As a single woman who wouldn’t think twice about going for a wander where I live I forget how lucky I am with the life that I lead in my home city. Today I decided to venture out into the city of Marrakech where me and my daughter are staying for a week. We had been warned that it’s a dangerous place especially for single women. Well I’ve had experience of bustling North African cities before having been to Tunisia several times, before the tragic events a few years back and had actually always loved venturing out into the busy medinas never feeling in danger. Having spoken to our hotel guide here I was reassured that there was little if any danger and to just keep my wits about me as even though men will look they are unlikely to touch.
So we ventured down to main road having planned our route straight through the centre of the medina to the main square where the largest Mosque stood. We were happily surprised by how welcome we were made. Dressed in our army boots (great for walking) shorts and vest tops with checked shirts for sun protection we probably didn’t look like the usual tourist here… most dressed in their flip flops and other unsuitable walking gear.
The first thing we noticed was that we were the only people walking in these parts who were tourists, but it was great to see the real city behind the tourism and not just the bits that they want you to see. We stopped in a cafe for a break, the man was a little surprised to see a small red head and her blue haired daughter, most of his clientele being men. But he welcomed us in and found us his best table and bought coffee and water leaving us to it. He seemed happy to have new customers, I was wondering if he had set up his cafe close to the hotel in the hope some of the guests would pass by, but as you can expect probably saw little of it because of the naivety of the warnings given to travellers that you just cannot go out, you must get on the tourist bus like everyone else and pay your travel agent money if you are to see the city. I’m always a little sceptical of this, the prices you pay to a travel agent to take you somewhere often being about four times the price.
We carried on through the main city walls and into the city following our GPS. The streets were winding and exiting. There were donkeys, mopeds, motorbikes, cars, trucks, wheelbarrows, mules, in fact if you can think of a mode of transport it probably existed at some point in the busy back streets of Marrakech. There were certainly a few ‘friendly’ men offering to take you on a tour but it was simply a case of being bold and saying no, they would leave without hassle as long as it was said with a smile. We walked for hours. There were various reactions, lots of welcomes. What was actually quite nice was that when a less trustworthy person approached there was always a shop keeper or passer by happy to point that out and often tell them they should be ashamed and to leave people alone. I actually found this quite refreshing and realised that actually this city is no different to home, where we have plenty of people hanging about willing to try and take money from and innocent passer by. I think that the perceived danger is often that it’s a different culture, different religion, women here wear a mixture of dress from western style to the full Hijab but everyone seems to just get on with it.
The only hassle we got all day was right in the main tourist bit from a guy holding snakes specifically set up to take money from tourists. When I gave him a coin he demanded paper. When I said no, it wasn’t him that became nasty, but his wife. We simply walked away. The police were there already… in fact the only police we had seen on patrol were in the very place that is marketed as ‘safe’ by the tour operators, and actually this was the place where we got the most hassle.
So here is my understanding of how it works in so called dangerous countries. Actually the danger is generally born of your own nievity because wherever you go in the world there will always be someone who will attempt to take advantage of people who don’t have their wits about them and there’s no one type of religion or skin colour that causes that.
Hunger causes people to do weird things, and often the bartering, the desperstion for someone to hand over money is someone trying to feed themselves if not others too. We forget how lucky we are in the UK, if we have no job then more often than not the tax payer gives us money. In other countries you are simply left begging, poor in other countries really does actually mean poor and not just having to decide between school uniform of Sky TV.
So my advice about going off the beaten track, speak to a local in your hotel for advice about how safe it really is. Ask for routes, places and how it is best to get there. You will see the bits of the country that your tour operators will not show you and you will experience additional bits to your holiday that money can’t buy.