I just spent two weeks in Morocco and I had a great time. I loved the old medinas, the food, the desert landscape, the mountains and the sea. I will definitely come back one day to see the south part of the country. But throughout my stay in Morocco, one thing was bothering me: the constant attention. It wasn’t a good kind of attention.
On my drive from the airport into Fes I immediately noticed that most of the people on the streets were men. Most of the salesmen were men. Most of the people sitting in cafés were men. There were women around, but most of the people I interacted with were men. I was travelling on my own and slowly I felt like I was becoming a bitch, an evil person who couldn’t even give a person the benefit of the doubt anymore.
Whenever a man would approach me, it would be for one of two reasons; he wanted money or he wanted me. I started to feel like it was better not to engage in conversation with the ‘friendly’ people on the streets. When it was a young guy who started to talk to me, he would mostly start inviting me for a drink, to his house or the place where he worked. Most of these guys were really nice about it, and respected me saying no. But I couldn’t seem to have a normal conversation with a young man.
Then there were the people who were catcalling me. I can usually ignore this for the most part, but if you hear this all day, you get a bit sick of it. Even when I was shopping, the shopkeepers would ask if I was single. One guy even started to tell me how good Berber people were in the bedroom. I laughed it off and kept going. All of this was all talk though. Apart from one guy who brushed past me and couldn’t keep his hands to himself, nobody touched me, called me names or made me feel like I was in danger.
The older men were usually different. I noticed some were taking care of me. When I took some shared taxis, the drivers took care that I didn’t have to sit next to a man. But this was in situations where I had approached someone. The older men approaching me usually started to have a friendly conversation and then would continue to try to become my guide or to get me to enter certain shops. In Fes two shopkeepers managed to grab my arm and actually dragged me into their shops. I didn’t buy anything obviously.
In Tetouan I still gave a man the benefit of the doubt. But when he took me somewhere to show me an amazing building, I noticed the building was full of carpets. I followed the owner up to the roof and had amazing views all the way to the sea. Then he made a big effort to reveal all the beautiful carpets he had. I told him I didn’t have a house and would not buy a carpet. I think I was pretty clear, because he immediately turned off the lights again and took me to the room with the ‘smaller presents’.
The carpets… the shopkeepers are so smart and will just talk you into buying things. One guy I met on my first day told me he felt really awkward leaving a carpet shop. He’d had a look around and he told me ‘I’d already had the tea’. But he didn’t want any of the carpets. ‘I’d already had the tea’ sums up the Moroccan shopping experience for me. Personally I avoided drinking any tea with anyone, apart from people I know or met in the hostel. A poor guy I met in the hostel on my last day showed me a beautiful carpet. “I didn’t even want it”, he told me.
I understand that I entered a different culture and inevitably things would be different. I also understand that there is a lot of competition and unemployment and people need to try everything to earn some money. What I don’t understand is how I was treated as a solo female traveller. In all honesty I had expected much worse. Saying no and walking away usually sent the message that I wasn’t interested. But I found it incredibly hard to be in a society where men think it is so easy to ‘get’ a white woman. What did they think would happen when they asked me for a drink? Why couldn’t I just have a conversation without any strings attached? One of the fun things about travelling is meeting the people, but I slowly started to hesitate to even say hello.
I would definitely come back and do it all over again, but I’m glad I only stayed for two weeks. I’m not sure I could have dealt with this attention for any longer. I hope I don’t sound too negative either, because I’ve met some amazing people who made a big impression on me. It’s just that if so many people want something from you, you start to think that nothing is genuine anymore and that’s such a shame.
So if you’re going to travel through Morocco as a solo female, just know what you are getting into. As long as you prepare yourself for this kind of attention and set your own boundaries, you can still have an amazing time. Morocco is not unsafe, it is just uncomfortable. It’s probably more comfortable if you’re not alone. And for everything don’t forget that no is a powerful word. Nobody can force you to do things, not even buying a carpet!