Young boy on roller skates in Fes . . . keep reading and you'll understand his relevance.
Alright, this post doesn't have a ton of pretty pictures like the others, but's still worth a read. So . . .
Is Morocco safe?
Are there people looming in every corner waiting to kidnap you? Do you need to bring along the bedazzled stun gun you got for Christmas? A practical person naturally worries about safety when travelling to a new country, or heck, even a new city. A terribly anxious person, such as I, worries about 10x as much, sometimes about things that are so far fetched it makes you wonder how they manage to get out of bed every morning when there could very well be a rusty needle lurking in the purple shag rug waiting to give them tetanus the year they’re due for a booster shot.
When considering my worries about staying safe abroad, I had to confront how safe I felt at home. The truth, I realized, was that I didn’t feel safe at home and never had in my adult life. I’m black and female living in a country with an ongoing history of violence against blacks and skewed social beliefs that warp the policies in place to protect women. When those two qualities intersect, they produce an array of sub-identifiers that furthered my feeling of danger, not just in the country, but on a local level as I did things like walk home from class in the evening wearing a skirt and afro.
Living on an urban campus added a whole new level to what I could be fearful of. I had a drunk stranger walk into my freshman dorm suite. Men with withdrawal shakes would linger on streets and ask for money. A non-student was caught masturbating in an empty classroom, and there had been two shootings across the street from my apartment by the time I graduated. The cherry on top, however, was when a black teacher had security called on her by a white-Hispanic teacher—a Painting teacher, a teacher who taught for my major. Though VCU has a vigilant police force, and though the racist incidents are few and far between, it effected my feelings of safety.
I didn’t feel safe at home—not on my street, my campus, my city, or my country—and it’s why I already had an array of fears of what could happen in Morocco. When you mix all of that with a natural fear of the unknown, it made for a substantial amount of worrying over both my emotional safety and physical safety. What I learned in Morocco, however, was that some of my fears were not warranted. In fact, I hardly ran into any “red alert” danger moments over the course of my 10 day stay. When things did happen, they were usually just scams or the vague fear of pickpocketing, two things that are pretty easy to avoid.
I’ve still got some stories to tell, though:
Pickpockets: Before I entered the country, the faculty told us that pickpocketing was a very real possibility. Did I get pick pocketed? I don’t think so. I mean, I did carve a wooden spoon that wound up disappearing, but the truth is that I probably misplaced it. Did anyone else get pickpocketed? If they did, they didn’t tell anyone about it. If you’re worried about pickpocketing, the best way to prevent it is to not put anything in your back pocket, use pockets with zippers, carry a small bag, and keep your bag in front of you. Will you look stupid carrying a backpack purse on your chest? Possibly. But I bet you’d look twice as stupid going to the corn stall only to realize your wallet is gone.
Scams: The scam I ran into was the tour guide scam. Our group entered the blue town at the Kasbah of the Udayas and was greeted by a stranger. The stranger offered to give us a tour, the faculty kindly refused, but he proceeded to give us the tour anyway, leading us through the town and pointing out interesting fun facts. Throughout the process, the faculty continued to insist that we didn’t need a tour guide, but that didn’t stop him. At the end of it, he asked for money and the faculty refused to pay him. We didn’t see him again.
Adults weren’t the only ones trying to make a quick buck, though . . .
Child Scams: Oh yeah, the children I met were even more persistent than our unwanted tour guide. It’s time for a story:
One night in Fes, a small group of us decided to explore the market in the evening. We get to the gates only to be met by two young boys—brothers—around the age of 10. The older one, on roller skates, told us that the market was dangerous this time of evening and that we shouldn’t go in. The truth is that he probably had a point, so we obeyed and turned back around.
We watched the elder brother do tricks on his skates, latching onto moving cars, scraping his knee in the street, and skating up a hill only to jump off the ledge and slide down a street pole. Sometimes we cheered for him, and sometimes we just stared, worried and confused. The younger brother just followed us, asking questions like where we were from and whether or not the male student I walked beside was my husband.
The boys continued to follow us, asking us a variety of questions and answering some of ours too. They had learned English from watching television, they said. The elder one also explained that he no longer went to school because his teacher beat him, and that their eldest brother was in jail for . . . something. When asked where their mother was, I don’t recall an answer, but I do recall them encouraging us to go to the “Funky Fast Hotel”.
When we asked what the Funky Fast Hotel was, the boys said that it was a nearby hotel that was “fun and cheap”. What exactly they meant by that I will never know because we chose not to follow them to the hotel. However, we couldn’t go back to our hotel because we didn’t want the boys following us; there was something not quite right with their stories and requests. So, we kept walking until they lost interest in us and only then did we return home.
My collection of Morocco research Post-Its. It's the first time I was forced to compare problems in Morocco with problems in the U.S.
So is Morocco safe or not?
Well, first it’s important to mention that I did things like:
Walk in a group (preferably with at least one man)
Be in by 10pm
Wear my purse in front of me (and kept that sucker zipped up)
Tried to use common sense
I would also recommend trying not to look too touristy, especially if you’re a woman. Looking like a woman means you may attract some inappropriate looks and touches (and looking like a black woman means you may also get some curious stares and abrupt questions about your nationality). But when you look like a tourist, either in terms of dress or that habit you have of checking Google Maps every two minutes, you may attract some dangerous attention. You become a target for just about anything because you clearly don’t know your way around, neither logistically nor socially. Being in a new country means you are in an entirely new situation, so play it safe until you get a feel for the vibe. This means leaving the mega-backpack at home, keeping the doe-eyes and smiling to a minimum, and trying not to walk down the street staring your smart phone. I understand that if you’re a tourist you’re naturally going to resemble one, but I still suggest trying your best to look calm, comfortable, and capable.
People also recommended that I find the location of the U.S. Embassy. Did I do it? No. Should I have done it? Yes, actually. Putting their contact information in your phone can’t hurt.
However, at the end of the day, I didn't get kidnapped, I didn't get drugged, and I didn't get followed (by adults, at least).
So, is Morocco safe?
Short answer: Yes.
Real answer: Many of the fears I experienced daily in America simply didn’t have a place in Morocco. So, if you are panicking in the way I was--worried about what dangers this "third world country" is going to throw at you--I think you should go ahead and take the leap. Morocco is only as threatening as you allow it to be and basic common sense will honestly get you a long way.
But one last thing:
The monitor says, "Breaking News: 22 Killed in Explosion outside Ariana Grande Concert"
I feel I should mention that the end of my Morocco trip coincided with the Manchester Arena bombing in the UK. I saw it on the news as I waited for my Richmond flight home. That moment struck me because there I was, sitting at a New York airport after returning from my first time abroad and suddenly there was a disaster abroad. I know I was nowhere near the UK, but it added some more perspective about the idea of safety. The world we live in now is incredibly global, which is a beautiful thing, but it also makes for increasingly unexpected situations. It sounds defeatist, but the truth is that nowhere is really safe, no matter our expectations or how much we prepare, but we can't let that stop us from exploring. Don't get me wrong, travelling to a country in the middle of a civil war may not be the best idea, but fears of "what could happen" in a country labeled as safe or unsafe is completely out of our control.