This is the first in what I hope will be a long line of stories that I will be posting on this blog. Things will get much crazier later on.The thing to know about Morocco, to better understand the place, is that Morocco has for centuries been a gateway for trade between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. The Moroccans have made their livelihood from the traffic that passes both ways through their country. One gets the impression when in Morocco that you are passing through a kind of colourful, sticky money sieve. It seems anything that you come into contact with, inexplicably extracts some money from you.
One can’t leave their hotel without being beset by touts. The touts offer to be your guide, which means they will either drag you around to places they have “arrangements” with or they will follow you around trying to get a cut of whatever transaction you make. In fairness most Moroccans are dirt poor and there aren’t any social safety nets. Basically, the average Moroccan is on their own without much means of support and the average European tourist looks like a large overfed moneybag in comparison. Another consideration is that many people from the “first world” treat travelling in poorer countries as an extended shopping spree.
The longer I stayed in Morocco, the more I could identify with the herbivores of the Serengeti. There I was, an overfed target of seeming plenty for the ravenous circling predators. After a while the constant badgering of the touts begins to pall and no amount of polite refusal of goods or services is heeded. To give you an idea of what it can be like, I’ll relate this short anecdote.
When I was in Chaouen, a small town in the north of Morocco a local who wanted to be my guide approached me on a number of days. On all occasions I politely refused, as I didn’t want to have to interact with anyone who’s only objective was to drag me around to places where he’d get a cut of any purchases, including any food, I bought, while relentlessly blabbing in my ear. I just wanted to poke around on my own (the predators could see the straggler who had wandered off from the herd and saw in him an easy feed) in peace, but this guy was very persistent. I was constantly being probed for information so he could engage with me. My last interaction with him went like this:
Q. “Where are you from?”
Q. “You come from Sydney?”
Q. “Very beautiful place, no?”
Q. “Where do you go?”
A. “Walking around”
Q. “I will be your guide?”
A. “No thanks, I’d just like to walk around by myself.”
Q. “I can take you to my uncle’s carpet factory?”
A. “No thanks I don’t want a carpet and I don’t want to buy anything.”
Q. “You want jellaba (a sort of full length pullover smock with hood that the locals wear)?” I know where you can buy a very fine jellaba!”
A. “No thanks and I told you I don’t want to buy anything.
Q. “Ahhh! You want hashish?”
A. “No thanks, I just want to be left alone.”
Q. “You want a girl?”
A. “No and please leave me alone.”
Q. Looking around and in a low voice, “you want a boy?”
A. “No and go away!”
Q “You don’t want carpet? You don’t want jellaba? You don’t want hashish? You don’t want girl? You don’t want boy (in exasperated disbelief)? Why did you come to Morocco you f#%king Australian Jew!
I threw my charming interlocutor against the wall and made it clear to him he was in great risk of receiving some grievous bodily harm, he ran off and didn’t bother me for the rest of my time there. This experience and several others in a similar vein taught me a few things though. The Moroccan guides I came into contact with tended to:
1. Be desperate.
2. Not understand, that not all foreigners wanted to shop all the time.
3. See politeness as a sign of weakness.
4. Understand force and aggression.
5. Think being a Jew is a bad thing (Not that I am).
For what it’s worth, I met a hilarious Italian traveler who told me that his way of being left in peace is to scream at the touts, as they bothered him, that he was Italian while making a slashing motion across his neck. His rational was the mafia operated in Morocco hash trafficking and they had a reputation of being very dangerous.
As a result of this experience and many like it, I’ve come up with a way to reduce doing things I don’t want to do. Whenever I get approached by people, to do something, I go through the following mental routine:
I first ask myself if it would please me to please them (by doing what they want). If the answer is no then I don’t. If it pleases mi to please them, then I will go along with them.
Many people in non-western countries are quite happy to exploit western politeness and a desire to be liked. While we here in the west have the luxury of thinking (or possibly deluding ourselves) that friendship is offered and given for the sake of friendship only, many people in poorer countries are so desperate they see any foreigner as a ticket out of their poverty and so seek profit from any overtures of friendship.
The Cambodians have a saying: “Never trust a poor man.” And there is an Arabic saying: “It is a sin to tempt a poor man”
Having said all that I still recommend engaging with the locals in any country that you visit, just keep your eyes open, your wits about you, and don’t do anything or go anywhere that makes you feel uncomfortable. Listen to your inner self, it’s quite often right.
So there you go, a trip to Morocco, unless you go to a resort, isn’t really a vacation, it’s an experience. Somebody (I can’t remember who) once said, “Adventure is discomfort remembered in comfort.”
If you ever go to Morocco and stay for a while (outside of the resorts) you’ll definitely come back with some stories. I certainly did.