So we’ve left Morocco.
I couldn’t handle it. That’s the straight-up truth. I went through a lot of external, emotional stuff wholly aside from the Moroccan experience, something I’ll detail in another post about long-distance relationships. Certainly having my heart get kicked square in the junk doesn’t help your experience in a particular place, but Morocco was different entirely. And that’s good and bad.
You see, in 2012 I left Canada for a lot of reasons. The main, on-paper, company line is that I left because I wanted to find out what my limits were and what I could do as a person with a disability. And that’s mostly true. Well, it’s definitely true. But the other half of that truth was that I was getting back into my head. I had just gone through – shock and awe – a divorce, and I couldn’t even stand to be in the same country as Her. Why I’m even bothering to bring this up is part and parcel with the other reasons I left in the first place: I was sick of being so dependant on other people, and I had to regain my independence. I had to figure out what it was to be my own person and explore my limits.
In 2012 I never found those limits. My travels liberated me and proved to me that I could be a person with a disability and still have independence. I went, for all intents and purposes, alone, through thirteen countries. I went from being a shy, meek person, afraid of the world around them, to a confident, somewhat cocky adult, looking at adversity with a wry smirk.
Morocco didn’t so much as wipe that smirk off my face, it cross-checked me so hard that it was ejected from the game.
It hit me first with the sound. The street traffic, the screaming children, the dissonant music, the calls to prayer. The cars, the hawkers and pitchmen, the constant din. Next, the other senses get overwhelmed. The smell of gas and diesel, the consistently-lingering smell of rotting fruit and veg from the previous day’s market. The dusty, earthy smell of dirty streets, body odour, and, in parts, urine.
And I’m only talking about Tangier, so far.
Our first hour involved us being harassed right off the ferry from Tangier. I guess it’s a bit unfair to call it harassment, but you’re flooded with calls for “you need taxi? You want tour?” I get it, you’re trying to make a buck, or a dirham, as it were. But the scams start straight away.
The most common one hassle is the first one we really encountered. A man saw us with our packs (no doubt lining up his slithering out of his house with the ferry arrival times). He looked like a Moroccan Anthony Bourdain with half of the charm and twice the aggression. He ran up to us asking what hotel we were looking for. Our first mistake was telling him. He diverted us from our route, taking us the most circuitous route through the medina. Now, if you haven’t been in a medina, basically what it means is a confusing labyrinth of haphazardly laid-out streets described in guidebooks as “charming old towns.” Let me tell you, Tangier’s is entirely charmless.
Anyway, this guy couldn’t be shiftier if you spelled his name in all capitals. He half “guided,” half tailed us through the medina. Our first red flag should have been when people approached us on the street with him, clearly his friends, saying “he is a good man! He will show you around.” Yeah, right. After a 20 minute walk (one that should have lasted five), Shifty Bourdain got us to our hostel. Now, to get in to the hostel, you have to hit a buzzer. Mr. Shifts proceeds to cover the buzzer with his hand, and not-so-subtly requests a tip. I figure, “fine, if it’ll get him to go away.” I didn’t trust him from the start, but we were too far in. I gave him a one Euro coin and he didn’t like it. I told him it’s all I have. He said he’d wait so he can show us around. We told him that wasn’t necessary, and we didn’t need a guide.
We eventually got into the hostel and checked in. Explored the place. Had a nap. Probably crashed down for about two hours. Tyler and I got up, and figured, “alright, let’s check out Tangier.”
Son of a bitch. Shady McSketchbag is sitting on the god damned porch. He rises and says “alright, let’s go! I will show you around.” We stood there. “We don’t need a guide, thanks anyway.” He insisted we did. We insisted the opposite, and started walking. He kept commenting that we shouldn’t be so suspicious. Sorry bud, but the more you tell me not to be suspicious, I’m going to turn my trust meter way up to at least a nine.
We kept telling him to leave us alone, politely. He said “I will just show you my family’s restaurant.” Again, stupidly, we figured this would get us off the hook. To be fair, it was on the way to the main square where we needed to go. We thanked him, when we reached the restaurant, and told him this was the place we part ways. If we got hungry later, we said, we’d return. Like hell we would.
Nope, not good enough. We said we’re heading out and started walking. He kept following us. He started saying he wanted to be paid for his service. We said he hadn’t provided any services, and started walking again. He’d still had his little friends popping out of shops, telling us “he’s a good man! He will not show you bad things!” See, I think he walked us through these streets this way to show to all these people the suckers he had on his leash, so they knew who to take in, or watch out for if we pulled anything with him. Many spies have many eyes, so goes the saying.
Well, we pulled something. He got ahead of us at one point and was trying to lead us down another busy alley. I halted, grabbed Tyler, we did a 90 degree hook right and took off down a different street.
Bastard chased us.
Caught up with us in an open public street. Now his honey-dripping voice was changing. He was growling that we owed him money. Demanded we go to the bank and give him cash. We told him there’s no way that was happening. He pointed out three banks. We said “yeah, those are banks. That’s cool.” We were never aggressive or fighty with him. We kept it polite. We’re Canadian, remember.
“You pay me. Right now.”
“You pay me.”
“You didn’t do anything. You followed us.”
“I’ll fuck you up.”
This was new.
“You’re threatening us?”
“I’ll fuck you up. You pay me.”
We just stared him down until he, as best as we can discern. hissed. He cursed at us some more, hissed again, told us we’d better watch ourselves because his friends have seen us. He hissed again, and left.
We stood there, flabbergasted. I loathe that word, but god damn it, that’s what we were. We felt…I guess exposed. Not really endangered, but immediately everyone in our eyes wanted to put a shiv into our sides. We walked off in the opposite direction as he did and zig-zagged. We found a bank machine, got out some cash, and found a park to collect ourselves. We loosely navigated the loud and dirty streets, weaved in and out of traffic, both human and vehicular. We were nervous. Furious. Mad. Anxious. And, go figure, suspicious.
One guy started following me and called out “hey! Sir! I want to talk to you!” I ignored him. “I am a good man!” Yeah, right. “I am a priest!” Uh huh. “You’re…you’re boring!”
Okay, that one may be true.
We found a restaurant. It was terrible. Ordered chicken tagine, a Coke, and a tea for Tyler. They also brought bread, salad, fries, and rice. We didn’t touch these things, but go figure, we paid for them.
I was so on edge that I was getting vertigo. A cat brushed against me and I almost kicked it to Mali. We walked a different route back, lost and baffled because of the sketchy bastard’s intentionally perplexing routes.
Here’s this guy, possibly some sort of low-level crime boss, and he knows what we look like. So do all his cronies. And we’ve pissed him off. He lives in a goddamned maze, like a greasy Minotaur in his labyrinth of colourful trinkets and garbage. And where’s our hostel? Right at the god damned centre.
We got back, regrouped, and met a lot of good people. We weren’t scared, but so off-put by the experience that all we wanted to do was get the hell out of Tangier. Maybe even Morocco.
We eventually went out again, as a group. We had two well-travelled Americans and a delightfully bubbly and positive Japanese girl, We wandered, still on edge, but started to relax. We found a kebab shop, which was like finding a save point after a long grind in an RPG.
That was the first day.
For me, Morocco was a huge test. Tyler will make a different post and have his say in a video on the channel, but here’s how it is for me.
The intensity of the markets. Everyone shouts, cars sail past, horns blaring. Music is cranked out of the stalls. People approach you and want you to come into their shops.
Combine that with the contrast of harsh light and dark stores. Dust kicked up everywhere. Colourful clothing and flowing, drab djellabas. People everywhere. On the sidewalks. On the streets. On loud scooters that have apparently been the horrible love child of a shopping cart and a broken vespa.
I sound like I’m complaining. And I am. This was the hardest test for me and, I hate to say it, I failed.
I found what I was looking for, what I didn’t find in 2012. I found somewhere I can’t go alone. I felt disabled, and truly so, for the first time in a very long time. The city wrenched away my independence, kicked my pride, and punched my ego square in the mouth.
I’m very lucky and grateful to be travelling with Tyler at this point. Because he understands my disability as much as someone likely can. He respects it, and my abilities, and doesn’t coddle me, nor has he once suggested that something may be too difficult for me. He respects that if I’m not comfortable with something, I won’t do it, but won’t outwardly say I shouldn’t try.
For him I was trying to force myself to keep going. Go further south. To the desert. But a few days ago in Chefchaouen we had a few quiet moments at a juice shop and he flat-out asked if I wanted to be there. It killed me to admit that I didn’t. It was too hard. Too intense. I was always at a nine out of ten for stress. Being out in the medinas and markets it was physically tiring to be so mentally aware of the sounds, smells, and bodies around me. To navigate the streets and stairs, the broken sidewalks, and the tiny, awkward shops.
It broke my heart to admit that I couldn’t do it. My second heartbreak in a week. Even in Chefchaouen, a beautiful and calm city in the mountains, I couldn’t feasibly be myself.
So, we left.
Now, please don’t think I hate Morocco. In fact, I quite like it for a lot of reasons. I respect it to no end, because it bested me. It’s a country of paradoxes, which is something all the guidebooks say about all the countries, I know. But it’s beautiful, but dirty. It’s loud, with moments of bizarre tranquility. It’s an absolute fiasco of organized chaos. But my god, when you meet the genuine people, people like our incredibly kind Couchsurfing host Ahmed, and his friends, you see a whole different side. He showed us sides of the culture we didn’t expect. We learned about the growing and improving infrastructure. The attempts to modernize and adapt farming processes. The push to attract tourism and show themselves as a leader in tourism. We did have fun when we were experiencing the daily life, with locals. And I wouldn’t trade our time Ahmed and his friends for the world. It was a perfect counterpoint to the rest of our time there.
But, when we left Ahmed, the stress on my mind came flooding back. As I said, I was going through a rough time personally, as well, which definitely didn’t help. But I want to emphasize that I don’t hate Morocco, and I entirely suggest people visit and make their own judgments. If you’re easily stressed or have a disability, though, maybe take a tour.
So, we’re in Spain again, and I’m calm. I’m still processing how to handle that blow to my ego. I’ve always been cocky and headstrong and always have a sticktoitiveness that is borderline irritating. I guess you can say I’m tenacious, or worse, stubborn. Coming to terms with your limits and figuring out how to accept, and later overcome them…that’s not easy. But hey, shoutout to ham-fisted attempts at personal growth.
What I will say for myself is that I tried. God damn it did I try. There were other factors that went into my stress level being so high but I think I managed to keep those feelings separate from my experience with Morocco. It was simply too intense. But holy hell, I tried to make it work. And that’s a damned lot more than some people out there can say.
It’s easy to just not try. Just sit aside and watch things fall down around you. Just say, “this is too hard, I can’t,” before giving yourself an opportunity to try. It’s easy to run off to find a comfortable place to be. Just cut and run, tail between your legs, cowardice hidden under a self-proclaimed veil of “I know what I’m doing and I’ve been through this before.”
One thing I’ve always believed, 100%, is that nothing is worth doing if it isn’t a little bit scary. If you run off without trying, if you take the easy route every time, you’ll never grow or mature as a person. Life gets hard. Life gets scary. To make it less difficult you have to kick adversity in the bag and pull its jersey over its head. Just go to town.
At the end of the day, I’m coming away with my pride. Bruised, yeah, but it’s in tact. And bruises fade, we learn, and we move on. But that’s only if you’re willing to be bruised and take your lumps.
The rule applies to a lot of things.
Take care, everyone.