It’s a busy train as we roll out of Rabat meandering through the Moroccan countryside towards Fes. Standing room only, I was lucky to snag one of the last seats. It’s been close to 3 months in Rabat, almost 2 in the Oudaya apartment. Another chapter comes to a close. It seems unlikely I’ll return to Morocco. It has been enjoyable in many ways, I’ve met great people here, three romantic entanglements in 3 months, it’s certainly not been dull. But ultimately the Moroccan culture doesn’t gel with me. For better or worse I prefer a place where eccentricity is more readily visible.
In two days of travelling I’ll arrive for my 30th birthday party. A handful of friends and family and a long weekend of doing next to nothing. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe the party is the reason, this departure feels different than I remember. I’m filled with a sense of joyful excitement. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that I’ll likely never have the desire to live in Morocco again. Either way, I’m looking forward to the journey, the arrival, and the weekend.
The departing train journey gives me a chance to reflect on my time here and my first experience of an Arab country. I’ll also mention that I’m listening to my entire music collection on random, so the wildly different moods may affect my writing.
Morocco has been a genuinely interesting chapter, not least because it gave me the opportunity to share living space with Yusuf. He showed me a truly different approach to life, and much of it was deeply inspiring. His limitless patience, inexhaustible kindness and permanent good nature were a deeply profound experience to witness.
As I sit here on the train writing a new neighbour has arrived and immediately offers to share his lunch with me. There is a warmth and genuine friendliness in Morocco. People are kind and generous. On the flipside, tolerant is not a word I’d use to describe my experience of Morocco. Kind and generous within the somewhat rigid confines of the social norms and religious dictates. While we sit within the norm of acceptable behaviour people are forthcoming, interested and genuinely kind. When their boundaries are touched, it seems like a wall goes up. Much like Scotland I suppose, with boundaries.
Perhaps the most troubling part of my experience here was my radical regression in relation to women. Virginity is sacred here, something to be fiercely protected. It seems like this creates a culture of conflict, both internal and interpersonal. Unmarried men seem to behave like teenagers on a constant search for pussy. Meanwhile women are caught between desire and social pressure. The whole situation is a mess of conflicts. Particularly when men want to shag bitches by night and marry virgins by morning.
That word, bitches, it came to dominate my talk of women in Morocco. I experienced the idea that women are either bitches or virgins, and men are defined by their pursuit of bitches, or the bitchifying of virgins, although the latter is certainly not desirable in every case. She might be a virgin, but she if looks like a bitch, treat her as such. This way of thinking reminded me of my late teenage years when I searched furiously for the validation of bedding women in a vain attempt to plug some hole in my sense of self worth. It took me a good month or so to remember who I really am, and remind myself that actually, I’m not interested in chasing bitches. In the early days in Rabat there seemed to be nothing to do except chase bitches or drink tea with men. Moroccan women are rarely out after 8pm, unless of course they’re bitches!
It’s almost a social class and it reminds me a lot of Thailand. A certain type of woman who doesn’t have a job, is out in bars most nights, and who is considered somehow dirty by “average” society. I found something similar in Morocco. Women who are not sex workers in the street walking sense, but who earn there living through partying and having sex. The social judgement seems to really taint their lives here more so than in Thailand. There’s usually an undercurrent of dishonourable behaviour which somehow seeps into other areas of her life. It seems like there’s a symbiotic relationship between being treated like a bitch and behaving like one.
One of the major differences between Thailand and Morocco in that regard is the law. In Morocco, it is possible to be hassled by the police for having a Moroccan woman in my house. It’s not very common as far as I can tell, but it is possible, and it definitely had me thinking a little more carefully about who invite over. That was a very strange feeling to think that by simply meeting someone and being behind closed doors, I was certainly falling foul of society, and potentially the law. Likewise, kissing in public. I’d definitely have an issue if I was making out with a Moroccan in front of a police officer. Makes for interesting times!
Of course, there is a class of Moroccan woman who lives alone, carries on an independent life, and who is more liberated in her relations to men. I was privileged to come to know two such women in a short time in Morocco. In both cases, they experienced cultural backlash from the benign to the outright violent, but nonetheless they carry on. To me, they represent the future of Morocco in many ways. They are a living example of what is possible. A beacon of light for a more liberal Morocco, a brighter, more progressive Morocco.
These exceptional women somehow manage to escape the bitch / virgin classification and carve out a new class that we might simply call women. They are few and far between, but they exist, and I find their very existence inspiring.
Otherwise, Morocco has been generally fun. It was hot and cheap. I again had that feeling of roaming around living like a king. Taking taxis on a whim, eating every meal out, sitting in cafes without regard for cost, and so on. As appealing and ego massaging as that feeling is, it’s not enough to hold me. So this chapter comes to a close and I roll on out. Another day, another town, another departure, another place left behind. Tomorrow brings a month in Scotland, a month in France, and then we’ll see…
To finish, here’s a random assortment of Moroccan photos to honour my deal with Rob.