“A bit jealous really, I would want to travel to Morocco but I heard it is horribly exhausting since all locals harass you to buy their wares. And anyway it is not safe, especially not for women right?” That was most people’s reaction when I told them I am off on vacation to Morocco, to be more precise to Essaouira and to Marrakech. Others said things like they can’t stand all these scams, beggars and school kids asking for money or treats … And off I went wanting to see what it is really like.
When I landed in Marrakech I had the first culture shock, but no, it is not what you think. While queuing to clear customs I stood near a large group of friendly American tourists. I looked around me, that is what you do when standing in line, and most of the women were wearing floor length skirts and wide blouses with long sleeves. I loved the excitement on their faces but to be really honest they looked like they just managed to escape from a cult. I bet someone must have told them to dress conservatively (whatever that means in reality) and congratulations to them, they had outdone themselves.
Most will really tell you to dress modest not to get sexually harassed and that is like the old: “it is her fault she got raped because her skirt was too tight.” This is really ancient backward thinking. Anyway, Morocco is an Islamic country, respect the rules and cover your legs, shoulders and your knees, and you are good to go.
I experienced it a lot that men treated me like I am a bit slow in thinking or something like that (and imagine that despite wearing long trousers and shirts that covered my shoulders, just saying). But never mind, I put that down to their way of thinking and would not take this serious at all. At the same time I felt that Morocco is a modern society, so there is always this holding on to traditional beliefs against the wish to wanting to move forward. The odd guy looked at me with interest, and I found that genuinely smiling and moving on was a good thing to do.
|Change your perception|
2. Can I take pictures of locals?
It sets many Moroccans into a rage if you try to take a picture of them. I was yelled at furiously by women and men on plenty of occasions ... and foremost when I didn't try to take their photo. When I asked whether they believe to be pop stars or what else would make them think I want to take their photo, they realized there was a misunderstanding and became all apologetic. All of them even wished me a warm good day. As usual it helps to have a little chat, since that immediately irons out everything. When there is a language barrier, not everybody speaks Arabic (me for example), but everybody can gesture what just happened, it always works too.
There is of course the question whether it is against their religious belief to have their pictures taken. I consulted different sources but couldn’t find evidence of this. Fatimah, a therapist at a Hammam said it probably has to do with the fact all tourists want to take pics of them and they are simply tired of it. Understandably so …
3. I will get diarrhoea when I stay longer than two days in the country
This might come as a surprise but it actually pays off to wash your hands before you eat. Thinking of all these women I see in public toilets who never wash their hands after they have been to the loo. Really, why, it sends shivers down my spine. They probably are the ones that claim they became unwell because of a lack of hygiene in other countries.
I drank tap water by accident, that is a different story, and I was OK. But better be safe than sorry and always use bottled water. In some café’s I have been served bottled water together with my coffee (and that free of charge). There must be a reason locals serve free bottled water.
The food I had at several street stalls didn’t cause problems, and all the freshly pressed orange juice I drank neither. I went to stalls that had a lot of other customers, and ate freshly made food.
4. Everybody is a cheat, so it is best not to trust a single soul ever
Think of it this way. You work somewhere and you need to sell things to buy food, pay rent, to live your life. Wouldn't you too ask everybody who came along whether they were interested in your wares? Keep that thought in mind next time someone asks you whether you would like to buy stuff. A friendly no, thank you very much and a smile or even a short explanation why you wouldn't need a carpet at your home or one more handbag in your closet creates a nice atmosphere. Keep your humour (and I am tempted to say at all times, but I know it sounds bossy) it really helps. A smile doesn’t cost you a thing. And be honest, if shop assistants at a department store back home ask whether you need assistance, you wouldn’t ignore them and just keep on walking with your nose high up in the air.
Of course there are the vendors who seem aggressive but it can be that this is because of the language which we don’t understand. Take the time to observe how the locals talk to each other, because it often looks like they are close to a fistfight when in reality they are just having a conversation.
I once took the wrong turn in the medina and asked guys for directions, one of them led me back and I gave him five Dirham. You can’t call this a scam can’t you? Most people advise you to never ask random guys for directions because they are all frauds. Just imagine someone would say this about the people in your home country? Generalisation is never smart but rather silly.
5. There aren’t any ATMs in Marrakech and Essaouira
There are plenty of ATM’s in both towns where you can use your card to get cash. It is also a good idea to let your bank back home know where you plan to travel to.These places aren't stuck in a time warp of the fifties.
Verdict: With everything that you are going to experience in Marrakech or Essaouira you can either chose to manage it or to not manage it, but to be upset all the time. Think twice before you judge. Show respect and don’t look down on others and you will sure have a great time. I don’t live in a state of denial I just try to see things realistically. Yes, I know I have only been to two places in Morocco, so can’t say anything about all the other places that I have yet to discover.
From Berlin with love