting Neil go off at 1.40am in the morning with 2 perfect strangers in the middle of Fes - a city we knew nothing of - was nothing short of ridiculous. As I sat by the front door listening out for the sound of Bumble's engine, I gave myself until 3.40am and I would then raise the alarm. At 3.40am, I telephoned Steve, our contact in Fes and he said he would come straight over. Within 10 mins he had arrived with the parking guardian from his street who knew the area well. The hotel security guard told us they had headed off towards a district just out-side the main town and we made this our first port of call. As I sat in the back of the car I couldn't take in what was happening. First Chaka, now Neil. I can't describe the thoughts that were going through my mind. I had Neil tied up and gagged in some deserted location being held to ransom. As we drove around the empty streets, looking for Neil, the recriminations came fast and furious. What if we hadn't come to Fes? What if we hadn't left Chaka on his own? What if I had gone with Neil? After driving around to no avail, we headed back to the Church to see if Neil had returned in our absence. There was no sign. It was now 4.40am and Neil had been gone for 3 hours. We drove to the local police station and there began the slow process of providing details. The police only spoke Arabic and everything had to be translated and typed onto their rather out-dated type-writer. It was my second visit to the police station as Neil and I had registered Chaka as missing earlier that day. As the police asked me to give descriptions of the 2 men, I became aware of how little I had observed and struggled to remember what they were wearing, if they wore glasses or had beards. After all the paperwork was complete, 3 policemen followed us back to the Church to ask the hotel security guard if he had any more information and as we rounded the corner, there sat Bumble in the driveway! I have never felt so relieved in all my life. I leapt out of the car and opened the side door to find Neil asleep in the back. He had returned about 15mins before us and the guard had explained to him what had happened. The police were extremely kind and were just happy that Neil was safe and sound. I would also like to thank Steve who was awoken from his sleep at 3.40am in the morning and showed a great deal of kindness to me in my rather distressed state of mind and apologises to Rashid and his friend who were extremely nice people who just wanted to help.
As we awoke later that morning and our emotions from the previous night had subsided, we realised in the cold light of day that our prospects of finding Chaka were actually not that high. So many people had seen him, but we always seemed to be just too late. Also, the sightings were spread over a large area so either Chaka was covering a lot of ground or the sightings were not actually him at all. There was a large Veterinary practice not far from the Church and we decided to speak to the vet in the vain hope that someone may hand him in. Fondouk American was headed up by Dr Denys Frappier who had been the vet to the Canadian Equestrian Olympic team. He was very honest and told us that many dogs go missing and the prospect of finding them was very slim. More often than not they were caught and sold on. However, he also told us that if any dog would be found, it would be a Rottweiler - he had owned 2 Rotties himself. Dogs are rarely kept as pets in Morocco, they are more likely to be guard dogs and encouraged to show aggression to unwanted visitors. As a result, large dogs are kept at arms length particularly if they are wandering around freely. Denys told us that if Chaka had been a small dog, we could wave bye, bye there and then.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the town asking locals if they had seen him and yet again sightings had been made. It was difficult to piece together a true picture of where he had been as sightings ranged from one side of the town to the other. We had taken many photos of Chaka with the digital camera and went to the local Internet Café to print some off and hand out. That night the door-bell rang at around 3.30am and as we opened the gate, we could hear the hotel security guard shouting Chaka's name to a dog across the road, but it was not Chaka.
The following day we had to make the difficult decision to set a deadline. We couldn't stay in Fes indefinately and we had already extended our stay at the Church. Chaka had gone missing on the Thursday, it was now Saturday and we agreed to stay until the Wednesday. In our minds Wednesday was still along way off and although things were not looking good, we hadn't given up hope. We were told the previous night that a large black dog had been seen around a square called Atlas in the centre of the Ville Nouveau and we made our way to that area. We got chatting to a young guy who was a local guide/entrepeneur and he introduced us to 2 men called Abdullah and Mohammed. He said that they knew the area well and would help us to look for him.
Abdullah and Mohammed
It transpired that Abdullah and Mohammed were amongst a large number of men who would spend their days sitting in the square looking for work. They would take just about any type of work from manual labour to looking for lost dogs as there is high unemployment in Morocco and work is not easy to come by. The temperature was once again in the high 40's as we all piled into Bumble. We spent the next couple of hours driving around Fes and the surrounding area stopping from time to time to let Abdullah and Mohammed speak to locals and put the word about. We also dropped in to see the local dog-catchers who said they would keep an eye open although we heard later that they had been known to shoot dogs on sight. As evening approached we realised that sightings during the day were getting rarer and we felt that Chaka was probably keeping his head down during the heat of the day and then going out looking for food around 7.00pm as temperatures dropped albeit by only a few degrees.
We returned to Atlas at 8.30pm in the hope that Chaka would once again surface as he had done the previous night. We walked around for a couple of hours before returning to the Church at 10.30pm. The security guard told us he had been spotted 200 yards from the Church around 8.45pm that night, 15 mins after we had left. One of the guys we had met the previous night had stopped by the Church to let us know he had been spotted, Chaka had actually run out in front of his car and glanced off a taxi. We spent the rest of that evening walking around that area and got talking to a group of young boys who said they had seen him about 2 hours before, running down that very street being chased by 4 Moroccans. Our spirits rose. By their description, it was definitely Chaka. We spent the next hour or so looking up and down the street, but yet again we were just too late.
As we retired to bed that night, our emotions were very mixed. Neither of wanted to acknowledge the possibility that he had been taken by someone, sold on, injured, or indeed met some other fate but we did realise that in the extreme heat we were experiencing in Fes, Chaka had to find water otherwise he would quickly dehydrate.
The following day, we again visited Atlas to see if there was any news, but there had been no sighting. He had now been missing for 4 days and the sightings were getting few and far between. That evening we walked around the area close to the Church in the hope that he would see Bumble and return. But, to no avail. We awoke on Monday morning feeling very low. We were due to leave on the Wednesday and we just couldn't imagine how we were going to leave Fes and indeed Morocco without Chaka. The thought of leaving Morocco with the possibility that Chaka was still out there on his own looking for us was just too much to bear. We had decided that rather than keep walking around, we would stay near to the Church in the hope that he would find his way back and if he did, we would be waiting for him. We also knew that a lot of people were out there looking for him. Mohammed and Abdullah came by to see if we had got any news and whilst there, invited us to a family gathering. Abdullah's wife had just given birth to a son and it was traditional to throw a party on the 7th day. We accepted and made arrangements to meet the following day. That evening, Mohammed returned and he and Neil walked around the surrounding area handing out photographs with the telephone number of the Church and talk of a reward. I stayed at the Church in case anyone telephoned or stopped by with news. A youth selling sweets by the station had seen Chaka the previous evening again at La Fontaine Lafayette, being chased by 3 Moroccans. This was incredibly frustrating as Neil had sat in that area for 2 hours on the Sunday evening and had seen nothing. In the hope that Chaka was becoming a creature of habit, Neil and Mohammed returned to La Fontaine Lafayette at 8.00pm to begin their vigil. I again waited by the telephone. Mohammed left at 9.30pm warning Neil of the unscrupulous characters returning to the Medina after a 'full' evening in the Ville Nouvelle and imposed a curfew on Neil of 10.30pm.
Tuesday came all too quickly and there was still no sign. Although we felt despondent, our thoughts moved onto more happier things as we met Mohammed and drove to Abdullah's house. We were greeted by Abdullah and his grand-father and were ushered into the house under the watchful gaze of their very bemused neighbours. Abdullah told us that to have European guests was a great honour and was a very rare event indeed. As we entered their apartment, we were introduced to his wife and extended family and were immediately made to feel welcome by their kindness and generosity. We were offered mint tea and a selection of sweet pastries, then a large dish of couscous arrived accompanied by lamb and vegetables, followed by a dish of lamb in a delicious prune sauce. Mohammed had a dish of sheep stomach to himself , no need to ask why. Abdullah and his family only spoke Arabic and Neil did a sterling job in speaking French and Mohammed likewise in translating it into Arabic. We realised quite early on that Neil, Mohammed and myself were the only people eating and having prepared our lunch, the ladies of the house were now busy preparing supper for the rest of their guests who were due to arrive for the party later in the afternoon. After lunch, Abdullah's sister offered to paint my hands with henna.......
.....................in the traditional Moroccan style and as she set about the design, the other ladies produced Moroccan drums which they beat frenetically.
It was a truly wonderful experience and we felt honoured and priviledged to have been a part of their joyful celebrations.
We arrived back at the Church late afternoon and had to start the difficult task of packing our things away which included many of Chaka's, in readiness for our departure the next day. W couldn't believe that we would actually be leaving without Chaka. The worst part was not knowing where or how he was. On the one hand we hoped that he would fend off being caught by the wrong people, but then how would he survive? Scavaging around dust-bins and refuse sites was too grim to contemplate. My maternal instincts were in overdrive. We just wanted him back. I kept imagining him cowering in some corner too scared to come out. Since having Chaka, we had come to realise that he was a creature of habit and also liked his creature comforts. He would follow me everywhere and loved to be close to us. He absolutely hated being left on his own and was a real fuss-pot. I couldn't imagine how he would cope. We spent our last night in Fes in the usual place, looking and listening for any sign. But there was nothing.
Wednesday morning came and we packed our things into Bumble and made a last visit to Dr Denys Frappier to leave a telephone number where we could be contacted in case Chaka was found. We had also left instructions with all the people we had met, to take Chaka to the Fondouk American if found. Unbelievably, Chaka had walked right in front of Denys' car on Saturday afternoon outside the Sheraton hotel. Denys immediately stopped and called his name. Chaka paused briefly, looked around then sped off. Denys couldn't believe he had actually seen him.
We left Fes passing by the Sheraton hotel still looking, in the vain hope that he would suddenly appear around some corner. But it was not to be. We drove in silence, both with our own thoughts. It was a very sad day.