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.

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* pictures taken by Krystin Ross.

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London Travel Diary: Day Three

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Our third day in the United Kingdom took us out of London and across the beautiful (but very dreary) English countryside to Dover.

Writing this may be a bit hard as opinions obviously vary and I don’t think we got the best impression of this town as it was super rainy, windy and cold, but it’s safe to say that one day, or even afternoon is more than enough.

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Upon arrival we made our way to the tourist office to get some maps and folders about activities. Then we made our way up to Dover Castle. You can easily get there by foot. It takes around 10-15 minutes from the town centre. At the castle you can do various tours.
I’d recommend the tours that lead you through the Secret Wartime Tunnels that were used during WWII.
I did the one of the wounded soldier. It took around 20 minutes and you follow the story of a wounded soldier who’s brought in to the infirmary. The tour is complete with sound and light effects. They also use chemicals to recreate the original smell, which can be nauseating at times. There’s a second one that takes around one hour, which we decided not to take because the wait would have been too long. The tours are included in the entrance fee you pay and definitely worth doing!
When you go further up the castle, you get to know more about the earlier history of it. The insides are done very nicely and it’s fun and educational for children as well as for grown-ups.

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Afterwards we meant to hike around the cliffs for a bit to a lighthouse, but the horrendous weather thwarted our plans. There are boat tours around the harbour offered as well, but this too, might be nicer if it’s not pouring cats and dogs ;-)
When asked where we’d get the best view of the cliffs, we were told that it would be from down at the boardwalk. This was partly true. We got a nice view but still had the port in front.
After that, we still had a few hours left in Dover but nothing to do really. The city centre also seemed to lack nice, cosy cafés or restaurants. (At least we couldn’t find them. If you disagree and have some tips and cool locations, please let me know!)

All in all we had a nice day, saw a place we haven’t been to before and, in the end, even though it was lacking in some aspects, we didn’t regret our choice of going to Dover.
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How to get there:
Initially we looked up trains from London to Dover, but found that taking a bus was much, much cheaper (one way train tickets would have been 75£/person whereas the bus ticket was 12£/person for a return ticket). The bus ride takes around 3 hours and I’ve only ever had good experiences with National Express. The buses are clean, comfortable and barring any major traffic jams they’ve always been on time.

World: Togo – Activities

Since I was only in Togo for a short two weeks, and since we spent most of the days teaching, we didn’t have much time for other activities.

On our first day in the village, which was also a Sunday, we went from church to church to introduce ourselves to the people. There were a lot of churches. However, we were always welcomed very warmly; church in Africa is drastically different from what I’ve known church to be elsewhere. Women dress in their finest, most colourful clothes. They sing and dance and it’s a totally different atmosphere.

We also managed to spend an evening/night in the capital city, Lomé, and one weekend in Kpalimé.

We caught a community bus to Lomé where we went for dinner at “Al Donald’s” –a pretend McDonald’s. We then went to a Reggae bar and met up with some friends. We danced and laughed and had a lot of fun. At around 3am we caught a cab back to the village–but the cab driver got lost in the African bush. A trip that could take around 30-40 minutes took us two hours. We did manage to get back safely though ;)

The morning after – or should I rather say afternoonwe made our way to Kpalimé to the waterfall. On our first night we went to a bar where we spent another night dancing and drinking – we met another group of volunteers and… believe me when I say that those Togolese guys have some serious dance moves going on. I kid you not, they’re incredible and passionate dancers.

The next morning we got on taxi-motos and went to the waterfall. This taxi-moto thing… well let’s just say it’s probably not for everyone. Let me tell you that I feared for my life the entire time.

The waterfalls were gorgeous, secluded with clear, ice cold water.

Other than that, we regularly danced around the fire to the beat of traditional Togolese drums, and met up with the group of volunteers we met in Kpalimé. As it turned out they stayed only a short walk away from us ;)

However, most days we were just crazy exhausted and more than happy to go to bed at 9pm.

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[Above: our group of volunteers with the kids.| Below: community taxi to Lomé.]

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[Above and below: Al Donald’s!]

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[Above: rainy street in Lomé at 3am.| Below: dancing and drinks in Kpalimé.]

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[Above and below:the waterfall.]

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[Above: waterfall fun.| Below: Moise, Laura and I on a taxi-moto.]

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[Above: Sunday at church. | Below: an evening together with the other group of volunteers.]

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[More Togo-travel posts: The People | Life in the village | Reflection | All Around | More photos here.]

World: Piran

In May 2011 I went on a roadtrip with a couple of friends. Our destination was Trieste, Italy but we spent one day in Piran, Slovenia. Piran is a charming little city – magical, really. We walked around town, through tiny alleys and along the boardwalk. We ate gorgeous food and had a very intense water fight. I truly have only fond memories of this trip.

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[Above: Piran at our feet | Below: details. ]

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[Above: delicious lunch. ]

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[Above and below: water fight!. ]

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We took our car from Vienna to Trieste (had to pay for parking in Trieste, but only around 3€/day). We divided petrol cost through four so each of us only had to pay around 20€. We stayed in a small hostel near the city center – meals not included.
We made a day trip to Piran with a short stop at Hrastovlje, a small town in Slovenia with a cute medieval church. We hiked around the hills there for a while and bought a bottle of wine from the church. Parking in Piran was a bit of a challenge but we managed to find a parking lot not too far off.

World: Trieste

In May 2011 I went on a roadtrip with a couple of friends. Our destination was Trieste, Italy but we also spent one day in Piran, Slovenia. Trieste definitely has a certain charm – there’s something quite special about it.
We walked around the city, sat near the harbour playing cards and drinking wine. We took the cable car up the hill to Opicina and went for a small hike until we reached a point from where we had a lovely view over Trieste. We visited Miramare palace, drank espressi, ate gorgeous sea food, delicious ice cream and had a lot of fun.

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[Above: at the harbour. | Below: Trieste. ]

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[Above: our little group of adventurers. | Below: Trieste is stunning at night. ]

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[Above: gelato! | Below: view from Opicina. ]

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[Below: Miramare.]

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We took our car from Vienna to Trieste which is about 6h drive (we had to pay for parking in Trieste, but only around 3€/day). We divided petrol cost through four so each of us only had to pay around 20€. We stayed in a small hostel near the city center – meals were not included.
I recommend buying your own food for lunch – like we did that day we hiked up to Opicina. We had a small picnic with a great view. Just some bread, cheese, and prosciutto.