I was presented with a chance to visit Morocco on a whim. I booked my ticket and within a few weeks, I was already making the trip to Africa. Now for many people, a few weeks is really far in the future, but for me, I had never booked a trip and departed so quickly before.
This meant that I had minimal time to do research, and it would be my first time in a predominantly Muslim country where I’ve heard that women are often treated as second class. I was intrigued and a bit worried at the same time, but looked forward to this new experience.
Perhaps Marrakech isn’t a great example of what the rest of Morocco is really like. Being the biggest tourist city in the country, many of the street vendors spoke English, and didn’t appear as aggressive as I had expected. I had read that many of the street vendors would grab onto you and not let you go until you make a purchase but that never happened to us. In fact, quite the opposite, as we spent about 15-20 minutes inside a small stall where the owner graciously showed us all of his crafts without ever pressuring us to purchase. Another time, we were lugging our suitcases around in the narrow market alleys and a store owner saw us and invited us into his shop and helped us call the owner of the riad without us even having to ask. The only time I felt a bit annoyed was inside the Jewish Market when a man started yelling profanity at us because we didn’t stop at his store. Did he think that by yelling and swearing at us we would suddenly turn around and buy something from him?
A funny little happening was that regardless of where we went in Marrakech, everyone wanted to guess where we were from. They would throw out random guesses and start saying words that they know in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. I swear, we could not walk 5 feet without someone trying to guess our nationality. However, this didn’t bug me as it was all friendly banter and I was happy to reveal the answer to them.
One great thing about visiting Morocco in May is that it is not filled with tourists. It is considered off season even though May provides one of the best months in terms of weather. The bad part about visiting in May is also that it is not filled with tourists. Because of the lack of tourists at this time of the year, the markets were sparse and even Jemaa el Fna only had about a third of the vendors they would usually have during the summer.
I was expecting to see some poverty in Morocco but the number of panhandlers still shocked me. The people who lined all the alleys would just hold out their hands with their head bent down and eyes closed. I would walk by in the morning and again in the late afternoon and in the 8 hours that have passed, their posture hasn’t even changed at all. Some of the women would have their children with them, some even held babies while sitting in a corner begging for money. It was really tough to see as they were there at all hours of the day. Again, I’m not sure if this is real or whether it’s just there for tourists, but it is heartbreaking nonetheless.
Overall, Morocco was pretty much everything that I expected. I’m thankful I was able to get a little taste of it in the short week I was there. Now that I know what to expect, I can’t wait to go back and explore some of the other parts of the country.