There is no denying that Morocco is a splendid country, complete with mountains, desert, ancient medinas and pretty, colourful towns. However, I quickly grew tired of the way people always seemed to be after your money and, as a white, blonde female, I seemed to attract a large number of hecklers. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when I met Moroccans who, rather than attempting to take my precious pennies, showed great kindness and generosity, so I decided to write this article as a way of saying thank you to them.
My first positive local encounter was with a group of men who were trekking to the Akchour Waterfalls near Chefchaouen. I too was heading to the falls with my Aussie friend, Michael, and a couple, but the couple seemed intent on powerwalking there and continuing on to God’s Bridge, a rock arch a little further up. Michael and I preferred to take our time and walk in a more laid-back fashion, so we were very pleased when we found this lovely group of Moroccans to accompany us. The group was made up of six guys, four of whom had travelled from Oujda and who’d met the other two separately in Chefchaouen. We ambled along, speaking a mix of English and French (and a very small amount of Arabic) before arriving at the waterfalls, where a few of us braved the icy waters. After that, we sat and drank mint tea at a small wooden table and smoked some hash, before enjoying a delicious vegetable tagine, courtesy of another man who had taken the initiative to bring all the necessary ingredients and utensils to the riverside and make a fire to cook over. We stayed there for about an hour before beginning the trek back down to the base, where we each exchanged contact details and agreed to stay in touch. The two guys who had been on their own before joining the group had the decency to pay for our meal, so we offered to take them out for dinner that night. Despite our best efforts, the most they let us pay for were their drinks, however one did ask if he could have Michael’s boxer shorts, which he certainly wasn’t expecting!
My second encounter was with a guy named Mohammed, who had contacted me via the marvellous Couchsurfing website. He invited me to spend a couple of nights at his family home in Taroudant, where he, his mother, father, aunt, grandmother, three sisters and brother lived, so it was pretty cosy to say the least. This was a true cultural immersion, which enabled me to see how a typical Moroccan family lived, and I found it very interesting. The family practically all slept in the same bedroom, all ate out of the same bowl at mealtimes and used their hands rather than knives and forks, even for cous cous (that’s no mean feat). Their toilet was a squat toilet and their shower was simply a large bucket, which they filled with warm water and a smaller bucket, which they used to pour the water over themselves. They fed me well and told me I could stay for as long as I liked, for which I was very grateful. In return, I made them chicken soup and helped the kids with their English homework. Mohammed did sort of propose to me, and the family seemed keen to marry me off to their son and convert me to Islam, but those were offers I chose not to accept (surprise surprise!) I decided after the second night that it was time to move on to my next destination, the lovely coastal town of Essaouira.
It was in Essaouira that I had my third encounter, with a guy named Chalek, who owned the hostel I was staying in. He really took me under his wing, showing me around the town, taking me to the beach, informing me of the best place to experience a local Hammam and introducing me to his friends. Over the next couple of days, we cooked, ate and smoked together then, when it was time to leave, Chalek walked me to the bus station and told me to get in touch when I arrived in Marrakech, as he was due to be going there as well. In a busy, chaotic and rather overwhelming place like Marrakech, it was such a relief to be accompanied by a local, who could keep the hecklers at bay and show me what lay beyond the touristy Jamaa el Fna sqaure. Moreover, Chalek was just such a pleasure to be around, with his warm, infectious smile and boundless energy; he was certainly the best Moroccan that I met on my trip.
When the time came for me to return to the UK, I found myself wishing I could stay a few extra days, as I’d just started to get used to the madness of Moroccan life. However, it’s nice to know that if, or should I say when, I choose to return, I have several friendly people that I can call upon to meet up with – thank you to you all!