If there is a word I would use to describe my first impressions to Morocco, it would be “Insha’Allah“.
Our luggage didn’t arrive with us?
In Arabic, it means, “God willing” or “If it is God’s will” (and spoken as if to imply the future as “hopefully“). This is a wonderful expression that I think every female traveler ought to have in their back pocket for moments, when one’s travel plans go awry. Why get frazzled when things don’t meet your pre-planned expectations? Take for instance, having your baggage not arrive with you on the flight over to Morocco!
After flying into the Mohammad V Airport in, we discovered that had lost our backpacks. Shit. In a foreign land with no clothes or toiletries…
We spent an hour in the office filling out a claims forms. As much as I’ve traveled before for work, this was the first time my baggage didn’t arrive with me. Camera batteries, memory cards, extra clothes and underwear… these are things you don’t quite think about packing a separate carry-on bag for!
How do Moroccans deal with life’s unexpected moments?
We purchased underwear, bed clothes and toiletries at a local convenience shop. The clothing options lacked style, but were alive with a cultural style of its own. Yes, I was armed with the undergarments of a hot granny.
We then took a four hour train ride from Casablanca to Fez. Friendly train chat with a Moroccan man across of us, armed us with the perfect Arabic- catch-phrase to sum up events (& those to come…). Insha’Allah. Basically, Moroccans use it for everything which they can’t predict. They use it in hope and times of sarcasm.
The train is late.
(It will come eventually, but we can’t do anything about it)
Will he win the lottery?
(If it’s God’s will, he will win, but don’t hold your breath.)
It might rain tomorrow.
(It will rain if God wants it.)
Will my and Margaret’s bags arrive soon?
(It will come when it does or it won’t, but either way, God wills it.)
French and Arabic are the main languages spoken in Morocco.
Our train pulled into new Fez around 10PM. We hailed a taxi, one of those small red compact vehicles and asked to be taken to Old Fez. Coming from Barcelona, I was converting my survival Spanish to survival French. The conversion was scrambling my mind. I wanted to get my practice in on our driver. However, too many languages in a mind can cause bottleneck confusion in the brain. For instance:
Where?…Doko e (nope, Japanese), Donde (nope, Spanish)… (blank), (blank), (blank)…..uh, Ou!
Sometimes, it takes a while to get warmed up.
In ten minutes were were standing in Old Fez’s RCIF, in what seemed like a large, dusty and deserted parking lot and entrance way into the walled city. The time was late by Moroccan standards. Medina shops were closed. No women were out, except for us. Our only companions in the night roam were men, shadows and cats!
Cats and dogs: Are women travelers safe in Morocco?
Being two Asian female travelers ( I was traveling with my friend, Margaret) in a foreign country at night, in a parking lot, which seems to be the social scene for stray men and cats. Didn’t seem like a good scenario to start with.
I’m going to give you a sneak peek into one of my side observations here… In Morocco there seems to be an abundance of cats. You’d think it were a sacred animal. In fact, I’ve not seen a single dog yet, so maybe all the cats ate ’em. Pretty odd for a seemingly patriarchal country, where the feminine element is restrained.
We were in a strict Muslim community, where women are protected by the community against sexual crimes. In fact, if a man were to touch or sexually harass me, I could scream, call attention to the situation and the whole community would jump on him to help me out. Men touching women? A big no-no. Whew!
This doesn’t mean as a foreign female traveler, they can’t attempt sexual harassment or hoot me cat calls at me as I walk by though. This simply means that knowledge is power . When a woman looks at a man, knowledgeable about the rules of his culture and is ready to call him on it, he will think twice about trying anything. Act unaware, ditzy and like a clueless foreigner and he’ll make an attempt.
How to find our Moroccan guesthouse?
The city of Old Fes is like a medieval labyrinth with over 9,000 winding streets with dark and dusty alleyways. Many of these streets lack bold signage. Here, we were only at her entrance.
A young 13- year old boy appeared from the shadows, offering to take us to our riad guesthouse. We were reluctant to accept his offer. We had read traveler cautionary tales about young boys posing illegally as guides. Illegal guides, if caught, are punished with 2 days imprisonment. Who wants a kid to be thrown into jail?
But he didn’t ask for money, so he was safe. He simply led us to our riad and dropped us there, with the hope that we’d use him as a guide the next day. We were fortunate to have followed him. There were no signs or visible house numbers to ensure we’d find it and it was tucked away in an alley.
Journey to be continued here.