After 16 months of most of the world being closed to travel, it was just 3 weeks before our first Source journey to Morocco. I arrived at the office to an unusual message to call a Bob Coleman. I called Bob and he said he was the cousin of one our travelers who recently booked our Journey to Morocco. He congratulated me on what he said was an amazing itinerary. “I’ve been to Fez over 35 times and can tell you you’re going to have the trip of a lifetime. I’m calling because in Fez, I’m going to steal away my cousin, Peter, and I have a special invite to extend to you and all of your group while in Fez. I can promise you that the experience I’m inviting you to – along with the magic carpet ride in the Sahara Desert – will be one of the highlights of your journey.”
Now of course I was curious. The call and promise of an invitation recalled one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes, “unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.” Bob then told me the story of his connection to Morocco.
Nearly hundred years ago, Amy Bend Bishop, an American traveler visited Morocco for the first time. She was distressed by the poor conditions of the many working animals in Fez Medina. At the time, there were 40,000 pack animals living in and around Fez. As in any country dependent on subsistence agriculture, Morocco’s draft and pack animals were worked hard by owners who were often poor and uneducated. The animals needed good veterinary care, improved husbandry and nutrition, and humane handling – both for their own sake and for the sake of the families who depended on their labor. Mrs. Bishop donated the equivalent of $100,000 in money today, and urged others, to build a refuge for the animals of Morocco. With the help of a few dedicated friends, including a prominent New York animal activist, Sydney Coleman, American Fondouk was founded.
Bob Coleman explained he is the grandson of Sydney, and the current President of American Fondouk. The invitation was to visit the Fondouk – which means shelter in Arabic – while in Fez. Bob explained that the Fondouk has saved thousands of animals and the lives of their owners. I thanked Bob for the invitation, and he introduced me to Dr. Gigi Kay, the lead veterinarian at American Fondouk. We added it to our itinerary in Fez. I saw the invitation as a sign, a synchronicity, that after all this time of the world be shut, that we were on the right path.
One of the reasons I founded Source Events 20 years ago was to inspire people to explore the world and make a difference along the way and not only explore the world, but also to leave it a better place. Our LGBTQ+ travelers have been so generous by joining us in supporting human rights and social justice causes at home and abroad. Many of our travelers have shared that as the world opens, they are looking for more meaningful travel experience. Authentic experiences that are immersive and connect them more deeply the people and places they visit. Visiting American Fondouk was just a perfect opportunity to learn, connect and make a different.
After frequent Zoom meetings with our travel partner, A&K in Morocco, the good news was conditions were improving in Morocco. Our trip was confirmed. It felt like our group of 8 intrepid Source travelers were going to be pioneers. We’ve said before that LGBTQ+ travelers were resilient and would take the lead in reconnecting with the world, and that’s exactly what we were doing.
When our group arrived in Casablanca, our guide, Aziz, emotionally greeted us, “we’ve been waiting for you. You are the first.” We felt like dignitaries throughout the journey, receiving a police escort throughout Casablanca. As we toured Morocco, Aziz pointed out how people were reacting to our visit, “notice the look of amazement in their eyes. Your visit is giving them hope. Travelers are coming back.”
It was an epic journey through Morocco. We drove through the Riff Mountains to the Blue City of Chefchaouen, which we were told – unsurprisingly – was one of the most instagrammed cities in Morocco. In Fez, we dined on the roof of our beautiful Riad, Palais Faraj. The view overlooking the ancient Medina, the delicious lamb Tagine and Moroccan dishes, the locals out with us celebrating birthdays, the moon, all made for a magical evening.
The next morning all our travelers were looking forward to visiting American Fondouk. Upon arriving we were impressed with the white walls forming the outside of the complex and the old gates leading to the inside. We were warmly greeted by one of the veterinarians who gave us a tour and told us about the current animals being treated.
The hospital has 11 employees with two resident veterinarians. An onsite laboratory helps with diagnosis and a small surgical facility handles routine procedures. We witnessed several animals having bandages changed and others resting and others playing with each other. We saw where they operate on animals and learned about the common types of injuries they treat.
American Fondouk treats 60 patients a day. Some are outpatients, whose injuries and illness can be treated quickly and efficiently. Others require long-term care up to six months. Our travelers learned that American Fondouk depends on donations to provide this care and were generous in support. Modern-day Morocco is a developing nation, but many of its people are still poor. In a country where there is just one doctor for every 2,000 humans, it is tempting to view veterinary care as a luxury. But the economic health of the community rides, quite literally, on the backs of its working animals, and often on the Fondouk’s programs.
There were so many highlights during our epic journey – including riding camels in the Sahara Desert, a gourmet wine pairing lunch in Meknes, the luxurious Riads we stayed in, the laughter and fun we shared, and exploring the ancient medina of Marrakech, however, our travelers all agreed that Bob Coleman was right. The visit to American Fondouk, and the opportunity to support the work of saving these animals and the families that depend on them was truly one of the most memorable highlights of our journey.
With limited resources and an endless need, contributions of any size make a tremendous difference in the Fondue’s ability to treat the maximum number of animals in need of care. When these working animals die, the owners can’t feed their families. By providing free veterinary care for mules, donkeys, and horses, the Fondouk continues to make a difference.
Please join Source and our travelers in supporting American Fondouk. Your contributions are tax deductible and appreciated.