Remote Year, Month 5: Morocco Will F*ck Your Mind
Two years ago, I went to Morocco and saw the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. After three days, I wanted to get the fuck out.
You drive for 12 hours from Marrakesh, flanking your friend who got sick from the salad, so you shut up as she buries her head in her elbow and tries to forget reality. You wind too-quickly around the rugged mountain roads, terrified, until you finally reach the flat, ugly, rocky desert.
Is this it?
A Moroccan boy who speaks no English is infatuated, because you speak English and pay him attention, because he’s insanely cute.
He takes your iPad and plays Trivial Pursuit, in English, randomly tapping buttons until he gets bored … four hours later. You remark at the boy’s attention span, and obliviousness, and he chases you around the rest stop, laughing, while your friend samples the squat toilets.
Lifetimes later, all of a sudden, you see a parking lot, which flows straight into the dunes. The separation between man-made ugliness and natural beauty looks like a movie set.
The dunes are so beautiful they seem fake.
You ride a camel and it chafes your groin and you go in just far enough that you no longer see the parking lot. You’re maybe a mile deep in the 3.629 million-square mile desert, but you feel like you’re on another planet.
You watch the sunset and think — I need to remember this moment. I may never see something this beautiful again.
It gets cold and dark and you dance Berber (not Bieber) songs and drink Berber tea (not a euphemism for alcohol), and sandboard down the dunes and stare at the stars, clearer than you’ve ever seen.
No light. Just stars. Silence.
Your first moment of true serenity in a cacophonous world.
As your friend shits uncontrollably in the squat toilet.
I didn’t plan to go back to Morocco. Three days had been enough.
One night we went out to a sketchy club, drank too much wine, and returned to our hostel which hadn’t given us a key. Knock. No answer. Knock. No answer. Bang. No answer. Full sprint and football tackle …
… no answer.
Door broken. They answer.
“… don’t come back here again.”
We spent the next night elsewhere.
After a day of getting lost in Marrakesh's staggering medina, posing as my platonic friend’s wife, and wrestling her arm away from an overzealous henna dealer … I didn’t plan on going back to that hostel, or Morocco, ever again.
I just want to Snapchat your monkey, Mr. Monkey Owner — stop following me for 12 minutes asking for money.
But later I signed up for Remote Year, so I returned.
Did you know that Rabat is the capital of Morocco? We sure as hell didn’t, and we didn’t know what to expect for Month 5 of Remote Year.
A group of us pronounced it “Sober October,” as we knew alcohol is expensive and secluded in the Muslim country. And four months with 70 new adventurous friends in new cities warrants a sober month.
Are you really an alcoholic if you have 69 alcoholic friends?
It was a month of productivity — shuttling back and forth via Arab Uber, Careem — from home to our beautiful workspace, because every street in our bourgie neighborhood of Agdal seemed to be a highway … and nobody knew quite what to do.
Wanna go out to eat? Sure, let’s go to Tajine Restaurant 1, or 2.
That was the extent of our social lives.
It’s the only city I’ve visited where going for a walk felt impossible. Unless you went to the medina, the old city — where you’d get lost among eyeless men and severed camel heads and wondrous colored olives and scarves, and the orange juice was forty cents.
It was the opposite of a typical walk – instead of clearing your head, it fucked it.
Everybody fled on weekends — those Sahara dunes, rugged beauty in the Atlas mountains, oceanesque buildings in Chefchaouen (the Blue City) … and more mind penetration in Egypt.
If an American going to Morocco could be described in two words, it would be: mind-fucking.
Morocco is a country of breathtaking medinas, deserts, mountains, food, and friendly people.
It was also really fucking uncomfortable sometimes.
How can I even write about Rabat? Most people got sick. The girls dealt with awful harrassment. Someone was robbed with a machete.
The worst thing I dealt with was a Careem that didn’t show up.
How does my opinion hold any weight?
A friend and I were worried Remote Year will converge to a safe, European experience. We have hard months, people (understandably) complain, and the program takes the safe way out.
That would be a shame.
We travel to see new perspectives, even if they’re hard.
… then again, I’m a white dude.
… then again, I sure as fuck don’t want to go to Aleppo.
Where do you draw the line?
Counting Morocco out as a travel destination is a mistake.
But traveling there as a solo woman? Not sure any of my friends would recommend it.
But we all did love Morocco, mostly. Despite its many scars. And e̶n̶d̶l̶e̶s̶s̶ three varieties of tajine.
A girl in another Remote Year group recently told a story about wandering rural India, and coming across a village where only men were outside, harassing her and another female friend incessantly.
Like my female friends in Morocco, she was understandably furious. She went to an Indian friend to vent.
“How could they treat us like this?”
The Indian agreed with her feelings. But she explained why the men acted like they did. Their only interaction with white women, growing up, had come from porn. Their mind associated white women with melodramatic sexual fantasies … not real people with real feelings.
Hearing this gave her some empathy. While she by no means condoned their behavior … she understood it. A gift from travel.
But I doubt she’d want to live there.
The Moroccans we didn’t meet on the street were overwhelmingly friendly. Our Careem drivers, who opened our doors, and spoke to us through Google translate, while driving, which was as cute as it was unsafe.
Our driver to Chefchaouen, who led us across a rocky hike, holding our hands at big steps.
Our local city managers, who taught us that women can live good lives, even in uncomfortable circumstances.
And pretty much everyone we met who wasn’t some creepy dude loitering on the street.
We went from Rabat to Valencia, Spain, and you could see the joy and relief on everyone’s faces.
A friend told me he noticed his shoulders had rolled down and back and he walked more at ease. I realized mine had done the same.
Morocco had literally felt like a physical burden. I don’t think I’ll go back. I would never live there.
And if you haven’t been, you must go.
If you hated this, you’ll despise my book.