Of dirty bitches, fucking tourists and mint tea on the house. Or: why Morocco was a struggle.

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It’s hard to find the words and structure a balanced blog post about something that has influenced this travel as much as the following. To write about something so close to my heart. To properly explain the why’s and because’s. I don’t think I can. Yes, I’ve traveled through the country for longer than just a couple of days, but still, I’m aware that my experiences are a glimpse of the overall country. And yet, five minutes into a conversation with another female traveler the topic would inevitably fall on the one I’m going to try to talk about in this post: street harassment.

When I first came to Morocco I posted a quick note on my tumblr, saying how I was largely left alone. How everyone had been super friendly. That changed pretty much the second I hit the “post” button. After that I was almost constantly harassed on the streets. It didn’t matter if I was by myself or with another group of girls. The only time it slightly lessened was when I was walking with a guy (or more) next to me.

I’m not naive. Of course I was expecting a certain kind of attention on the streets. Before I left I was warned by many people. I got told what to do, what not to do, how to behave, what to wear. By strangers and by my family and close friends. Most of it was common sense to me. Sure, I wouldn’t be wearing hot pants. I’d cover up. Respect the country, the culture and the religion. It’s me, after all, who’s the visitor.
I’m the kind of traveler who loves nothing more than to walk through a city with her eyes wide open, a smile on her face and a friendly word quick on her lips. I want to greet and interact with locals and aimlessly roam the streets so I can discover hidden spots.

Morocco quickly taught me the exact opposite.

You might want to know how a country can do this? Let me explain by telling you a couple of stories.

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I started my trip in Tangier, where I lived in an apartment in a good part of the Ville Nouvelle for three weeks. In Tangier especially, it was almost impossible to walk down some streets or through the Medina without getting shouted at, without kissing noises being made as I walked past. Without “Oh hello beautiful!” or “Sexy lady!” or “Oooh, spice girls!” or “Hello pretty flower!”.
I’m not exaggerating. I kinda wish I was, but I could not make these things up, even if I tried.

For the most part I figured out that ignoring them altogether was the best tactic. To just keep on walking if possible and they’d soon leave me alone.

Sometimes though, you aren’t walking. Sometimes you cannot outrun them. Sometimes you’re just sitting on a wall in a small park, enjoying a cool breeze and talking to two other people. And then, when an older man comes up to you and starts talking, and you ignore him, you get shouted at.

“Dirty bitch! Dirty! Dirty bitch! You bring Ebola to us Moroccans! Dirty bitch! Go back home and leave us Moroccans alone!”

How ironic, right? To get told to leave them alone when that’s what you’ve been doing all along? Right when it happened I was just taken aback by the obvious aggression aimed my way. Later, when I thought more about the words he used, the way he looked at us and the way this entire incident made me feel, an odd sense of sadness overcame me.

But that’s not all.

Sometimes you’re just walking through a souk and a young guy comes up to you and asks you if you’re married. And if you ignore him he starts shouting. And if you don’t and say that you are, in fact married, he’ll attach himself to you and say “Doesn’t matter, I’ll be the second husband” and hassles you for way too long.

I soon arrived at a point where I’d just block out everything and I cannot even begin to tell you how sad this made me. It’s devastating because I love nothing more than to interact with locals. I love nothing more than to throw a quick smile at random strangers who pass me on the street. But in Morocco I felt like I couldn’t. In Morocco, if I smiled at someone they’d often see it as an invitation to ask more rude or inappropriate questions.

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One morning I was walking through the souk in Rabat. I was just thinking how different Rabat was to Tangier. People were friendlier, I got hassled less and found myself breathing easier, smiling more. I saw a small girl crying in front of one of the stands and smiled brightly at her, hoping she’d stop crying and smile back. Hoping to be a small distraction. In the same second I gave my attention to this child, a Moroccan teenager walked past me and patted my shoulders down to my wrist. I quickly pulled it away, completely taken aback by what just happened. Is me smiling at a small girl an invitation to be touched however they please? I threw him a dirty look but everything moved so fast and a second later he was gone and I was standing there with an odd feeling all over my body, my skin crawling, and a sour mood replacing all the positive thoughts I just had.
Two streets further I was still stewing about what just happened when a street vendor looked at me, whistled and said “Ooh, you are beautiful! Welcome to Morocco!” And I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t stop. I didn’t look at him. I just kept walking and before I could help myself I said “Shut up!”
I kept walking and only heard an outraged “What???” shouted back at me.

I immediately felt bad. I immediately regretted it. This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be. This is not who I want to allow the men in this country to turn me into. And yet, the frustration boiled over.
Dear street vendor, if you really only wanted to welcome me to your country, I’m sorry. But please also know that this is not how you make us feel welcome. This is how you objectify us. This is how you make us more uncomfortable than you could possible know.

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On my way to find my hostel in Essaouira I was approached by a young man who offered me a hostel to stay in. I told him no thanks and that I already had a hostel. He goes on “It’s a very nice hostel, I can show you, follow me!” To which I replied “No thanks, I’ve already booked a hostel.” Then he flipped. “Racist!” “Excuse me?” “You’re a big racist!” I should have stopped and ignored him then, but sometimes I just can’t. So I asked him how already having a hostel makes me a racist. He obviously couldn’t explain it to me so he just declared one more time “You’re a big racist!”

A day or two later I was walking through the souks and stopped to look at a little bag. I picked it up, turned it over and the vendor approached me. “I make you a good price!” I told him that it was alright, I was just having a look. He went on and asked me how much I want to pay, we could haggle about it. I said it was quite alright, I was only looking and wasn’t even sure if I wanted it to begin with. Again, friendliness turned into aggression so quickly it made my head spin, and the vendor shouted at me “If you don’t want it, don’t touch it!”

It’s sad, you know. Sad and kind of stupid. Because even if I would go home later that night and decide that I did want that bag after all, I would definitely not come back and buy it from him. All the stalls in the souks basically sell the same things anyways and I understand that competition between them is brutal, but this is definitely not how you make a sale. I’ve never been annoyed by people trying to ask me to check out their shops. This is how they make their living, after all. And even though it can be exhausting to be constantly asked to look at this, or go into that store, it’s all fine by me. It’s the quick and sudden aggression that sometimes followed I have issues with.

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In Taghazout I was around when a british girl, who worked in my hostel, opened the door to welcome a group of guys who’d booked a stay there. They didn’t find the hostel right away so a local showed them the way. The girl said thank you to the local, the guys walked in and before she closed the door behind them she turned around and asked if the locals had, by any chance, seen a little dog. It was the hostel dog that had gone missing that day and everyone was worried. The local turned around and said “Fuck you, bitch!”
Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps he thought she should pay him for bringing her new customers, but since they had already booked this hostel anyways, what’s the point? If he wanted money for showing them the way, he should have said something to the guys, but it’s easier to lash out on women, right?

I also stopped asking people for the way. I knew that most of the time they’d expect money from me in return. If it’s a tour I agreed on, that’s fine. But if you only ask if you should turn left or right, and then are expected to pay over 10€ for that little piece of advice, then no, I won’t ask.
Locals would also attach themselves to us as unwanted, unasked for tour guides. Just telling them that it was unnecessary usually didn’t deter them so I took on to being super frank. I’d tell them right away that it was lovely of them to want to tell us a little bit about their city but that I have a travel guide and that I don’t have the money to pay them. They usually left even before completely finished that sentence.
I had a map on my phone and knew where to walk, and yet, people would tell me where to go, where not to go and then get frustrated and angry when I wouldn’t take their advice.

In Marrakech I was right around the corner of a palace I wanted to see when I was approached by a young Moroccan who told me that the palace was right around the corner. I said thank you, and that I know. Then he touched my arm. I quickly yanked it away and told him in no uncertain terms to not touch me. I kept walking and heard him scream behind me “Fuck you, tourists! I hate tourists! Fuck you! Fucking tourists!”

How bizarre? If you hate tourists so much, why do you care in the first place? The only explanation I have for that is that he could have wanted money from us, for pointing out the obvious, yes, but it’s not like that never happened before.

Then there’s the issue of men “owning” the sidewalk. I’ve noticed quite quickly that men will often not even try to make room for me on the sidewalks. For some reason this made me incredibly angry. I’m a feminist. And I firmly believe in the fact that I not only have the same right as men do, but I also deserve a space on the sidewalk. Especially when it’s clearly big enough for the both of us. I’ll try to make space for you if I see and feel you doing the same. Until that happens I will continue to not go out of the way. The couple of bruises on my shoulders and arms are worth this. I will not make myself small for you.

All of these things make it hard and tiring to travel through Morocco as a woman. It’s the constant vigilance, that’s exhausting. The fact that I won’t have experiences as rich as they could have been, which sadden me beyond words.

Every time I meet other female travelers it’s one of the first topics being discussed. The guys can’t really understand it.
But when you get asked how much you cost for the second time, I think you have every right to flip out. To shout. To make a scene. To tell them in no uncertain terms that this is NOT okay. That it’s derogatory and disgraceful. How can this not be the main topic of discussion?

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Let me make one more thing very clear. I have also met the nicest, friendliest and most helpful men here. I have seen fathers lovingly dote on their daughters, I’ve seen young men help elderly women down the stairs or give them their seats. I’ve been treated with kindness. I’ve been offered free tea in a restaurant, and high fives when I came back to my regular dinner spot for the 3rd time in a row. I got joked with and smiled at.
And this makes this entire situation even sadder to me. Because of the actions of some people, I often don’t even notice anymore when others are nice to me. When they warn me to not walk down this alley because it’s a dead-end. When they give me back money because I handed them too much or when they genuinely just try to show me the way and I’m immediately wary and think “How much money will he want for this?”.

But still, it’s tough. Some days are harder than others. Sometimes, the frustration level is high. Some cities are more relaxed than others, sometimes it’s better being in a group, sometimes it’s worse. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I embraced it as part of this experience, but sometimes it was almost unbearable. Sometimes I was so disgusted I could barely take it. Have I ever felt really unsafe? No. Have I been beyond annoyed to the point where I’d loved to scream and cry? Yes.

There are many possible explanations on why Moroccan men see and treat western women the way they do. We could blame it on the media, the pop music, or the poor command of the English language. I truly believe that sometimes people didn’t understand just how grave it can be if you call a young girl a “bitch” on the street. Is that an excuse though? No, I don’t think so.

I know that this post can be seen as a collection of negative examples. Of the single experience of a young girl who couldn’t deal out there in the big world. You are right, to a certain extent. These are my experiences. These are the stories that happened to me, but every single girl I’ve met along the way had stories just like mine. And yes, I am frustrated and saddened, but this trip has made me stronger in many regards. Trust me when I say that it’s not culture shock. It’s not the feelings of a scared little girl who’ve barely traveled before. It is not. I’ve been to many countries and I’ve seen people of many cultures get angry and frustrated but never have I felt this kind of aggression. Towards me and others. Never have I felt so unwelcome in a country.

Again, let me say one more time that you can, as a girl, travel to Morocco. You can walk through the souk by yourself, you can go have dinner by yourself, you can do it all. You don’t need someone with you. In fact, I urge you to. Just expect a certain level of harassment, but don’t let them get to you. Kill with kindness and you’ll emerge as a stronger, wiser, and better person in the end.

So please, travel to Morocco. The culture, the history, the architecture and the majority of the people are amazing.

Do it solo, do it as a girl. But be aware that it might be tiring.

_____

* pictures taken by Krystin Ross.

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Two hours later and I still haven’t calmed down about that new Band Aid 30 single.

I don’t even have words for it.

Safe to say that even 30 years later the story of Africa as a continent of hunger, death, senseless wars, famine, and despair, is still being perpetuated around the world.
This Ebola themed song is portraying Africa as a helpless little child that needs to be fed, needs to be helped, needs to be healed.
You are feeding into people’s beliefs that Africa needs the great white people come to them and help them out of a crisis again (as it’s mentioned in the song).
Do they know it’s Christmas time in Africa? Well gee, I don’t know? How about you ask the 6.000 million Christians in Africa?

Ebola is real, and the affected countries, (who by the way, don’t include every country in West Africa – just look at Ghana, Benin, Togo etc.) do need support, they do not need, however, your patronizing and uneducated pity.

You think your time qualifies as tax, Bob Geldof? Well how about you record a new fucking song that’s free of all these stereotypes?

I can kind of understand how this song came to be in the 80s. The view on development aid has since shifted. And then shifted again. And again.
Theories and practices have changed, through the media the entire world has come closer together – and yet, this song is still out there. And not just that, it gets newly recorded, and re-written with lyrics that are even worse than the ones in the 80s. And for what? Celebrity publicity?

The original song has always been played at my house. It is catchy and, to me, belongs on my Christmas playlist. But since I understood English well enough to understand what the lyrics mean, and since I acquired enough knowledge on developing countries and development aid, I’ve taken it with a grain of salt. I’ve seen it as a piece of history.
So let it stay there. Let it be played a couple of times a year during Christmas, but please don’t continue to shove it down our throats every 10 years.

It’s time we move on. Move on from this song. Move on from the stereotypes. Move on from senseless pity.

And for those of you who will say “but look at all the money it raised!”: I don’t stand against charity. I stand against those lyrics. I stand against those questionable motives. I stand against people who hear this song and don’t instantly cringe.
Go and donate – it shouldn’t have needed this song for you to do this anyways.

The worst part is that I like how parts of this song is sung. I wish it was horribly done. I wish I wouldn’t have just lost respect for some of my favourite singers.

Sources and Links:
Global Post
Lyrics
The Telegraph
Bob Geldof dismissing criticism
The Guardian

Language, Barriers and Open Doors

My second post over at The Blog Wander is up and I’m still really excited to be part of such a fun and inspiring project. And mind you, ‘inspiring’ isn’t usually a word I use lightly.
So what are you waiting for? Head over and read the posts of these fun and brave girls who reflect on their lives, loves, and travels. They’re talented writers and their stories will suck you right in :)

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My new post is about languages. I am convinced that languages have an insane power. They’re also endlessly fascinating and by trying to speak even one or two words of the local language while in another country, you’ll convey a totally new picture of who you are.

“Learning these words and phrases was worth it in more ways than just reveling in their surprised faces. It was me showing them that yes, I am from a different country, yes, I am just visiting and yes, I might just be a young girl, but I really am trying. I’m trying to understand the local customs and traditions. I’m trying to communicate with you, even though we both speak different languages and can barely understand each other. I’m trying to make the most of it. I’m trying.

And isn’t that really all that we can do?”

You can read the entire post here.

 

Zanzibar

It might take me a couple of months but in the end I do get around to making these videos and I love making them almost as much as I love watching them. So many good memories.
As I’ve said before, my weekend in Zanzibar was magical. It was filled with so many good things it’s hard to pick just one. Here’s a tiny glimpse of what we did and how it looked like.

I’m neither a professional filmer, not editer of clips, so excuse the amateur quality. I hope you still have fun watching this :)

In case you didn’t know, I also made videos of my Safari trip and of my time in Thailand. Go have a look? :)

One weekend, five things to do in Zanzibar

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If there’s one thing I regret (even though I find it hard to actually write these words, as I don’t want to change any second of my stay on this gorgeous island) about my time in Africa it’s the fact that I only spent a weekend in Zanzibar. My time there was short, yes. However, it was filled to the brim with incredible activities, a lot of fun and so many experiences I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Here are five suggestions on how to spend an unforgettable weekend in Zanzibar:

  • A trip to Prison Island

Prison Island has a surprising amount to offer for such a small island. It started out as an island for prisoners, although they actually never used it as a prison. Later on it was used as a quarantine station for people who contracted yellow fever. Now there’s a sanctuary for giant tortoises. This sanctuary started out with a few tortoises which were a gift from the government of the Seychelles, now there are more than 50 tortoises living there. For a small fee you can walk through the little park, pet and take pictures with them. Some of them are nearly 200 years old. Twice a day there will also be feedings which you can watch.

Close by, there are also a lot of beautiful spots to snorkel. If that’s not for you, there’s always the possibility to just lie on the (albeit small) beach and swim in the clear water there. It makes for a perfect day, or afternoon trip (depending on how long you want to snorkel).

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  • The Forodhani food market (only at night)

One of the biggest regrets I have about the very short time I spent in Zanzibar is that I didn’t have enough time to try all the great food this island has to offer. However, I went to this market twice and it’s just incredible.
The market is made up of lots and lots and lots of stands filled with food. Try the Zanzibar Pizza (savory and sweet), or the seafood (but take care and keep your eyes open to see if it’s still fresh and good). Try the sugar cane juice (though keep in mind that the taste certainly isn’t for everyone). Or maybe you want to try some soup? Have a Samosa too. And don’t miss out on the beef-wrap (kind of kebab) kind of things. There are just so many things, it’s almost impossible to eat and try them all.

Your best bet (and this goes for everything: restaurants, bars, cafés….) is to always go to where most of the locals are. If there are locals eating the food there it’s bound to be authentic and good.

This food market fascinated me not only for the vast array of different types of food and how they were prepared but also because of the location. During the day the park, close to the harbour is very quiet and peaceful. At night the area is buzzing and filled with people – tourists and locals alike and the next morning it’s again as if nothing happened.

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[Above: Seafood galore! |Below: freshly made Zanzibar pizza.]
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[Above: the kind-of kebab (Say: “Weka kila kitu.” This means “with everything.” and was one of the first phrases I learnt. It will also guarantee you a laugh (if not a high-five) from the person you’re ordering from). |Below: This lovely guy is Mr. Lecker Lecker. He learnt from an Austrian chef, knows how to make Semmelknödel and speaks a bit of German. He insisted on taking a picture with us (he also makes the most delicious sweet Zanzibar Pizza. Try Nutella-Mango. Or Nutella-Banana-Coconut).]
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  • Dolphin Bay

This was something I was super, super skeptical about. When I heard about “You will swim with dolphins” all I could think of was “Please don’t let them be in a tiny basin”. There was nothing worse for me than the thought of supporting the captivity of these animals.
I was lucky though. What people forgot to tell me was a single word that made all the difference: “wild”. They should have said “Kristina, you’re going to swim with wild dolphins.” That would have eased so many of my worries.

When we arrived at the bay, we were given diving goggles and flippers (which I refused because they annoy me to no end) and then boarded a tiny boat to drive out and look for dolphins.
In this place I have to say that we totally lucked out on this trip. A local guy who was with us and has been many, many times to this bay has told us that he’s never seen them as close and as many of them as he did that day. Needless to say that we went crazy. We chased the dolphins, jumped from the boat when we were close and then played and swam with them. It was incredible. Mind blowing. Unbelievable.
We swam and swam and swam until we barely had the energy to climb back into the boat anymore. Only then did we allow our boat driver to take us back to shore.

If you don’t want to, or cannot swim with dolphins the beach and sea at this place is also, almost too perfect. It’s the stereotypical white beach, turquoise water picture.

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  • A history tour through Stone Town

You will see various tours offered at about every corner. While I’ve heard only good things about spice tours (they show you different plants, spices and tell you about the process and so on) we decided on a history tour. We started out at one of the two churches where there once was the slave market. We went down to see the slave chambers before changing direction and strolling through the market. Then our guide led us through the labyrinth of Stone Town’s tiny streets and alleys – pointed out various historic landmarks and told us about the architecture, different types of doors and so on.
To me, this was perfect. I loved walking through the tiny alleys and getting some background knowledge made this experience even more special.

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[Above: Morning mist over Stone Town. |Below: Our history tour started at the old slave market. Stone Town has a rich and long history. Some good, some horrid. As it is the case with all countries, I guess.]
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[Above: cute places to eat lunch or dinner can be found everywhere. |Below: doors in Stone Town are breathtaking pieces of art.]
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[Above and Below: the fish and food market is probably not for the faint-hearted.]
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  • Horseback riding (on the beach)

Yes, I’ve already hinted about this a few times when I posted some pictures.
However, this was one of the most incredible experiences I had during my time in Africa. Riding a horse on a beach has been on my bucket list ever since I started horseback riding when I was six years old. For this to come true in Zanzibar, at sunset – on the same day we also swam with wild dolphins? I can barely find the words. Even weeks after it’s hard for me to describe the feeling. I felt so free, happy and light.

Just a few things about the facility:
The stables we went to belong to a very nice couple from South Africa. They have four horses which are all very healthy and perfectly well looked after. Their temperament and character is great so that they can carry everyone from children to adults. The riding facility is attached to a resort, but you don’t necessarily have to stay there to go for a ride. You can take lessons or go for a ride through the coconut plantation and down to the beach.
They offer to take almost everyone, no matter their skills or experience, though you should have realistic expectations. If it’s your first time on a horse you will not freely canter through the waves and along the beach. However, if you do have some experience, it is very likely that you are able to do just that.
Also: helmets are mandatory. You can borrow one there at the facility.

On the day we were there we (once again) lucked out. While it looked like rain when we started, it cleared up as soon as we came to the beach and we were lucky to see the most incredible sunset. Plus, it was low tide, making it possible for us to canter through the water and along the beach.

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[Read more about Zanzibar here. Posts about my time in Tanzania can be found here.]