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Freedom

Travel with friends and feeling comfortable in Morocco

By Andrea BartzJune 1, 2015

Marakesh
Marakesh

Late this spring, I planned a trip to Marrakech, a walled, medieval Moroccan city that’s also a cheap and easy flight from Paris, which was the first stop on my two-city tour. I planned to travel with my sister and another female friend, and as the trip approached, friends, coworkers, and paranoid family members fretted about three unaccompanied women wandering the streets of the Moroccan city. The only person who laughed about our concerns was my cousin’s Moroccan husband, who said, “I’d be more worried about them living in New York.” Which I do. I live in New York.

Still, my travel companions and I felt compelled to take all sorts of precautions: donning fake wedding rings, creating a code phrase that would signal that we needed help, even cooking up a story about how we were commiserating the loss of one of our children — all so the men there wouldn't harm us. We were shocked when the locals were better-behaved than the average New York male. 

Sure, shopkeepers in the souks (open-air markets) called out and encouraged us to come inside, but that’s just their business M.O. — they did the same to couples, men, really any tourists who wandered by. Sometimes they hollered with whatever English phrases they knew (“Lady Gaga!” “Fish and chips!”), but I’d take that over the “Mmm, God bless you” or “C’mon girl, smile!” or prolonged kissy noises I hear when walking the streets of the five boroughs.

More than once we got lost in Marrakech’s maze-like passages and asked nearby young men for directions. They studied our map, pointed out routes, and then sent us on our way, without lingering, leering or asking for anything in return. Sure, we dressed conservatively, skipped the alcohol (easy in a predominantly Muslim country) and got home to our hotel by 11 every night— analogous to closing your purse and avoiding shady areas in NYC — but I was pleasantly surprised by how peacefully our four days in the city passed. For the most part, we were left alone.

When I think back on the trip, only one instance of pure rudeness stands out —rudeness that felt sexist. Our flight home routed us through Madrid and then sent us to JFK on Iberia, a Spanish airline with nice planes and decent refreshments. During the long lull between meals, I got a tickle in my throat and couldn’t stop coughing. The passengers on either side of me were asleep, so rather than climbing over one of them, I hit the call button, thinking I’d ask for some water. Did you know that attendant call lights eventually just turn off if nobody comes? Neither did I, until Coughapalooza 2015, when I hacked and whimpered and hit that damn button for more than 30 minutes, watching flight attendants cruise by without a single glance. 

Finally, I reached over my slumbering sister and, waving both arms frantically, managed to stop a flight attendant — a tall, bearded guy with a sour expression. My sister woke up next to me as I asked for some water; he whirled around and took off before I’d finished speaking, not hearing my sister’s, “Can I get some too? Sir?” When he brought me a cup and she asked for one as well, he rolled his eyes before storming off, carrying one back, and thrusting it at her.

“I’ve been hitting the call button for over a half hour,” I said, “I wasn’t sure how else to ..."

“Well maybe that’s because we’ve been attending to passengers in the rear cabin,” he snapped.

“I didn’t know that, is there another way I’m supposed to ..." but he was already gone, stomping into first class with nary a backward glance.

We sat in shocked silence for a few seconds, and it was my sister who said it first: “Wow, do you really think he’d speak to us like that if we weren’t young and female?” 

“Probably not,” I said, and wished for a moment that the plane was taking us back to beautiful Marrakech.