Earlier this week on Pairs Well With… I shared my day three through five experiences in Marrakech, most of which were quite enjoyable. It was the first couple days that hit the hardest. Maybe it was the intense culture shock, extreme heat, or maybe I was all in my head. Regardless, things did not jive. In this final installment, you’ll hear exactly what shook me up and almost sent me running back to Europe.
Day 2: Control the Things You Can
When I woke up after my first night in Marrakech, I felt better than I did when I went to sleep. I calmed down and decided that whatever I needed to do to make this trip work I would do it. I’m not a quitter. After hearing about my rough first night, my friend reached out with this friendly reminder: “We don’t control the events in life, and we don’t have direct control over the outcomes. The only thing we do have total control over is how we choose to respond.” Right. So, I decided to brave the “mean streets” of Marrakech once again by venturing outside of the Medina for a walk. The next part will probably shock you as much as it did me.
Not too far outside the Medina walls was a garden surrounding the nearby mosque. I figured it was a nice place to stroll, sit and enjoy the peacefulness. For the first time in nearly 24 hours, it was quiet. As I walked through the pathways, stopping to take pictures occasionally, I noticed this guy who looked, for lack of better words, suspect. I had an odd feeling about him, something about the way he looked at me. Then again, maybe I was still sensitive to the attention I attracted the day prior and was overreacting. So, I let it go.
Ten minutes later, I’m strategically placed at just the right angle to snap a photo I wanted. I tuck my phone back in the waistline of my pants, stand up and start to turn around when Super Sketch is behind me. He unzips the fly of his pants and makes a grab for “it.” Simultaneously, something to the tune of “blaughghehhhh” comes out of my mouth, and I can only imagine what my face looked like. I felt it contort in a way it never had with a severe look of disgust. (Put that sh*t away, man! Wrong kind of party.)
Okay, well, I applaud myself for giving things a second chance, but life was better back in my riad. I can’t control other people, but I can certainly protect myself – and my eyes. So, back home I went for the rest of the day.
Day 1: What Goes Down Must Come Back Up
The highlight of my first day in Marrakech was beef tagine. I know what you’re thinking: “If the highlight of her day was beef tagine, it must have been really bad.” Well, yeah… It was the only good that came of my day. Upon touching down and getting my luggage, I was greeted by a driver who held my name on a sign.
I was ready for this adventure. Good spirit. Good attitude. A good few days awaiting me.
We get to the entrance of the Medina and I’m told cars are not allowed in, and I am instructed to get out of the car. There is an eighty-year-old gentleman who has shown up with a wheelbarrow to help me with my luggage. Apparently, this is part of the car service and Grandpa here to assist. At this point, I have two problems with what is happening: 1) I’m not sure whether or not this is a setup. If Grandpa had shown up with something…say…a donkey, maybe I’d buy it. At this point I’m high on my guard and am convinced I’m about to get robbed 2) Grandpa looks like he’s going to crack in half. I am a highly capable and strong woman and, despite the 110-degree temperature, could wheel my luggage around – if…I needed to. (Note: needed to, not wanted to.)
At this point, I’m getting all the stares. Nothing screams tourist like rolling three bags deep. I’m praying that I don’t get robbed solely because my surroundings are intense and haven’t sniffed out the full scene yet. Bumbling my way through the center circus with a less than functioning SIM card, I attempt to navigate my way to my riad. I should have shut my eyes and walked blindly because it would have been the same thing. A fully pitted out shirt and three stops for directions later, I made it to my riad. What should have been an 8-minute walk was a 45-minute shitshow.
Once I arrived at Riad Hamdane, I was greeted with maps, cookies and a beverage buffet – and, no, not the alcoholic kind. (Did I mention alcohol is hard to come by in Marrakech, if at all? The entire five days, I was forced to console myself through my writing. Not wine, writing.) My room, prior to my upgrade, was lovely, a nice hideaway when I would need it. Little did I know my riad and my room would become my safe havens on this trip.
As I ventured out in hopes of finding a gratifying first Moroccan meal, it dawned on me that what I experienced was so far from what I had imagined. I felt violated by the way men looked at me and offended by the names I was called because I wouldn’t engage in conversation with street hustlers. Frustrated by missing the magic others said they’d found in Marrakech, I started giving up, something I rarely do. Ever.
Enter: Beef Tagine.
No longer able to suppress my hunger, or anger with the day, I stopped for a meal to regroup. I found this restaurant a relatively short walk away and saw tagine on the menu. Game on, done deal. Luckily, it was everything I’d hoped it would be, and it took my mind off the day’s chaos for a while. Stuffed and satisfied, I started my walk home. How hard could it be, right? Nope, wrong. Dead wrong.
Marrakech is a city of endless mazes, nooks, crannies and winding pathways. After many minutes of walking towards what was actually not my riad, I found myself in a dark, unlit cement maze. Think back-alley NYC on the wrong side of town. The sun had fully set since I left the restaurant. I was more panicked in this moment of travel than I ever have been. I had a guy shouting after me that he was the only one who could help me get out and that I should speak with him about directions. Walking fast away from him, I saw two older gentlemen sitting outside a garment shop and I approached with tears and prayed they understood English when I told them I was lost. He told me to give him one minute while he closed his shop and he’d walk me. He also told me he’d make sure I got home okay.
The amount of gratitude I felt in that moment was overwhelming. What would I have done had I not come across these two? It’s highly likely that someone else would’ve taken pity on me or that, eventually, I would have found my way. The moment I reached the riad, I ran straight up to my room and needed to catch my breath as I realized things could have turned out so much worse – but I couldn’t stay. I would book a ticket home in the morning.
But I didn’t book that ticket home in the morning. As you read, I ended up staying, and I’m glad that I did because I got more out of this trip than it took from me. Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow. Like I said at the beginning, where we end up is not the same place we started from. Never is, never should be or you’re not going anywhere. But it is a journey, and it’s on you to make it one.
Pairs Well With… “Africa” by Toto
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