Thank you all for the lovely comments and emails following my last post. I really appreciate all the concern and kind words! I don’t want to panic any of my friends and family, so I thought I’d post a quick update about my travel plans.
When I published my last post, I was unsure of what to do. I was emailing language schools in Tetouan and Essaouira about lessons and accommodation, hoping that a coastal city would be better than what I’ve experienced in Marrakech and Rabat.
That very afternoon, I was assaulted in the street. Two young men (maybe 18 or 19) held my arms while a third grabbed my bum. It was all over in about 10 seconds. I didn’t fight back as I didn’t want them to rob me or, worse, drag me into an alley or something.
I am obviously fine, but the worst part was the people on the street who did absolutely nothing. I was five minutes from my home.
The next day, I was walking down one of the main streets in Rabat. An older man was hollering out his car window at me. I noticed two policemen up ahead and thought, “hurrah, they will save me”. But, instead of helping me, they greeted the guy in the car like an old friend and joined in. They were speaking in Arabic, but it was clear they were being crude.
I love when men say that women who complain about catcalling should just take it as a compliment. I bet these people have never been catcalled 1000+ times a day or felt the fear of hearing someone’s footsteps closely behind yours in a deserted street. I bet they have never had a man spit at them, lick their lips and moan or rub their crotch. These are just everyday occurrences in Morocco.
I am used to regular catcalling in Europe, but the constant harassment in Morocco is breaking me down. Literally every single man stares at me or says something to me on the street. I genuinely dread each time I have to leave the house.
I have thankfully made friends with my (very gay and very safe!) teacher and his friends, who I spent most of the weekend with. It made a world of difference to be accompanied by men. On Friday night, we went to a concert with around 200,000 spectators – with estimates that less than 10 per cent were women, as they don’t leave the house. I can perfectly understand why.
My gay friend sometimes held my hand to deter the other men. The crazy part is that when we saw police we had to break contact and move away from each other. If you are touching a man who is not your husband, you will be arrested. This country is so backwards.
On top of all this, I hate the place I live. I’m paying a lot of money to be in a homestay, and I’ve been placed in a crowded apartment (six people between two tiny bedrooms) with a family that insists on talking to me in Arabic, even though the point of me doing a homestay is to improve my French! Only one person can speak French and it’s like pulling teeth to get her to do so.
Other students have been robbed at their homestays and, although nothing has happened to me yet, I know they go into my room every time I’m out. It’s hard not even feeling safe at home!
Don’t even get me started on the food! I will eat pretty much anything without complaint, but the food is horrific. I imagine it’s the same, or even worse, than what I would be served in prison! Breakfast every day is stale bread and dinner is bread and vegetables. I get no protein whatsoever.
I don’t expect to be given 150 grams a day, but eating carbs all the time makes me feel light-headed and I’m constantly hungry. It also should be noted that food here is ridiculously cheap, so I want to know what the heck I’m paying for! I’ve luckily found a cafe nearby where I can have a coffee and croissant for less than €1 (hey, if I’m going to eat a carb-heavy breakfast, it might as well be a good one) and a restaurant where I can get protein and vegetables for €4.
While eating bread all day every day may sound like a dream, it gets old real fast. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but… I was really spoiled at my homestay in Antigua. Even the restaurant food isn’t that good. There are no grocery stores within a five-mile radius of my house so, even if I was allowed to (told you, it’s just like prison!), I can’t even prepare my own food.
My French school
Because of limited numbers, I’ve been placed in an advanced French class. It’s just me and one other student, who has been studying French for five years and can speak five languages (which makes a big difference). She is basically fluent and, while I wish I could take it as a compliment that they placed me in the same class as her, it’s not.
I am feeling more confident each day (my teacher is very good), but it would be much better for me to in an appropriate level class. It could be worse: one girl turned up at the same day as me but they failed to mention that the classes for complete beginners only commence once a month, so she’d have to wait two weeks to start. I would have been livid. It seems like the whole thing is a big money-making scam and I do not think I’m getting my money’s worth.
I severely underestimated how difficult it would be to dress conservatively while living in a desert climate. I’ve been sick for two weeks now, and I can only blame the weather and my diet. Oh, and the bugs are eating me alive! Even though I’m permanently covered in insect repellant, I currently look like I have chicken pox.
I joined a gym in the building next door, so I only have to be harassed for about 10 seconds to get inside, and it has a squat rack. The positives stop there.
The gym is super quiet so, even though I work out at 5 or 6pm, I’m the only person in there. The owner literally just sits and stares at me for my entire workout. At first, I thought maybe he was just interested in my style of training (I’m probably the only woman that has ever lifted in there!) but it’s beyond creepy. I can’t exactly tell him to F off, because he owns the place.
I’ve worked out in a lot of countries (Italy, France, Croatia, Guatemala) where it is considered very strange for a woman to work out, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable like this. What was once my happy place is now merely another thing for me to dread. I can now understand why many Moroccan gyms have designated times for men and women to train.
After all that, is it any surprise that I’ve decided to leave? I have booked a flight to London for June 11, where I will stay until early August (when I can re-enter the Schengen zone). I was hesitating because I know my French will take a hit and I felt bad for “quitting” on my original plan of staying here for three months, but it’s really not worth risking my safety and sanity to stay in Morocco to learn French and save a few bucks.
It is rare for me to say that I hate a country, but I really do. I’m struggling to find any positives at all about this country. Usually, when I travel, I don’t want to leave, but I can’t get out of here fast enough. I walk around with a constant headache. I’m not sure if it’s because of my terrible diet, the hot weather or the strain of constantly looking at my feet to avoid eye contact.
I have friends in London, my old apartment to live in, I can train in a normal gym and I have already organised a twice-weekly French tutor. I can do loads of things in London that I can’t here, like take dance classes, go out after 8pm, wear whatever I want and, I don’t know, breathe without thinking someone will take it as an invitation for sex.
I wanted to be as honest as I could, in case someone out there is thinking of travelling here alone. Just don’t do it. I have been to plenty of places that are generally regarded as “unsafe” and done some risky things (for example, regularly walking around in Guatemala at 2am and Paris at 4-5am). I would never even walk outside alone here at 8pm, when the sun is still up. It’s the first time in almost a year of travelling that I have felt not only extremely unsafe but also very alone if something indeed was to go wrong.
I have never felt more unsafe and life is too short to be miserable, especially when I have no ties to any country so no reason to stay! There are plenty of other non-Schengen countries I can wait out my time in, like England, Croatia and Guatemala.