A visit to the tanneries is a must when visiting the old medina of Fes. Workers crawl in and out of the vats of dye to color the skins that ultimately become wallets, shoes, belts and poufs. The scene is picturesque but the smell arising from the vats can be overwhelming, especially on a hot summer day. But as a tourist, you can view the pits of dye from a distance on a designated viewing platform before being ushered into the showroom to hopefully make a purchase before moving on to another colorful site.
Those who work at the tannery showroom offer visitors sprigs of mint to hold under their noses as they gaze down at the honeycombed vats. One can only imagine what it is like to work in a tannery. Surely the odor must take some getting used to before it permeates a worker's very being and follows them home at the end of each workday. It's a demanding, odorous and low-paying job that is only one step in multi-step process which is funded by those who purchase the colorful leather products decorating the shops and showrooms throughout the city.
Consider all the people behind those handmade leather shoes next time you bargain for a pair to take home and perhaps you will be willing to accept a price that's a little bit higher. Think of the men who gather up the still bloodied sheep skins left in ever growing piles at Eid Kbir, the annual sacrifice following Ramadan. Picture these men piling the skins into an open truck and carting them off somewhere to dry, clean and scrape. Recall the image of the men working in the vats of dye who color the skins which are later carted to some sunny hillside and laid out to dry. See the cobblers who fashion the leather into all the various sizes of feet into the soft, traditional slippers known as babouche. And finally, consider the sellers themselves; those sitting in a small storefront, little more than a cubbyhole and an exact replica of hundreds of other shops, or those in the large tannery showrooms reliant on commission-hungry tour guides to usher in tourists. Realize each seller must fiercely compete for your dirham and consider everyone behind that leather product and maybe, just maybe, you will re-think what price you are willing to pay.