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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Alexa, an American expat who was recently working and living in Marrakech. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city, shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail.com.
Morocco was a chaotic, overwhelming and amazing place to live for the three months I called it home. It isn’t for everyone but it has tons of personality and I loved living there.
I did a work away program at a beautiful boutique hotel and worked with a few Moroccans while I was there, so I was probably a little more integrated into the local culture than the average traveler.
I woke up around 8:00 am (okay rolled out of bed at 9:00…) and headed upstairs from my basement apartment to have breakfast. Avocado toast or muesli and black coffee was often my meal of choice.
The ladies in the kitchen were usually hustling around making breakfast for the guests while I sat there and munched. They’d stroke my hair, squeeze my butt and try to marry me off to one of their cousins pretty much every day which made for an entertaining morning.
I’d work in the office with my two other Western coworkers for the remainder of the morning, often with a fluffy cat named Toby stretched out across my shoulders. I’d do photography and administrative stuff for the hotel, which is an absolutely gorgeous feat of impeccable Moroccan interior design about 18 kilometers outside Marrakech.
We’d have lunch around 2pm out by the pool and under the strong sun. Lunch was often lentils, salad, veggies, tagine, couscous, fruit and incredible bread, always delicious and fresh. A quick cat nap on loungers by the pool and we’d head back to work for the next few hours.
After most week-days and weekends, I’d walk the half mile through the little village to the bus stop and head into the medina of Marrakech. The bus was 5 MAD or about $.50 and would take a solid 30 minutes of hair raising driving to get there. I was usually the only girl on the bus not wearing a hijab (head scarf) and definitely the only westerner.
I’d usually meet my friends at a café for coffee, since going out for a casual drink is not that convenient, and sit and talk and people watch on the square for a few hours. We’d make fun of the tourists and make up stories about who they are, their relationships and what they were doing in Marrakech.
My friends were/ are both western and Moroccan, Muslim and not. Observing Islam was one of my favorite parts of Morocco, hearing the call to prayer every day and seeing how much influence the religion has on their culture. I found it fascinating and am really grateful to have had that opportunity, as my feelings towards Islam and Muslims have changed dramatically for the positive.
I loved seeing all the mosques, and all the locals in their dress. Women in burkas used to give me a certain negative feeling (thanks, America!) but I quickly got over it and was able to approach women on the streets all the time to ask for directions.
That’s another thing, the roads, or derbs, in Morocco don’t make any sense, often aren’t named and you can bet your Dirham Google Maps has no idea what the hell you’re talking about. I got lost a lot, which was pretty frustrating, but eventually you just have to laugh about it and apologize for always being late.
In my free time I’d hang out with friends in the city or travel around alone. Morocco is such a beautiful and varied country, you can go to ocean beaches, gorgeous white-capped mountains or the desert. There are UNESCO world heritage sights and so many different landscapes to explore. Essaouira, a little beach town on the west coast and Chefchaouen, an all blue village in the Rif Mountains were some of my favorites.
The people in Morocco are fascinating because they’re so diverse. They live in huts in the desert and ride camels or in a penthouse in Marrakech and drive an Audi. It’s not uncommon to meet a Moroccan who speaks four or five languages, which will make you feel ignorant real quick. There are deeply religious Muslims and people who don’t follow it much.
I’ve known people who visited Morocco and hated it, but I was widely accepted by the Moroccans I met and made some great friends while I was there. You definitely have to be careful, with your stuff and yourself, and you’ll probably get harassed at some point but you just have to accept that it’s the culture and you can either embrace it, or not.
Everything is cheap. Accommodation, food, transportation, it’s all mind blowingly inexpensive. You can get fresh squeezed orange juice on the street for about $1, a nice, clean hostel for about $8 and a 12 hour train trip in a sleeper car for about $20. Food is fresh, locally sourced and delicious pretty much everywhere.
The streets are lined with baskets of spices, Argan oil, olives, fresh veggies, literal carts of berries and oranges, freshly slaughtered goats and cows, and basically any other type of consumable you can imagine. It’s an experience of utter sensory overload and not for the faint of heart.
I could go on forever about how much I enjoyed living in Morocco, but instead I’ll just suggest you visit and see for yourself. Don’t be afraid to adventure and get lost in the culture there, it’s an often underrated place that I hold near and dear to my heart and I think you’ll love it too.