Stories from Morocco: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I really don’t know what to say about Morocco. Every negative thing you’ve heard about the country is probably true, but then again…so is every good thing.

Looking back, I remember the amazing nights spent dancing and looking at the stars, or the days wandering architecture and cities unimaginably old and beautiful. With hindsight, I know the hard parts of travelling there were worth it, but at the time….that’s a different story.

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Marrakech’s vibrant main square, the Djemaa El-Fna

When you can’t walk down the street alone, even in a headscarf, maxi dress and sweater without having horrible things yelled at you by local men, and when one of them swerves his motorcycle within an inch of you just to hear you scream, and you’re ignored again and again in favour of negotiating with the guys you’re with, it’s easy to hate Morocco. I did, at times. I even considered buying an absurdly expensive flight out of the country and skipping the rest. I spent some evenings alone in whatever hostel I was in, feeling upset and useless.

I can think back and tell my past self to just ignore it…keep your head held high and walk on. That’s much harder when you’re living it. I’ve experienced harassment in Canada, sure, but there was something much more threatening about it in Morocco. Whether that was Morocco itself or just my feeling of being alone in such a foreign place, it felt worse. If you’re a woman considering traveling to Morocco alone, I don’t want to discourage you – I certainly don’t regret any of it. Just be prepared to be scared sometimes.

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A treasured Polaroid of me and my very tall travelling companions

And I don’t want to make it sound like everybody in Morocco is out to get you.  They’re not. Here are my stories from Morocco…the good , the bad, and the ugly.

The owner of my hostel in Tangier who helped me get a SIM card, took me around the city, and even brought me to a bar where I hung out with his friends while we watched a soccer game. Now that was probably a terrible idea, since I was wandering around Tangier alone with a man in his 30’s and had no idea how to get back to the hostel, but it turned out fine. (Side note: my mother finds out about a lot of my misadventures through my blog, rather than me actually telling her…sorry for this one, mom.) His friends were kind, they made me feel welcome as the only woman in a bar, and the hostel owner was not at all creepy. He was not out to get me.

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The unforgettable Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

The workers at our hostel in the Todra Gorge who took us grocery shopping, gave us a tour of the gorge, spoke a million different languages with us, and played their music with us…laughing late into the night, exhausted and exhilarated, we camped on the terrace and I’ve never felt so free.

The workers at our hostel in Marrakech who welcomed me back when I came back twice, greeting me by name and making sure they had vegetarian food for me because they remembered. Asking me to translate for another guest, and making me feel like I was coming home.

The woman in Chefchaouen who sold me a headscarf and then showed me how to tie it, telling me I looked beautiful and letting me sit for a while and ask about her life in the famous blue town.

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Chefchaouen is really as blue as they say

The Moroccan friends I tagged along with to an Avicci concert in Rabat, making for one of the most unforgettable nights of my life. They made me feel like I had known them forever, kissing my cheeks when we met, holding my arms as we walked to the concert ground, and we danced the night away.

All of these kind Moroccans made me feel welcome and happy and in love with this exotic country. The exceptions, while awful, were not the rule.

We showed up to Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara desert, without a tour guide or a plan. We hopped off our hellish night bus and blearily went with the first guy who approached us…Mohammed. I would happily punch this man in the face. We decided on a tour with him (which was incredible due to the fact that Mohammed himself was actually not present) and then sat around in his house/restaurant all day, waiting to be picked up and driven to our hotel. And waiting, and waiting. And during this weekend, he continually made absurdly creepy comments about me, making jokes about my name in Arabic, forcing me to take a picture with him and then slapping my ass as I turned away, and just making me feel more uncomfortable than I have ever felt. I started out trying to laugh it off, being polite, figuring it didn’t matter…but after several hours of this, my irritation and total exhaustion turned me into the rudest person I’ve ever met (except Mohammed). I eventually stopped responding to anything he said and gave him a death glare every time he so much as looked at me.

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Essaouira from the ramparts

With a headscarf on and a Moroccan-style outfit, I could pass for a local girl until someone tried to speak Arabic to me. One man, in Casablanca, approached me speaking Arabic and I said ‘no Arabic’ with some of the only Arabic words I knew. He didn’t believe me, despite the look of total confusion, and got in my face while screaming in Arabic. I kept saying, “No Arabic, no Arabic!” but it was pointless. Eventually I burst into tears (more out of frustration than fear; I was in a packed local market) and a woman came over to shame him for upsetting me. My favourite thing about Moroccan women was the fact that they would always step in – I don’t know what this woman said, but the man backed off and I tearfully thanked the woman in French, Arabic and English.

And it’s certainly not just Moroccan men who sometimes suck. The British owner of my Essaouira hostel (where I worked for a week) chain smoked hashish all day and all night, while blasting aggressive metal music through the speakers. It wasn’t so bad and I never felt unsafe, and the work wasn’t too much. One day, however, I was wearing more revealing clothes than I would have gone out in (shorts and a backless halter top) and he walked up to me and commented, “Man, I’d hire a lot more cleaning girls if this was the uniform.” His eyes made me feel disgusting and I was happy to leave after a week.

By the end of my month in Morocco, I was very ready to leave. The constant comments and looks weren’t so bad individually, but they really wore down on me. Hearing your friends asked ‘So which one of you is she sleeping with?’ with a creepy leer and being told you’re horrible things in French because they assume you can’t understand them…it sucks.

But not getting to gaze up at the largest mosque in Morocco, or missing the sunset in Essaouira, or choosing not to ride a camel into the Sahara Desert….that would have sucked even more.

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