As our 2 week loop around Morocco is coming to an end on Saturday, I have mixed emotions about leaving and moving on to the next adventure. First, this country is beautiful (benin in Arabic) by every definition of the term, from the hustle and bustle of the chaotic cities and medinas, the fresh air high up in the mountains, the deafening silence and feeling of being the only human in existence in the dunes of the Sahara, and the relaxed lifestyle of the Atlantic coast. Morocco has so much to offer, and I feel that it's a very underrated tourist destination. However, a central part to the Arab culture, which I'm having a very hard time adjusting to, is the overriding power that men have over women and how hidden women are both literally and figuratively in society. These ideals make leaving Morocco much easier, and even give me a twinge of excitement, because I'm so over feeling like livestock.
Everything I've read and heard about this country have fascinated me forever - the lifestyle, the food, the city life, landscapes, the Sahara, etc. I was fully aware beforehand that this is a very conservative culture, and to be sure to pack and wear appropriate clothes (i.e. long skirts, pants, and sweaters even in the 85+ degree heat). What I didn't expect was the gawking, long gross stares, and crude remarks made by the vast majority of men every single time we stepped foot on the street. There were so many amazing locals that we've met in this country, so open and welcoming, passionate about their country's people and history, and always ready to offer us a glass of mint tea with open arms. I loved that they wanted to create the best impression on two American female backpackers just eager to discover and learn about a completely different lifestyle. Many instances changed my opinion about this however. One night after taking a cooking class accompanied by a fantastic dinner (I'm now a pro tagine maker!) in Chefchaouen, a beautiful town in the mountains, we were walking in the dark just trying to make our way home, when we passed by a traditional cafe. Side note: around 7pm until late at night, it is traditional that men gather at outdoor cafes to drink mint tea with their friends with absolutely no women in sight at the establishments. There is really NOTHING for women to do publicly after about 8pm because restaurants start closing down, and what Americans would perceive as a bar is only allowed for men...unless you're a prostitute. Anyways, as we walked by a normal male-only cafe, one of the men called out "sluts!" as we walked by in English, not even in Arabic. I kept walking, but Michelle, being the instigator that she is, turned around and gave him the "what the hell?" look, to which he responded with the "yes, I'm talking to you" look. Yes we were out after dark and the only women on the street, but excuse me? We weren't doing anything suggestive except walking home. This really irked me and unfortunately will leave a bad impression about the country on me, despite all of the beautiful people we met.
Women are simply hidden all the time, behind their hijab scarves, in their homes, we rarely saw any female store/shop owners, no waitresses, only maids at our casbahs and restroom attendants. This seriously makes me cringe, I'm not a commodity. Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm not the biggest kids person, but I feel that I connected with children we came across in Morocco more so than anyone else. While wandering through the absolutely insane medina in Fes, we saw a classroom of seven 2-6 year olds and all stuffed into the room to hear them sing to us. They sweetly chanted verses from the Koran, and sang twinkle twinkle, and Foire Joque. It was honestly an emotional experience because these boys and girls seemed so innocent, their minds not jaded by gender responsibilities and stereotypes yet. Another moment that struck me was in the Sahara Desert. After our camel trek to camp for the night, we hiked up a few dunes and sand boarded down and did this for a couple hours while watching the sunset from the top. It was gorgeous, the colors lighting up the sky and casting shadows in the sand that we could see for ages. Then a young boy and girl joined us at the top, but kept their distance. They played with a ball, and the boy had a bag full of small toy camels. They were part of the Berber camp down below (the indigenous people of Northern Africa) and I was immediately drawn to them. I went over to them and started saying small words in English which they didn't understand obviously, they don't go to school and only know the Berber language and maybe a little Arabic and French. I helped the boy line up his toy camels and preceded to take probably my favorite picture I've ever captured on my GoPro which is below. Again, it was their innocence to the world that captivated me, and I'm curious to find out how and when their lives will be shaped by their culture's ideals eventually.
Traveling to another country that is different in culture, ideals, and religion is a step that many people don't take, but when you do, you must be sensitive to everything, including dress, customs, habits, and much more. Immersing yourself means becoming one with the culture you're in, and adapting to their beliefs. I've been trying since day one in Morocco, and I still am, but I just can't adjust to how aggressive the men are and the submissiveness of women. Leaving our hotels to explore the cities became a project of watching our backs at all times. Talking to locals in bars is one of my favorite things to do when traveling, and we weren't allowed to participate in any of this. My personality completely clashes with their cultural beliefs. Though I did come across some great people, it was hard to fully immerse myself here, simply because I just wasn't allowed to. At least the children we played with were accepting. Cheers to hoping that Portugal is different.