Morocco was one of those places that I had always wanted to visit. I listened enviously to the stories of others who had already travelled there, my mind conjuring up exotic images of colourful spices, markets where you can buy everything from copperware to magic carpets to intricately-worked silverware, and dimly-lit alleyways between rundown yet classically beautiful Moorish buildings. I wanted to sip mint tea while surrounded by people smoking hookah pipes. I wanted to trek across the desert on a camel, sleep in a Bedouin tent at night and eat traditional food with my hands while sitting on a lavish pile of cushions and watching belly dancers sway to the sounds of ritual drumming. And I wanted a pair of pointy-toe shoes.
I’ll admit, my idea of Morocco was the combination of one embarrassing cliché after the other.
I laugh at foreigners when they ask me what it’s like living in Africa. Do lions walk in the street? Are there really no towns and do you all live in mud huts? Since you’re from Africa, you must have met my friend’s cousin who lives in Kenya… You can’t be from Africa, you have white skin. These are just some of the preconceived ideas about Africa that I have encountered while travelling abroad.
So even though I knew that my expectation of Morocco was probably completely wrong, I still jumped at the chance to take a day-trip to Tangier while in Spain last year. We joined an organised tour group who took us across the Strait of Gibraltar in a ferry, ushered us all onto a bus and herded us through the streets of the old town like a herd of sheep from one tourist trap to another. When I think of Morocco now it is with an overwhelming sense of trepidation, a memory of endless harassment by street vendors trying to force their trinkets on the rich tourists, of grubby streets and nondescript buildings, and of TV antennas stretching across the horizon.
No, Morocco wasn’t what I had expected. I enjoyed the various activities we did at the time, but my one glimpse of the country was disappointing in retrospect. Will I ever go back to see if I can find the magic I was hoping to find, perhaps in Marrakech or Essaouira? I don’t know, but I hope so.
For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.