In the summer of 2016--July to be exact--I stepped off of a plane & onto Morocco's soil having no idea of the indelible emotional experience that awaited me. Although not located in the heart of Africa, the fact that I was on the continent was enough, giving me to wonder about how I could feel as though I had returned to a place I had not previously visited. It was a paradox that needed no validation or explanation for I already knew the answer.
I would later go on to re-visit Morocco twice before 2016's end. For multiple reasons, it had quickly become a second home where I befriended local Moroccans who consistently went out of their way to ensure I was well cared for, where dinner invites with entire families at traditional gatherings were regularly extended, and it was also the place where I learned that I could like, care for, and even love again.
BUT let me back up....
My fondness of Marrakech didn't manifest until some three days later ater the feeling of being in a chaotic whirlwind passed. The surreality of my feelings left as soon as I exited the doors of Marrakesh Menara Airport. Slapped in the face with heat and confronted by the chaos of taxi drivers loudly and aggressively fighting over who would taxi the next driver, I instantly wanted to run back to the plane. After being taxied to the Old City of Marrakech and cheated out of $20 USD (that taxi ride SHOULD have been $10...NOT $30), my experiences worsened.
Stepping into the medina felt like being a small fish thrown into a shark's tank with a bleeding leg. It was as though everyone in the medina knew that I was ripe for the picking....and pick they did. Within 5 minutes, I was overwhelmed by a parade of men who aggressively vied for the chance to carry my bag with one man grabbing it and yelling at another to back-off. (I'll have you know that I was the one who was trying to back-up....in case a full-blown fist fight popped off) After I grabbed my bag back from the Moroccan gladiator, I went on my way. As the "streets" aren't well marked in the medina it wasn't long before I became lost in the maze that is Old City. Lost and exhausted in 90 degree heat, I just wanted to find my riad. 3 hours later, my host found me and off we went....
Riads are traditional open-air Moroccan houses, or palaces, that usually feature a courtyard, terrace, and multiple rooms. Should you ever have the chance to visit Morocco, opt to stay in one! My stay in the riad that is pictured was only $11 USD per night and was well worth it. Nights on the terrace under the stars gifted me with the melodic prayer call--truly serene, enchanting, and beautiful!
After 3 days of acclimating and learning to simply ignore the aggression of the locals in Old City, I found an affinity for Marrakech. Many of the Moroccans I encountered were genuinely warm people who were happy despite not having much by Western "standards". I learned that one of the locals I befriended made the equivalent of $30 USD per week, nevertheless, his expressions of joy seemed to be permanently etched on his face. For the first time during that particular trip, I felt strongly convicted about the first world concerns I carried with me: concern for my cellphone's well-being, wanting an extra pillow for my bed, etc.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ASSAULT IN MOROCCO.
It happens ALL THE TIME, and unfortunately, the law is not often on the side of those who experience harassment, assault, and abuse. I so vividly remember receiving a call after my departure and hearing my new friend recount what she had experienced earlier that day, a man walking up to her and spitting in her face, and going onto say that she couldn't go to the police about it. ENRAGED, MUCH?!
All in all, the convivial atmosphere of Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, the warmth of people who treated me like family, listening to the melodic Muslim prayer calls under clear night skies, etc. Those are the moments I live for. Those are the moments worth pursuing. I'm working towards having those kind of moments forever ❤