My trip to Morocco started with a short flight from Madrid into the unassuming and relatively small Marrakesh airport. Marrakesh ended up being central to my entire Moroccan holiday, which was planned for 5 days, but I extended for an extra week for a total of 13 days. This was the second time I stepped foot on the continent of Africa in one year, but this experience was vastly different; I didn’t know anyone in Morocco, most of what I envisioned about the country was based on fetishized images and I knew, for the most part, that I would not look like most of the Moroccan citizens.
In Ghana I feared being bitten by mosquitoes and contracting Malaria. In Morocco, I met a different sort of trepidation. I have never visited a Muslim country and I feared that I would unknowingly offend the citizens perhaps by dress, speech or some other unassuming action.
Part of that trepidation was relieved through some of the wonderful people I met through the site CouchSurfing. This site was recommended by my hair stylist in Spain, Shimada Kemp. While I had heard about the concept before, I didn’t feel it was suitable for me at the time. So what is CouchSurfing? In a nutshell, the site links you with other people who have a passion for travel and provides the opportunity to exchange with people from different cultures. You can opt to stay on someone’s ‘couch’ in a different city from your own and if you don’t feel safe with such an arrangement (as in my case), you can agree to meet someone from the local country or city for tea/drinks/dinner. I will write more about CouchsSurfing later for those curious about the concept.
Day 1: Shkoun Ana? (Who am I?)
After checking into my Riad, Dar Baraka, I immediately departed my hotel to meet up with my first CouchSurfing host, JB. Before I could reach our meeting point, I had to find my way through the busy souks with aggressive store merchants selling everything from argon oil to jewelry and handcrafted wooden figurines.
Just like any place I have traveled to outside of the United States, my identity is a point of ambiguity and curiosity to the natives and on this journey, phrases in French, Arabic, English, and Spanish were thrown at me like darts on a dart board trying to reach its target. In most cases, my ethnicity was determined to be American or British, but never African. Once again, my African (ness) was denied – even in Africa.
Finally I made it to the main square – Djemaa el Fna. Like any major city such as Spain or Italy, the main square/plaza/piazza is the heart of the city and Djemaa el Fna is no exception. It is the heart of the Old Medina. The square was full of food, snake charmers, herbalists, henna artists, horses waiting to take the tourists on rides around the city, and motorbikes, which I had to dodge more often than I care to remember.
Through all the hustle and bustle, finally I met JB, a 26-year old Moroccan of Berber descent who speaks Arabic (standard and Moroccan), Berber, French, and English. It should be noted that at Lincoln University, I studied Modern Standard Arabic and I was reminded on numerous occasions that my Arabic was that used in the classroom only, but I digress.
My host’s intelligence, his traveling experiences, his positive demeanor and his willingness to take time out of his day to show me Marrakesh immediately impressed me. On that first day, we walked around the Old Medina, drank fresh orange juice, mint tea, Moroccan beers, smoked some shisha, watched football, visited some of his friends and went clubbing. The only downfall of the day was being denied entry into a café because I was a woman. Overall my first day in Morocco was extremely enjoyable; I didn’t have to eat a lone, I could stay out late and not worry about my safety, I had someone to translate for me as well as to practice my Arabic with AND many of my curiosities about Moroccan life were answered.