Here I am, in Morocco. I’m too unhealthy and out-of-shape to learn to surf right now, but back in my early-20s, there was a dream I’d learn to surf here. Well, dreams deferred and all, but it doesn’t mean I can’t come and enjoy an amazing place filled with culture, kindness, reciprocity, and easy-going chill.
Before I tell you a story about reciprocity, and some other Moroccan experiences, let me tell you this popular fable about travelling and reciprocity I keep in mind at all times:
A king sends his two wisest advisors on a journey to gather evidence about far-flung lands and their peoples.
Both advisors go their separate ways and return at the same time. The king summons them to dinner. He asks his first advisor, “Tell me of the people you met and the lands you saw.”
“Dirty, filthy. The people were cruel and rude. I will never return.”
The king turns to the second. “And what of you?”
“They had nothing, but would give me everything. They lived simply, but enjoyed life. Poor and lacking, they were rich in heart. I long to return again.”
The king tells them they were both sent to the same land. He says, “You found what you sought and were given what you gave. In your reports you tell me everything I need to know about you.”
The first advisor was dismissed, and the second became more trusted than ever.
The Reciprocity Takeaway
The moral, in short, is “Don’t be a dick.”
If you only meet awful people or have awful experiences, start with a long look in the mirror before judging where you’re visiting.
I seem to experience a lot of kindness, especially here in Taghazout, and I can only surmise it’s because I smile, greet people, nod, and behave well. That paid off when I took a nasty fall and unleashed a bloodletting. What happened was…
In Which Steff is a Klutz
Sigh. I bled! Badly! The roads and walkways in Taghazout are extraordinarily bad. Like, so bad. Uneven, raised, cracked, bumpy, you name it.
So, naturally, I tripped and fell, scoring my first gash in 16 months of travel. I could’ve broken my camera, but was very lucky.
With blood pouring down my leg, my new young friend Jeremy and I returned from whence we came and entered the full cafe we had passed. Immediately, the cafe cleaning woman and the male cashier flew into action, telling me to sit, bringing serviettes over to blot the blood.
The man, Braim, pulled out iodine and Band-aids. He kept mopping up the blood, dabbing with some iodine, mopping, ad nauseum, and then decided his Band-aids wouldn’t cut it. He said “I am getting you something,” and vanished. He ran off and returned a few minutes later with a first-aid kit.
Soon, I was bandaged up and drinking Moroccan mint tea. I offered Braim 100 dirhams as a thank-you, about $13, a lot of money for him, and he refused, saying honour compelled him to help someone in need.
This is Islam for you, true Islam, not that extremist crap that makes the headlines.
The Nomad in Morocco
And so, this is my first day in Morocco. A country I have wanted to see all my life but which has had me intimidated since god knows how long. Sure, big cities might be full of people who are shifty and looking to exploit my ignorance or foreign sensibilities, but as with anywhere back home, the small town I’m in here in Morocco is mainly filled with kind people. So many have talked to me already, introducing themselves, shaking my hand, saying they would see me later, insha’Allah. It means “if God is willing,” and Muslims almost always, if speaking of anything in the future, even seeing someone later, will add “insha’Allah” to the statement.
Every person I meet here is friendly, generous, and kind, and hopefully this continues to be the case… insha’Allah.
But Trickery Abounds
Still, being white is generally associated with being wealthy in places like these. If you’re white, you have money, and if you have money, then it wouldn’t be so bad to relieve you of some.
When spotting a camel, for instance, I decided to go over and take a photo. Then I had the persistent, annoying, entitled demand of a 50 dirham payment. That’s nearly $8! I DON’T THINK SO.
But when you’re new in a place like this, and the currency is 7.5 to $1, it can take a while before your brain is functioning. I got taken for a few dollars, but I should’ve just given them one and walked the hell off. Lesson learned.
Fortunately, not everyone has taken me for a ride yet.
Steff Versus the Cabbies
You may not be aware, but Morocco was a French colony for over 250 years and people here generally speak French as well as Arabic. Plus, they apparently love Quebecois lingo!
I had notorious taxi drivers in Marrakesh trying to “take me for a ride” in the sense that they wanted to con me, but I shut that down. The head taxi boss at the airport was trying to tell me it was €25 (about $25USD or $35 CAD) to get to the bus station from there. I just came from Europe, where that’s a very expensive cab ride. Yeah, right! Not likely, pal!
I snap C’EST MERDE. (This is shit!)
Then I counter with €15, they say €20 and try to put my bags in the driver’s car.
I bark back, NON, je telephone quelqu’un! (I’m phoning someone.)
Okay, okay, okay, he agrees, €15!
But the woman I called says “Pay no more than €10!” So I hang up and say “NON! €10!”
They acquiesce. My bags are put in the car. The driver negotiates a €2 tip. I laugh and tell him €3 for VITE, VITE! (Fast, fast!)
We get to the bus station a few minutes later (25 kilometres, my ass) and I snicker, “Oui. €25, mon derriere!” (Yes, 25 euros, my ass!) And he laughed and laughed. “Oui. C’est ça.” (“Yes, that’s it.” Or “Yes, that’s right.”) So, when called on his crap, the driver chuckled in good nature. He was very kind and grateful at the end of the drive, too.
The Joy of Culture Clashing
That chuckle and good-natured help at the end of the drive says a lot about the haggling and fall-out.
It’s not personal, it’s business. When they scam you, it’s not because they’re bad people, it’s because you opened the door and let them. They’re looking to make a buck and you’re foolish enough to spend it. Also, it’s sport. Most will give you a fair price if you negotiate one, but their life is hard and opportunities are few. Why should they not aim high? Remember, these are ancient cultures who have lived this way for thousands of years. Morocco invented universities more than 1,150 years ago. They’re crafty, smart, ambitious people.
If you don’t take their haggling personally, you’ll both get to laugh about it when you reach a price. It’s fun. Enjoy yourself. They expect you to haggle and may like the money if you don’t, but will be disappointed to be denied the sport of it.
But Wait, There’s More
Well, there will be far more I’ll share with you about some neglected past travels, but more Moroccan travels too. I love this town so much I’ve decided to stay put until February 28th (nearly 6 weeks)!
Steffani, great article about your experience in Morocco. Found you and this website via Flipboard, which lead me to an article you published in The Washington Post about why you chose to be a nomad in your 40s…. Googled your name and found your blog…
Your pictures and narrative of Morocco are definitely a different slice then typical tourist/travel blog. And from you, I already learned something about haggling for price in Morocco. My girlfriend and I will be in Morocco in April – going whitewater rafting actually! Didn’t know that North Africa has whitewater but they do in the spring, as the snow melts off the Atlas mountains. We are taking time before and after to explore.
Will definitely follow you and see what adventures you are up to next, and where you land after Morocco.
P.S. Your store doesn’t work. Would love to buy something to help fund your journey!
I had a beautiful long reply typed to you and my keyboard vomited bizarre code, opened 12 windows, erased the reply, and started being possessed by the devil, so now I’m starting from scratch. OH THE TYRANNY!
Thanks for finding me, Mike! Morocco is FULL of surprises for people who think it’s just the souk and the medina!
Try to explore some smaller towns while you’re here and I think you’ll find the people are made of gold. I’m really intent on busting the Muslim stereotypes while I’m here, so that’s why you’re seeing maybe a different narrative. I’m avoiding the big cities and holing up in a town of 5,000 for 33 days. 🙂
It’s kind of my test trip for Morocco because this is my first time in Africa or a big sensory-filled country other than Mexico, so it’s a new travel learning curve. I’d never travelled, really, before I became a nomad, so this is all one lesson after another for me!
This town, for instance, has been a surfing town since the ’50s and ’60s, but a lot of people think surfing is more recent. I’m not sure about the history yet, because I know Essaouira is a noted windsurfing spot and that people like Joplin, Hendrix, and other counterculture heroes of the ’60s and ’70s went to Essaouira to do hashish and live the exotic life, and it’s 100KM north of me, so maybe that’s where it began.
But this is a wild little town of hippies, mystics, old Berber dudes, rockers, millennials, yoga fanatics and more. Everyone gets along well and it’s a really great vibe. I could stay here three months, easy, and maybe one day I will, as I have learned it’s very simple to extend a Moroccan visa.
Whitewater: I’m not surprised! I didn’t know, but I’m not surprised. They’re really into sports here. Are you planning on wine-tasting too? All the vineyards are by the Atlas Mountains and Meknes, and they grow world-class wines, thanks to 250 years of French colonization. Most of it is now sold into France for blending.
My store: I KNOW! It’s not even supposed to be visible yet! I haven’t got anything in there. The plan is to write some ebooks and stuff to sell. If you’re really dead-set on buying anything, I have a photo shop online (to which I need to add my recent European adventures, Morocco, and some of my Mexico content too still) and if there’s anything you see on my blog that’s not there, or Instagram (Instagram.com/Snarkysteff and Instagram.com/FullNomad) that you’d like available for purchase, just let me know and I’ll upload it right away! I’m on a mission to get it updated as I chill out here in this surf town for the next month. 🙂
By the way, Mike, another way to support me is just to buy things through the Amazon ad on my site! Anything you buy, I get a 5% commission, I think, if you shop in the USA store. 🙂 I won’t know what you bought or that it was you, but I really like money, so there’s that!