One week was our allocated time for Morocco, it’s not quite enough to make it out to the Sahara (well from Casablanca at least) but more than enough to see all this city has to offer. In my opinion the adventure of walking down the road on it’s own is something worthy of mention.
I most certainly tried to be as respectful as I could, I dressed modestly, covered my head and avoided wondering around alone. This country is beautiful and the culture has a lot to offer. With that, i must say that I did encounter some situations that made me a bit uncomfortable, but that is bound to happen when we bounce around and place ourselves in completely contrasting environments. Most were extremely friendly, especially the women actually – but I can’t say this surprises me in this “man’s world”. In a week – I had firecrackers thrown at me, which made me think I was going to die as I almost threw myself on the ground to cover my head until i realized some naughty kids just thought it was funny to scare the “western girl”. It was just firecrackers, but man those things are loud!! I had a young boy cuss me out when he heard me speak English and I’ve lost count of the “catcalls” and comments made to me by men on the streets. Is it the end of the world?? NO most definitely not, but the reason I mention it here is so other travelers are perhaps better prepared than I was. I did my research, but still i’m not sure I had quite understood clearly.
Here is what I’ve learnt. A headscarf is a must, I had already decided prior to my arrival that I would use one out of respect, however once I left the Airport I was much more comfortable knowing I blended in just a bit. I also noticed very quickly that if men looked a bit too long or made inappropriate gestures, simply using my scarf to cover my face a bit more let them know I was uncomfortable and that seemed to be the end of it. Covering my eyes with my sunglasses seemed to reduce the attention, walking side by side with Luana, instead of a few steps apart from each other reduces the people thinking I was actually alone and the most useful… a stern glare if someone is offensive seems to be just enough to put an end to the harassment. Just like anywhere else, it’s the teenagers that caused the most fuss. The children are intrigued and the adults are either quiet and reserved or very very friendly and extremely welcoming.
The streets are packed with people, so as with any other big city or crowded area the pickpockets are hard at work. Easily avoidable to reduce the dangers by going out without a purse and only coats or clothing with zip up pockets. Be polite to the street beggars, a simple “no i’m sorry” is very well accepted and in my experience no one was aggressive. I was asked for change but if i said no I was also thanked and wished a good day. If you’re like me and you want to attempt the feel like a local day and hit the local (I mean the very local) markets to buy your fruits and vegetables you’ll notice that people are very honest. The prices are extremely cheap and the sellers will treat you very respectfully and fairly. On several occasions my goods did not weigh a full kilo but the price was per kilo so the seller added goods to my bag. Now in all honesty, when I have near a kilo of vegetables for 0.40c, I really wouldn’t know the difference between slightly under a kilo, or one kilo, I was pleasantly surprised each time at the sellers honesty and kindness towards me.
Wear closed toe shoes!!!! There is poo poo on the streets, must I say more? If you feel uncomfortable taking photos head to the Habbous neighborhood. It is extremely touristy, and the environment for taking photos of the markets and buildings is friendlier. Taxi’s are cheap and a great way to get around. Be careful taking them near hotels as they are dedicated “hotel” taxis and come with a surplus. Just stand on the road in the direction where you are heading, wave them down and when they stop tell them where you are going. If they are heading that way they will say yes and the whole journey will cost you a matter of a few dollars. Taxi’s are shared though, so there is 4 other seats apart from the driver, expect the Taxi driver to pick up as many passengers as to maximize his destinations, but this is also helpful to you as the cost of the journey gets shared. Slightly intimidating at first, but quite fun once you get a hold of it.
My final tip…. Now some of you may not like this, however I am but the messenger. Don’t speak in English I do not speak Arabic, however I do speak French, my travel partner does not. I approached all locals speaking French – never English. The one time my travel partner spoke to me in English, a young man said what seemed to be not such nice things to us. When I asked around, I was told that English is frowned upon and if you must speak it should be done quietly in the streets. From then on, I spoke French when asking directions and spoke Spanish in public places with Luana. This seemed to make us more approachable and I did see a better attitude from some locals and shop keepers. My advice is try to learn a few words in Arabic or in French so you can ask simple questions without using English. Obviously this tip doesn’t apply to very touristy places and hotels.
Note: As Morocco has a prominently Muslim population, keep in mind that Friday is a Holy day. What does this mean?? Well for you as a visitor it means that the streets will be much less hectic and you’ll actually be able to walk on the sidewalk a there will be near no markets around. It means that many thing will be closed and especially between 1pm and 3pm – so if you must purchase something do try to do it outside these times.