I have been delaying writing a post about my time in Morocco for several reasons I guess.
I’ve had a certain type of writers block which might sound like a weak excuse considering that I don’t typically put a lot of time or effort into my posts. It’s hard to find the time to sit down and thoughtfully construct ~*w O r D s*~ ( or whatever) about an experience when you’re consistently mobile. It leads to more than just choppy paragraphs, bad grammar, and spelling errors. It makes it hard to be culturally sensitive and to stay away from making swooping generalizations. Usually when I write a post I am trying to sum up an experience before I’ve even had time to process the experience myself. I am going to TRY to make a concerted effort to do a little quality control from here on..
But I’m not promising anything.
Another reason I have had a hard time typing out a post is because that my experience here has been so varied. There are times when I have started to type a post and the tone was intensely negative.. Because at times Morocco makes me angry and frustrated. There are also times when I began posts that showed Morocco through rose colored glasses when I felt deeply touched by the kindness and beauty of the country. But that isn’t a fair description either.
Morocco is awful.
Morocco is amazing.
It’s oppressive, wild, welcoming, beautiful, polluted… It’s so different and in someways so similar to my own home country that I am constantly overwhelmed by my experiences and surroundings here.
Morocco tires me. As soon as I think I have a general grasp on my feelings toward the country, it shows me a different side and I’m thrown back into the uncertain loop of intense and fleeting feelings of hate and love. My relationship with Morocco has been complicated. (Definitely more complicated than any relationship I’ve ever had with a man.) My time here has been short, and this is the first country that I have traveled to that I can say with absolute certainty that I could not see myself living here permanently.
That being said, I feel a certain sort of anxiety leaving as well. It’s like breaking up with someone without both parties fully comprehending why it didn’t work out. I don’t feel like as though I’ve had closure with Morocco.
Which is a weird feeling to have..
towards a country.
I know that as the boat speeds away from the dock I will already feel the pull to return. The door to Morocco is one left open and I am sure that I will return one day to (somehow) finish what I started.
Our American friend/host Leslie lives in Tangier. Her apartment is large with a typical Moroccan layout and you can literally see the Spanish coast from her sitting room window. From her kitchen window, you can see over the walls of a juvenile detention center and onto its rooftop and basketball court. From the roof where you hang washed laundry, you can see all of Tangier. It is a great location to discover the city, and we never have to walk far for coffee, food, or sight seeing.
In Europe, I found a general sense of strength and comfort in my own independence. I could wake up, and even though I may not have spoken the language, I was able to get around relatively easily on my own. Also, (except for when I was wearing my backpack) I could generally walk around unnoticed. Because in Europe it is difficult to identify a tourist versus a local simply by looking at them. Also most locals there didn’t care to harass, help, or even acknowledge tourists in general. Which makes sense to me, seeing as this is similar to the way that I feel towards meeting tourists in my home country.
In Morocco, I never go anywhere alone. Unless it’s to a henut very close to where I am staying, and even then it is rare that I go without at least one person with me. This is not necessarily because it is dangerous for me to walk around alone. I can honestly say that I never felt that I was in any imminent danger at any time during my stay here. That being said, I can also honestly say that I never felt completely comfortable in any public place here either. I don’t blend in with the locals. Especially not when I am with my pink haired counter part. Every time I, and whomever is accompanying me, walk out of the front door we are stared at, cat-called, made fun of, or whispered about. Which is not too hard to ignore, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t take some getting used to.
In a lot of ways Tangier is exactly what I envisioned it to be due to overexposure to beat poetry (and romanticized travel literature in general). It’s smokey, fast-paced, dingy, and kind of lawless.
Did I mention it was smokey? That’s because everyone in Morocco smokes. Well not so much the women, but definitely the men. Indoors and outdoors. In restaurants, in henuts, in their homes, in the car… It’s impossible to escape which is fine I guess especially considering how polluted the air is anyways. Late one evening on the roof I looked out over the endless whitewashed rooftops of Tangier and I realized that they actually were seemingly endless.. Because my view only stretched so far before it was eventually blocked by a thick haze turned orange with the street lights. I can only assume this to be pollution. Unfortunately, this does not surprise me either.
In Morocco there is litter everywhere. Even on our wonderful hike to the waterfalls in Akchor, cigarette boxes and candy wrappers littered the ground.
A lot of this is simply due to lack of health education. At the fish market, men picked up fish from buckets filled with ice on the floor, threw them on the counter, gutted them, wiped the blood off the counter (and onto the floor) with an already blood soaked rag, pushed the fish to the side and moved on. People don’t wash their hands as often also. Though I think that in the States we are too hygiene conscious, over-sanitized, and over medicated (a practice which yields its own detrimental effects such as super viruses etc) there is a happy healthy medium that Morocco just isn’t hitting.
Leslie is a huge feminist and just a generally conscientious person. She talks about the fact that sex is so taboo here that fully grown adults don’t even fully comprehend even the scientific aspect of how it all works. This is most likely the reason for the catcalls and men following you down the street. Sexual repression simply tends to yield sexual harassment. I try to remember that and to always treat the people that I encounter with unassuming and kind intentions. I try. Leslie talks about the hatred she sometimes feels towards Morocco and the struggle to remember why it was she wanted to move here in the first place. But she is still there so eventually she must always remember.
Leslie and her roommate are loud, interesting, and opinionated. They smoke in the kitchen as Leslie’s boyfriend cooks food for all of us, and they curse like sailors. It’s so nice to be around women again after all the male dominated hostel dorm rooms in Europe. I stand in the nook of the kitchen where the washing machine and water heater are kept and gaze out of the open window there. I watch a group of young girls play basketball at the center. They are really young and I wonder what they did to end up in juvie. On the rooftops above the center two boys (probably about 10 years old) are dripping glue into brown paper bags. I watch the bags full with air and deflate as they breathe in the fumes. One of the boys hunched over and clutches his head. I think he throws up. The other boy starts jumping up and down. He stands on the ledge of the roof with his arms outstretched and stares wildly out over Tangier. I wonder if he can see me watching him. I doubt he cares. I wonder how many people are watching this ten year old drug addict high out of his mind standing dangerously close to the edge of the roof. I doubt anyone cares. There are lots of street kids.. everywhere. They huff cleaning products outside the fish market. They say inappropriate things in Arabic when we pass them. It is hard for me to stomach. I’ve never seen a child under ten years old openly homeless and alone surrounded by countless adults who treat them like stray dogs. I’ve never seen a seven year old drug addict. I don’t know how to feel or act towards them or around them. I feel naive, guilty and slightly afraid of them.. Which makes me feel even more guilty and naive.
Morocco is something like eight miles from the coast of Spain. The Spanish and Europeans in general travel the short distance between the border frequently and freely. Once, at a café, I ask a friend of Leslie’s if he has ever been to Spain. He has not. Moroccans rarely leave their country. It takes a good job, and a lot of money just for one to get a tourist visa. The inequality between the rights of the citizens of Morocco and their European neighbors does not go unnoticed.
In Morocco, women rarely hang out without men outside of the house. In fact, in most apartments you have to have a key to the apartment to be able to leave. Once, in Meknez, Leslie’s boyfriend had to go to a driving class while Leslie took a nap. We were all staying at his apartment for the weekend. Caroline and I decided that we were hungry, so we went to leave to get some food. We tried to open the front door but there wasn’t even a handle on the inside. Only a slot for a key which we did not have. We went to the windows, but they were all barred. Every single one. My stomach fell. Leslie says that one of the reasons women never leave the house without they’re husbands is because they are physically locked in because they don’t have keys. This sort of control is presented many times as the woman’s idea. Why would women want to leave when they know they will just be harassed walking the streets alone? This is a hard concept for me to grasp.
But… What if there is a fire?
I felt slightly frantic and helpless. I see men laugh and joke with each other as the pass the window. In my current mindset they all seem so carefree and powerful and I am angry at them for it. I try to imagine living in a country with so much tourism and not being aloud to leave myself… But I can’t. I can empathize to an extent, but I can’t relate as much as I want to.
I look back on the way I felt before this trip. Having never left the country before though always wanting to, I had felt like a caged bird. But alas, the door to my cage was always open. The cage wasn’t even a cage as much as it was a societal illusion of one. For the first time in my life, I realize my own privilege. Which is a tough pill to swallow. I didn’t earn any of the freedoms that I have. I was born with them. I took them for granted. To me being able to leave your home, city, country.. (In my mind) was always an assumed basic human right. Something I never thought about at all really.
This is not to say that I think the United States (or Europe for that matter) is a “better” place to live than Morocco. Leslie talks a lot about this subject. She says that when it really boils down to it, the sexism and racism is just as prevalent back home it just has a different face. For the most part, I have to agree with her. When you are raised in one culture it is hard to see the social nuances of that culture clearly. For me the ideologies (both good and bad) of Moroccan culture are plain and uncomfortably visible. When I try to analyze the same ideologies in my own home environment, the concepts are more muddled. The States may have a higher quality of life compared to Morocco, but it also has lot of the same problems. They’re just better at presenting themselves as a place without inequality.. Mostly due to years of self-proclamation as a country above such issues.
Imagine growing up hearing your teachers and parents accept your country as “the land of the free and home of the brave” you don’t grow up looking for inequality. You grow up feeling blindly safe from these restrictive societal concepts. And if you don’t witness the inequalities first hand (either at home or abroad) you risk becoming the American stereotype. You risk becoming the kind of person who sees a society (like Morocco) who doesn’t hide neither their good nor bad truths (and rather than relating to them as humans) you see them as a people or a place to be pitied.
I have never witnessed the kind of kindness I witnessed in Morocco. When a homeless person approached a dinner table at a restaurant, I saw men and women give food from their plates (or their whole meals) to these people without so much as a pause in conversation. When you ask directions to a place in Morocco, the person is more likely to take you there himself than to simply direct you. I have never met more hospitable hosts, or felt such an open and honest warmth from strangers as I did in Morocco.
And while most of my complaints about the country took place in busy Tangier, smaller places like the blue (half Berber) city of Chefchaun housed calmer vibes and generally friendlier locals. Every city I visited in Morocco felt like its own seperate country in a sense. They each had a unique energy and offered a different culture from the others and this too has made it hard to write a blog that I feel comfortable sharing.
Morocco is undefinable.
My experiences there are completely unique to me. I am not a travel advice blogger, so I don’t generally worry about the affect of what I post may have on a readers view of that country. I honestly don’t worry because no one really reads what I write anyways so I have the comfort of anonymity.
I want to share my stories about Morocco with you, Internet, and I will. I just wanted to give you a disclaimer first. Because I am about to contradict myself many times over. I am going to describe one country as though it were many vastly different lands, and I will mean everything I say..
I just don’t want the place that I describe to be your only concept of Morocco. Because that wouldn’t be fair to a country that I have no concrete feeling towards other than fascination and respect.
Next time we meet Internet, we will be in a memory of world I can’t wait to recount.