Welcome to Morocco, where cash is king, taxis rule the road, and no matter where you’re standing you are always in the way.
In my Winter semester break, rather than freeze here in Australia, I flew all the way to North Africa and volunteered as an English teacher at a tiny school in Salé.
Morocco felt like a lawless land, on my short trip to Marrakesh – where I was threatened to be beaten up for the equivalent of $2.30 and two cigarettes – street traders BEG you to buy their merchandise whilst motorcyclists zoomed through the narrow streets crawling with tourists. There’s no way that these guys on motorbikes are saving time if you actually add up all the time they have to stop and wait for a tourist to move out of the way.
I have never travelled before; never been out of the country. I had to endure the very painful process of acquiring my passport and packing for my trip, and I can safely say that I have never felt that type of fear before. I was so afraid of leaving.
I cried everywhere. I cried in the line to check in, I cried on the plane there, I cried on my 29-hour layover in Manila, and my eight-hour one in Jeddah. I cried when I arrived in Morocco, and I cried even harder when it dawned on me that I was going to be here for a month. It was a three-day trip away from my safe spaces, my safe foods, and my safe clothes.
Existing in Morocco was hard, there were daunting language barriers and insane standards of living. I was out of my depth there, and I was heading towards a big SNAP in my mentality. But that’s the thing, you can either move against the current or with it.
I threw myself into Morocco, and I took whatever it offered me. I watched two sheep have their throats slit, skinned, and gutted before I ate it for lunch just a couple of hours later in the spirit of Eid – the celebration that is all about community and family, and I felt oddly at peace with the whole thing (I cried on the phone to my partner for like, an hour after, but then I was totally at peace).
I visited so many amazing cities, Tangier, Marrakesh, Chefchaouen – I rode a camel and that was… Fun? Weird? How do you describe riding a camel? Bumpy?
Morocco was beautiful, it was full of life and culture. The people there were so welcoming and friendly, and the architecture felt ancient and vibrant. Morocco’s history was carved into walls and painted on alleyways. Every corner you took, there were at least five cats just hanging about, “jobless and homeless, like me!” my coordinator would say to me, “But we’re happy!”.
I had such significant moments of personal growth, I let myself miss my mundane life – I eat, pray, loved myself into having a good time. Morocco is, not surprisingly, a great place to re-evaluate your identity and your place in the world and for me, my place in the world as a woman, especially in an Islamic country.
How do you justify your purpose as a woman under Sharia law? How do you make space for your Western femininity in a Muslim country?
When I was there, I covered up, I avoided showing skin because I was afraid of offending people. However, I’ve never felt more… free? I felt like I could belong to only myself, and my body was a secret between me and every other woman.
There was space for my Western body in the Hammam, a spa where I stripped down and was scrubbed by other naked women – and that was it. We were just bodies that needed to be washed, women that needed to be cleaned.
I taught women and children English, and they were so eager to learn. I felt almost useless considering they already had four languages in their arsenal, sometimes it felt like I didn’t even know one. There is a different sense of fulfilment you get from watching people who are so kind-hearted and genuine start picking up skills from the lessons you provide. Four classes per week, for a month, and every time I was there, I felt like I was wasting their time. But I’m so proud of those women, I hope they’re doing okay.
There is much more to be said about Morocco, I kissed the ground when I landed back home, but the feeling of homesickness for Morocco hung over my head for weeks.
If you ever find yourself on a flight to Morocco, try to blink through the tears and ease up. There are far worse places to be.
Recently, an earthquake has devastated the beautiful country of Morocco, and many homes and towns have been destroyed. Amina, a wonderful and truly optimistic woman I met on my trip, lived in the Atlas Mountains. These mountains were home to historical Berber Villages, and much like the rest of Morocco – it has been completely ruined by the earthquake.
To help Amina and the rest of Morocco rebuild, please donate here:
For Amina’s fund https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/moroccan-earthquake-amina