This feature was part of a journalism assignment I wrote three years ago, but it has been rewritten.
A glimpse into Morocco from its past, present and loyal lovers.
Since its humble rise on the tourist agenda, Morocco has been the perfect getaway. Thanks to the flourishing Dirham everything is cheap, beautiful and authentic. Just over 10 million tourists visit Morocco per year, making it by far the most touristed country in Africa.
Morocco excites everyone: the seasoned travellers and the Brits seeking a sunny long weekend can find something here. Yet, the country remains at the tip of every alarmist’s tongue.
Why? Accounts of violent protesting and pickpocketing, Islamic State gossip and of course, more recently, the beheading of two beautiful Scandinavian girls in the Atlas Mountains.
Sure, it feels alarming to read that. I can almost guarantee that violent protests, beheadings and IS would conjure up a little bit of doubt in anyone’s mind.
Yet let’s remember the fact that nobody boycotts Paris. Who in their right mind would boycott Paris?
Paris, with it’s loyalty to violent protests, swarms of sly veteran thieves and a personal vendetta to Islamic State. We do not boycott Paris for the same reason we boycott Morocco.
Yet, I can understand it. Morocco is unfamiliar to most of us, but Paris? We grew up watching Paris and wearing Paris. We dreamed of Paris.
And when something is unfamiliar, it’s easy to have a misinformed opinion fuelled by a preconceived stereotype. We all know that opinions are easily shaped, but often very difficult to reshape.
Yet, there are millions of stories of peace, warmth and love coming out of Morocco. The least you can do is listen.
I spoke to three people who love the Kingdom of the Arab West: a local, an expat, and a backpacker who got stuck.
18-year-old Australian backpacker Chloe says her favourite city is Chefchaouen. Chloe originally planned to stay a week in Morocco, but fell head over heels and stayed for six weeks. She says that during her time there, she felt as though she belonged.
“I was talking to some locals about how they felt about me (being a Westerner) and everybody said I had a right to be who I was. An old man even said to me that we all have the same roots, we just come from different branches,” says Chloe.
Before she left for Morocco, she didn’t know too much about it.
“I’d heard it was a bit scary. I heard you should never go without a tour group.”
I was told the same before visiting.
She initially took the advice and went with a tour group. As it turned out, she felt so safe that she left the group five days early and sniffed out the locals, instead.
Chloe travelled the east coast of the country and made her way to a small beach city called
To her, the people were the best part of the experience: she
“The people were just so hospitable, kind, welcoming and accepting.”
Chloe says the philosophy of togetherness is also strong in Morocco. Due to the devout Muslim beliefs, there is seemingly a lack of crime and mistrust within communities.
Children as young as four run around the medinas with their friends until dusk. People leave their doors wide-open and welcome unexpected visitors. Chloe says it’s normal there.
“Everybody treats the children as if they were their own; it’s like the country is one big family.”
“I love that it is untainted by the ugly Western World. I love it.”
In Casablanca, 20 year old Monika sits on a rooftop and beams at her city. She has been an expat in the city of contrasts for two and a half years now, and has no plan to leave.
“I’ve always been a wanderer. My parents said that when I was six, I told them I would marry a Peruvian and live in India,” she says.
Monika says that she loves Casablanca, flaws and all. A lot of her friends ask her how it’s possible to love such an untamed, disorganised city, but she is smitten.
“I love Casablanca for its opportunities and the amazing people. At first sight it’s not beautiful, but if you dig deeper you’ll see its hidden beauty.”
To her, the negative stigma attached to Morocco is ridiculous. She says the hardest part of transitioning into the Moroccan culture was getting used to the ‘inshallah syndrome’, or a disorganised lifestyle.
“It’s mostly the official side that is crazy. Every person tells you a different way to do things.”
In a sea of colours and landscapes, Monika says that the most special thing about the country is the diversity.
“They’re such curious and warm people. They want to know you and spend time with you.”
Monika talks about sticking out like a sore thumb because of her pale skin and blonde hair. She says that she can’t count the number of times she has jumped the queue because the locals want to help this mysterious ‘stranger’.
“I didn’t even have to stay in queue to legalise my residency!” she says.
One of the most exciting things in Monika’s calendar is Friday Couscous night. Started by the locals, Monika joins them for a colourful feast of couscous with the brightest and freshest produce. They belly dance and sit on the floor to eat.
She says the Moroccan way of life is simple and beautiful. The day is always full of contradictions and surprises.
“To me, it’s just the most beautiful place on earth.”
To Ilias, being Moroccan is not a heritage; it’s a way of life. His roots define his life and everything he does.
Currently living in Northern France, he says that the hardest part about being away from home is missing the friendly people and the aromatic tagine.
“Life in France is good but very different. I don’t feel as welcomed here. They are not all one big family like we are at home.”
Like most of us do, Ilias left home to pursue something different. He left to experience life outside of his comfort zone.
I asked Ilias what he would say to a tourist who felt sceptical to visit Morocco. He was shocked that anyone thought twice.
“You’ve got to come check it out. We are a great country and we love visitors.”
“The people I have met here (in France) are from places like Brazil or Mexico and they feel scared to walk around alone at home. No Moroccan feels scared to walk around their own country,” he says.
Ilias says the whole country, desert and all, is like a backyard to him and his friends. He grew up eating dinner on the steps of his mother’s house, surrounded by twenty of his closest friends and family members.
He calls Marrakesh home. It is bright and edgy and exotic- like a giant, neverending carnival. He jumps at the opportunity to return home to visit.
“It’s not just my home,” he says. “It is a home for everybody.”