I’ve been in Morocco now for about 10 days and have had a wonderful time travelling independently through some of the cities, some of the deserts and into some of the more rural towns which for me give Morocco its distinctive flavour.
In many ways, Morocco reminds me of Asia with massive disparity in wealth, education and status in society being evident as your travel from place to place, but more evident in the cities where poor live beside wealthy and where modernity rubs harshly against the old ways. And I think it’s this that causes some of the problems with men that I’ve encountered in the country.
It’s mainly in the cities where I’ve had problems with men. Maybe because about 95% of the people you see in Morocco are men or maybe just because there are a lot of nasty men in the country. I don’t know. But it all started in Fez.
When we hopped off the bus from Chefchaouen to Fez, we immediately were approached by touts. This is nothing new to me. I’ve regularly dealt with throngs of touts all across Asia and a simple “no” is all that is usually required. For the more persistent touts, ignoring them does the trick. But in Fez it’s different. In Fez they can become violent.
The first tout struck up a conversation with me without me even knowing he was a tout. He seemed like a nice guy and was giving advice on where we should travel next as we hadn’t locked anything in. But it soon became apparent he was a tout when he started pushing a particular town that I’d already told him I didn’t want to go to. And then his business card came out. And then it was time for me to go and buy another bus ticket for my onward journey as a way of breaking contact. I told Susan as we were lining up for the bus ticket that we needed to ditch this guy after we’d bought our ticket. Luckily he’d moved off to the side and we had a chance to walk into another room after purchasing our ticket, safe from the persistent tout.
As soon as we walked into the next room, another tout was onto us and I immediately told him “no”.
“What do you mean no?”
“No I don’t need your help”
“Don’t be so rude. I’m not like all the other people”, he barked. And I do mean barked.
The conversation went back and forth a few times until the guy was right up in my face giving me a verbal spray and told me to fuck off. Welcome to Fez.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened and we started walking out of the bus station when the first guy ran over to us and asked us if we’d like to take his tour. We told him “no” and kept walking. He shouted out as we walked down the street that I was liar and that I had a dishonest face, pointing, gesticulating. What a guy.
But it didn’t stop there. On the way to the hostel, another guy attached himself to us. He wanted to sell us something. We didn’t know what it was, but we weren’t interested. He tried engaging us in conversation and I did my best to ignore him, but he was a persistent one. He tried to guide us to the hostel, but we already knew where it was. The whole way, his attitude was hostile all the while trying to be helpful. It was so odd that I just had to smile and try and let it wash over me. Which it largely did until we went back outside later that day.
As I walked outside, the guy calls out, “do you remember me?”. I said, “yes mate, I will never forget you”. He then proceeded to be condescending by putting on a fake smile and saying that is exactly how I looked as I walked to the hostel earlier in the day. I couldn’t believe it! I should have just walked away and copped the abuse, but I didn’t. I told him that all I wanted to do was walk around without being harassed and he just shouted, screamed, got in my face and generally became one of those people that you wish would disappear. And then he called me a racist about 5 times. In the end a shopkeeper came over and told him to stop and I walked away, but not without throwing in a few barbs myself.
Of course, the horrible interactions with men continued in Fez and were mainly related to men calling things out. Derogatory things to Susan about her race. About how pretty she is. Laughing. Teasing. Being hostile towards both of us.
Even negotiating taxi fares was a hostile event with many men swearing under their breath as they agreed to take us somewhere for a fair price.
We didn’t encounter anywhere near this level of hostility elsewhere in Morocco, but it still occurred. In Tinghir I brushed off another tout that I couldn’t avoid as I was waiting in the bus station – I told him “no” and he went on a long, aggressive rant about how rude I was to say “no” to him and how in my country I’d never treat a person that way. It’s typical. Many of the men tend get all self-righteous about manners when they hear something they don’t like such as the word “no”. Oh please.
And here we are in Marrakesh where there are still touts and still the leering and general unpleasantness, but on nowhere near the scale of Fez.
I feel sorry for all the nice Moroccan men I have met. There have been so many of them that have been genuinely helpful, polite and interested in what I was doing. But these interactions were always tainted by my previous experiences with the awful men I encountered in Fez. I was always guarded, always aware that at any minute they would whip out an Amway catalogue and have me pinned against the wall trying to sell me a 10kg box of washing detergent. And I’m sad about that.
In many ways, the men of Morocco are colouring my entire experience here. When I look past them, I see an incredible country rich in history, stunning scenery and great food. But those dozen or so bitter interactions have been the worst I have experienced in any country in the world and I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon.
After Morocco we’ll be heading back to Spain, onto Greece and then Turkey. Over this time I’ll digest this trip a little more, but until then, I have this to say.
Men of Morocco, you’re wrecking the joint.