I thought I'd do a separate post on this topic since I feel that it is important, but also quite the story! It's a bit wordy with no pics. Just a warning in case you want to pass.
I had my reservations about traveling solo as a female in Morocco. It seemed safe though and being the stubborn, driven person that I can be, I decided to go solo anyhow. I was prepared for the usual cat calls I got in Istanbul. The streets were surprisingly not as bad as I expected. I put my sunglasses on, hat over my head and focused straight forward. I ignored all comments and did not let myself be bothered.
Yes, every foot I walked I addressed by men:
"Japon! Japon!" (Yes, I am being called a country yet again)
When I didn't respond, then, "Korea. China."
"Konichiwa. Nee how." (Um, try "hello")
My favorite and most original:
"Mitsubishi!" (Wow ... I am being called a Japanese car. Nice. Pretty creative.)
Since Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, I always wore long pants or long skirts, and sleeves. In the 100+ heat I never wore my beloved tank tops.
I wore my "wedding band" that always accompanies me on my solo travels. When guys asked "Boyfriend?" I'd point to my ring and say "Husband." I even carried a picture of my "daughter," my 6 year old niece.
The outside markets were fine. I got a few invitations to the discoteque that I politely declined. No one truly bothered me. I have a high tolerance to these shenanigans. BUT, little did I know that where I needed my guard most was inside what I thought were safe zones.
Incident #1: My riad.
One night, my nonexistent Arabic and French could not communicate to the cabbie how to get back to my riad. What should have taken 20 minutes ended up taking 2 hours via public bus and getting terribly lost in the medina.
Finally, I arrived at my riad at 11 pm, grateful and tired. Rashid, the owners' cousin, opened the door. I declined the invitation to tea, but he beckoned me to the sitting room. Not wanting to be rude, I went. He was in my personal space with his arm tightly around me trying to teach me how to say "Essaouira" and attempting to sneak side kisses. Is this customary? Where is the line? I started to get up, then he said "Hamid (the owner) is coming." OK, so am I suppose to wait? Rashid goes away and returns with something for me.
I open it. It's lotion (half used). Eh? He starts to massage my neck with it. Not cool. I stand up and start to leave, but he pulls me in tighter pressing against me. The line has definitely been crossed. I break free without too much resistance on his end and go straight upstairs.
Seriously?! Did that just happen?!? I securely lock my room door.
Incident #2: The desert tent
Yes, there is a second incident. The next night, Lisa and Kevin (the friendly Dutch couple) and I are in the desert. We are sitting about 100 meters outside our tent in the desert when Daoued, our guide, beckons me to the tent to show me how to turn off the gas light. He leads me by the hand. He shows me to turn the knob to the right. Not that difficult. Righty tighty.
Then I start to walk back out the tent door when he grabs me and pulls me aside such that we can not be seen from the outside. Seriously?! He has his arm around me now in a side hug (Really? Again?).
- "Let me kiss you." Daoued says.
- "NO" I reply firmly, not looking at him because that would bring me too close to his face. Do you really think I'm going to kiss a random Moroccan guy in the desert?
- "Let me kiss you on the lips." he tries again. So he can not speak English but this phrase he knows? What a great pick up line. At least he's being polite and asking.
- "NO" and I spin out of his hold and walk straight out of the tent.
He stops me in front of the tent in clear view, and offers me his "family" ring which I decline. He forces it into my hand. When I get back out to Lisa and Kevin I said half jokingly and half seriously "If one more Moroccan guy tries to kiss me ..." They were shocked!
Did you think I would be silent?
What makes it OK for these men to behave like this? After much thinking, I have two possibilities:
1. It is OK in Moroccan culture, or Moroccan women do not resist these advances.
2. They have had success before with single female travelers.
Behind closed doors is fair game? Apparently it is not ok to have a boyfriend & girlfriend sleep next to each other outside the tent, but it is OK to make advances on a stranger inside the tent out of sight? hmm...
In addition, I think they think they can trade goods for these encounters (ie. lotion and rings apparently which I left in in the riad and tent. No trade here.), or buy my silence. But they thought wrong!
With the help of Lisa, I told our riad owner, Hamid, about Daoued in the desert. So Daoued may get fired or at least reprimanded. I also wrote a note to Hamid explaining what his cousin did to me, and posted a comment on hostelworld.com so other travelers are aware. I've also told other female travelers in Morocco, who were shocked. They were traveling in pairs. Apparently only I got this special treatment. Lucky me.
Gratefully not once did I feel truly threatened or in danger (so there is no need to worry if you are reading this, mom). I was able to break free without resistance both times.
And that's my story. Despite it, I still loved the country, had a great time and am glad I went. Unfortunately, these are the facts that I, and other solo female travelers, have to face which guys don't have to deal with. I know I'm not the first or the last. So, if anyone wants a Moroccan husband, you know where to go!
But for me, now I'm off to meet "my husband" in Casablanca ("my friend Sharlene" got replaced with the phrase "my husband" because that just seemed easier).