Sorry for the prolonged absence, all! I wanted to update earlier, but Morocco has somehow managed to sweep me away in distraction with its brilliant architecture, incredible food, and famously charismatic people. What’s a girl to do?
I have spent the last couple of weeks taking intensive French lessons from a tiny hunchbacked man with a permanent scowl. Praise was infrequent, and I had to squint hard to see my notes through the ever-present mushroom cloud of cigarette smoke. A true Frenchman!!
Honestly, though, he may not have been French, but the lessons were alright. My knowledge of the language went from “completely non-existent” to “nauseating mess.” Pretty good for just a couple of weeks, I’d say! All in all, I’m pretty proud of my progress. I began my lessons with nearly nothing. I could only say “Bonjour” and “Oui,” and I was under the firm impression that the latter was spelled beginning with a “Wh-” and terminated by a never-ending string of “e”s. Then an exclamation mark.
Now, after my lessons and a couple weeks of confusing helpful Moroccans, I can get around with relative ease, and make myself understood most of the time (Je suis Americane. Je ne veux pas une chemise verte! Où est le hamburger?) I have found this to be immensely rewarding and consider my time and money to be well spent.
Unfortunately, I have used up nearly all of my time in Morocco learning French, and am about to cross into Spain within the next couple of days having not seen much of this country at all. Therefore, I can’t really talk too much about where I’ve been or what I’ve done, but wanted to mention a couple things:
As a lone female traveler, you get used to catcalls and whistles and “chh chh chh”s, and you eventually get used to it, knowing that most countries’ impression of Western women (as propagated by Hollywood) is that we burn with the desire to take our clothes off, burn with passion for foreign men, and burn in other ways for which the local pharmacy has no cream. We are seen as over-sexed harlots, and as easy targets for men in countries where sex is bought- either through marriage or the local prostitution industry. You know this, and most sensible female travelers exhibit a bit of caution in this regard.
The problem is that you never know exactly where the line is. Friendly banter and an open demeanor is not only a prerequisite for successful foreign travel, it’s a prerequisite for life in general. Nobody is going to hire or invite Mopey Martin to a party. Similarly, nobody is going to ask a glum-faced misanthrope sporting a backpack to come have tea with them, or meet their family, or play volleyball on the beach. So you approach people, and life, with optimism, good faith, and just a little bit of naïveté. I like to pair this with a healthy regard for my gut intuition and have yet to be disappointed.
A couple of notes about how it played out in the context of Morocco:
I spent my first few days in Marrakech asking around for a French teacher, and eventually found a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. (You know how it goes.) Lucky for me, the guy who was known by the first guy was SMOKIN’ hot. A professional musician with immaculate style and charmingly bad English? YEOW!! Of course, like the sensible 28-year old that I am, I know better than to fall for the ol’ “professional musician” bit, and kept my distance until I knew some more about him. Thankfully so! After helping me establish my lessons for the upcoming couple of weeks, I spent the taxi ride back to the Medina peeling his scummy hands off of me and thanking the cold Moroccan weather for my impenetrable armour of thermals and alpaca hair.
I’m not sure what happened in the communication byways that made him think that finding me a French teacher gave him an open invitation to raid my knickers, but he was as genuinely confused as I was (“But… you come for my apartment now?”). I don’t even think that he’s a creep. He honestly thought that helping a girl find a French teacher equals nookie.
This wasn’t even a singular incident and it certainly isn’t just my experience. Friendly, smiling single woman that wants to spend time with a single man = easy lay, and single man doing favor for smiling single woman = naked gymnastics. Usually. So, if platonic man-woman friendships are unheard-of, and the women are usually too busy working to mill about the streets chatting up travelers (or otherwise have never been given the education to do so), where does a girl find local homies? How does one dive in and interact?
Je vais au Tamraght.
Exhausted after a week of intensive French lessons and ready for a change of scenery, I took a four-day holiday last week and headed to the coast. I planned to spend the time catching up on schoolwork and enjoying a bit of anonymity– a pleasure rarely found at home or in places that you spend too much time in.* I hopped on a bus to Agadir, (a major city to the south which recently hosted Pitbull for a whopping 50 Euro a ticket!) and wandered around for a bit before finding a student who spoke some English, and some tiny Moroccan grandmothers who spoke some Spanish, and having an awkward exchange with the lot of them about giving my phone number to the student (who didn’t want it) at the insistence of the grandmothers (who didn’t believe that I didn’t have it) and although the entire thing was very funny (mostly in retrospect), I found myself getting on a bus without exactly knowing where I was going.
At the final stop, I creepily followed a man and his daughter until arriving at a bus depot and asking the first lady I saw for directions to get to Taghazout, a surf town with an international reputation (and prices). She gave me the standard dog-patting motion that generally means “Wait,” and 20 minutes later, I had an invite to stay with her and her family in Tamraght, a sleepy seaside village neighboring my original destination. Her son, Hafid, showed me around the area, and introduced me to his friends, and took care to make sure I was comfortable at all times, and I found that I was living one of those idyllic backpacker fantasies about being taken in by a local family that are so rare and so precious that you can barely believe that it’s happening until it’s over.
I was a little worried that there were some ulterior motives, since, in all my years of traveling, I can only recall a handful of times that this has happened to me before, but in the end, they were just bloody nice people that wanted to take care of someone that was a bit lost and frightened. They even packed lunch for me the morning that I left. Incredible!
Anyway, that didn’t come out as streamlined as I would have liked, but hey, my mind is all a-scatter. The call to prayer is blaring and I’ve got a copy of The Subtle Knife on my lap. The main idea is that it’s important to feel out every situation individually and not use previous experiences to temper or decide…
Yeah, I’m done. Fuck it.
* At the very start of my trip, I was in the middle of one of my rants about modern society’s inability to simply disconnect and disappear, when someone very close to me asked if that was the reason why I traveled. I can’t remember how I answered him, but after a bit more thought, I think so. Yes, I love seeing beautiful things, meeting new people, and having a valid excuse to wear the same clothes every day, but there is nothing better than dropping off the map and knowing that you can’t be found.
“The wish to disappear sends many travelers away. If you are thoroughly sick of being kept waiting at home or at work, travel is perfect: let other people wait for a change. Travel is a sort of revenge for having been put on hold, or having to leave messages on answering machines, not knowing your party’s extension, being kept waiting all your working life – the homebound writer’s irritants. But also being kept waiting is the human condition.” – Paul Thoreaux