travel | travelling to morocco - a black woman's perspective
Amara Amaryah | travel + books + poetry. a platform for story-telling, visuals, positive self-talk and empowerment. | black woman's perspective on travelling to morocco
happy october! mid month check in, how are you managing? i am, as ever, missing travelling but not quite ready to get back out there yet. looking back to my last post on my perspective of travelling to cuba as a solo black woman traveller, i have decided to explore some of my other past experiences travelling as a black woman. next on the list is: Morocco.
i visited Morocco in 2018 and although it wasn't a solo trip, my experience as a black woman was very interesting. i visited Marrakech and Rabat. My experience in this blog post is mainly based on my experience in Marrakech which felt like a beautifully chaotic world of it's own, one admittedly difficult to navigate as a black woman. i also think it is worth pointing out that my experience is as a non-muslim black woman traveller which (i will explain) differed from my (visibly) muslim black woman friend's experience. spoiler* Maroc was my first experience of an African country and it was good to me. i might not be entirely in love with the country but it is somewhere that i recommend despite some of the points i will make below.
as with the travel story on cuba, a few things that i would like to say is that i am sharing my honest experience mainly for black woman to have an understanding. experiences differ and this is not a full picture of Morocco (of course it isn't, i only travelled around for 4 days). just want to be clear and position myself before we get into ittttt
it felt beautiful to be travelling outside of babylon (today i mean europe). Morocco is a beautiful and inexpensive trip to escape. i found myself indulging in the architecture and general movement of Marrakech and Rabat because it was so unfamiliar. personally, i know a lot of black travellers who get tired of europe- the stares, the coldness (weather and people), the sense of having seen it before, the lack of black owned spaces to support (or the shame of having such a small pool to choose from), all of it. so the first good thing on my list is being able to roam beyond that boundary and get such an overflow of culture, noise, hospitality and not have to break the bank to do so.
that being said, we have to talk about the undeniable pleasure of the land: moroccan hospitality. i felt very welcomed and i remember feeling this way in various spaces, in the road, in the mosque we visited in rabat, in the streets - all parts. i didn't feel ignored or alien. in fact i got the feeling that moroccan culture is friendly, heavy on the humour, heavy on the 'have tea with us' (more on that later). now that i've travelled to cuba and jamaica i can liken it to that jovial and welcoming spirit that we all seem to have preserved. moroccans had the introvert in me cackling with strangers and throwing back banter like it was nothing.
the food: hey hi hello to the unprepared vegans amongst us. i can declare over your life that if you go to morocco you will eat well. you will have options. you will be overwhelmed by the sauce, the fresh OJ, the range my friend. you will ask if the dish is vegan a few times and they will look at you like a fool because vegetable tangines is as vegan as it gets. i honestly wasn't expecting to have so many dishes to choose from but literally everywhere i went i ate well, not a salad in sight (i am quietly an antisalad vegan). there are options for everyone but the vegan experience was the best i've had anywhere (God bless cuba).
without a doubt the worst part of travelling to Morocco was the market culture that seemed tolerable for the first two days and then got very annoying after that. this was specifically in marakech too, in rabat i didn't have these issues. but in the souks? anything goes if it will get your attention, or to get a reaction out of you. a list of the names i got called:
Bob Marley (i had long twists)
Obama (Michelle? Barack?)
as i said, at first it was such a culture shock and i noticed it was a tactic to get tourists (of all nationalities) to react, banter and potentially buy something. so we laughed it off and didn't take it personally at all. it was towards the last few days that i started to feel anxiety about simply moving through the souks and i would genuinely dread it. i think it was the intensity paired with the fact that comments were mainly aimed at me alone rather than my visibly muslim friend. i also felt hypervisible, slightly sexualised, entirely unable to creep through the souks to buy my breakfast without gearing myself up first. particularly the sexually suggestive comments and names took a lot of extra work to ignore. often when approached in souks, it was more likely that someone would feel brave enough to put their arms around me or to hold me in a way they wouldn't my friend. most times i would be happy if i got through with only one unwanted interaction, but it was bordering disrespect at times.
i will say that the trick to being a black woman in Marrakech's souks is not taking it too personally. like i said at the start, the culture is almost entirely based of gisting - you call me Beyonce, i call you Drake we move on. sometimes it is overwhelming if you're in the souks for longer than 10 minutes for example because that is a long time to train yourself to not take unwanted comments to heart. personally not my favourite mentality to travel with.
night market culture: being out as a black woman in the souks was worse. Our riad was located in the central souk - Jemma el-Fna- and so we inevitably passed through at night. one night we decided to enjoy the evening vibes, standing around drummers and performances and, in the most softest retelling ever: pickpockets candidly stood too close (in turn Fatima confronted them uncandidly), a random stranger declared his love through a series of ignored statements about my skin(?), another explained that it didn't matter that he had a wife because he was choosing me only for sex (????). we went to buy some jewellery and the shop owner (albeit very drunk) insisted on pestering my friend who literally came here to barter for silverware. an entire mess after dark in these streets.
the most interesting interaction was, that same evening, after eating dinner and drinking tea with someone whose stall we kept passing and making promises to. it got to about 8pm maybe and we had some good conversations with lots of tea and jokes to make up for the BS of the earlier events, and suddenly an aunty comes up to us. at first aunty approaches us to sell henna at x10 the price we later learn she usually charges, and then when she realises we're not those types of travellers she says, ignoring the men from the stalls, 'it's late'. she literally says nothing else for a good minute and we're like 'yep, it is late' and she's like 'it's very late…'. she basically tells us to go home and leaves us sipping our tea awkwardly.
either, she was being an actual aunty and warning us about the unspoken rules of being unmarried/unaccompanied young women out after dark (it wasn't too late but the sun had set) or she was being a judgy aunty and assuming that being young black women out after dark meant we were sexually involved with the stall owners in some way.
we left shortly after because the vibe changed and the male dominated space wasn't it but it was a strange scenario to be in. the evening went from fun, to feeling cornered by too many 'compliments', to laughter again, to the aunty's ambiguous message to the sudden shift to a male dominated market space. whilst we felt safe throughout the trip, the insecurity from that night and the need to pick up on the vibes quickly made it a bit uncomfortable. if i were travelling solo that would've been enough to really put me off Marrakech. in fact, the saving grace of this trip was having another black woman to experience it with.
if i go back to Morocco i would absolutely go with company again (rather than solo) and i would likely only spend 3 days in Marrakech. there are several things that surprised me about Morocco that i might one day feel ready to explore again - like the Bahia palace, the jardin majorelle, the berber history - the house of photography (and all the other fantastic museums and galleries littered across the streets of Marrakech). i would also love to go for the sake of documenting. looking back through my camera roll, Morocco really is a photographer's dream. Marrakech and even Rabat, gives so much. check out my first photo diary of the trip. i could easily spend a day or two doing nothing but walking around just taking pictures (until the sun sets and things get weird).
on that note, there is a black owned riad/hotel that i would like to visit too - the jnane tamsn a hotel which is all kinds of regal and tranquility.
blackness: another note on blackness in Marrakech, i felt that once we had conversations there was a certain solidarity between us as black travellers and morccans. can i count the number of 'welcome back' smiles or proud statements about Africa? the open discussions about oneness across the continent surprised me a little. i was under the impression that Morocco, kind of like Egypt, wouldn't feel necessarily 'proud to be African'. but that wasn't my experience at all and in fact we had cab drivers offering us 'global pricing' (cheaper prices than other non-african travellers loool) which we laughed about together. the solidarity felt good, new. especially for a young Amara who hadn't before left Europe. a part of me will always thanks Morocco for being my first non-europeans taste of travel.
thanks for reading what i write. i hope this blog post has left you with loads to think about in terms of what to expect when travelling to Morocco as a black woman. i hope that it will guide and not deter and i hope the honesty prepares you but doesn't limit your imagination. travelling is a mixed bag and stories help but don't always dictate your trip. i will see you in the next one. if you've travelled to Morocco, please share your experience below!