While Mike was producing Prison Break Season 5, we got the opportunity to go to Morocco, since they needed to use the desert town of Ouarzazate for their exterior “Yemen” scenes.) This meant we’d be “living” in Morocco for almost three weeks.
While I was excited as hell about traveling to Morocco, I was worried about a few things… I googled stuff obsessively: “Women in Morocco,” “what to wear in Morocco,” “American women in Morocco,” “living in the Berbere Palace,” and on and on and on… including brushing up on my travel safety tips and freaking myself out a little bit more.
But in short: Living in Morocco is a lot more chill than I expected to be.
To be more specific…
The culture clash
The day we arrived in Marrakech, I had a panic attack. I expected to be stared at, mostly because the ends of my (uncovered) hair were purple. But I didn’t expect to be harassed so much. We were shouted at by vendors that we weren’t even interested in or looking at. Yelled at even MORE by the ones we did make eye contact with. And even followed for a few blocks by a man insisting on showing us around “for free.” Yeah, right. Luckily I had read up about those guys.
Not to mention, it’s so easy to get turned around in the hallway-like streets of the medina.
The combo of being lost, feeling confused, and getting hounded from every angle made me want to make like the turtles at our hotel and pull my head into my body and disassociate. Which I did.
For a person with anxiety issues, Morocco can be incredibly triggering.
Here’s what I wish I knew…
What to wear
I was surprised to see that a lot of tourist women in Morocco didn’t adhere at all to the cultural norms — not even a little. And I was truly jealous of their bravado, and their outfits looked amazing against all those gorgeous Moroccan backdrops — way to stunt on the ‘Grams. But I’m a rule follower, so I’m all “when in Rome, try to be as culturally sensitive as possible.”
While I didn’t cover my hair, I did cover most everything else — boobs, shoulders, and knees.
I also overpacked. I brought scarves (in case I really felt like I needed to cover my head) and long dresses and tunics and cover-ups. But what I really lived in was jeans, palazzo pants, and long sleeve cotton button down shirts. Specifically these outfits:
- Button down shirt, from Target. Which I wore almost every day.
- Wide leg pants, from Target. (Ssssh. Don’t tell anyone that mine were actually pj pants!)
- Black felt floppy hat
- Solid Basic Fold-Over Stretch Midi Skirt, from Amazon
- Basic tank top from Target
- Ecote Medallion Embellished Poncho from Urban Outfitters. (If it’s not for sale anymore, any of UO’s kimono section finds would work.)
- Steve Madden Errin Suede Lace-up Espadrilles
Speaking of shoes:
- Low-top Converse — these were great for walking around and doing tourist stuff
- Rainbow sandals — these were great for all-purpose day and night lounging (but your feet will get super-dirty if you wear them around town).
- Lightweight walking shoes — for my long walks (any shoe breathability will make your life easier)
- Platform espadrilles — for dressing up purposes. The platform helps when it’s muddy, and you’ll want close toed for dirt purposes as well.
What I wish I had packed:
- More t-shirts. I layered my cotton button downs over tank tops, but then realized that I felt bad about taking off my top layer, once I was out of the sun, because my shoulders and chest would be exposed. T-shirts would have solved that problem.
- A regular hat. Floppy hats are great, but if it got windy at all, it’d threaten to blow off my head, and it was cumbersome to shove in my purse. A normal baseball cap would have been lower profile, and hold up to breezes.
Here are more outfits that I’d recommend for women in Morocco:
Or just buy something like this and dress it up or down with shoes!
What to eat
The food in Morocco is great. Even the pickiest of eaters will be able to find something plain, like chicken and rice. But the more adventurous eaters can also try things like Pigeon Pie and stuffed cow spleen. But everyone will get so. fucking. sick. of. tagines. I mean, they’re amazing. But they’re ubiquitous.
What to speak
Turns out, you can get by entirely on English. Almost everyone I interacted with knew not just English, but French, and German — making me feel really bad about my sparse French and Spanish skills.
The barter system
Almost every shopping interaction ends with Very Aggressive Bartering. You’ll be offered mint tea, and then you’ll be told that you’re insulting them by your offer, there will be lots of yelling and flailing, and you’ll also be on the receiving end of the World’s Best “Your the Biggest Idiot” Looks. And when it’s all done — and you’ve been happily ripped off — it’s like all that drama never happened.
While I’m feeling like we just had a fight and now this person hates me, they’ve just had another successful sale. And life moves on. I mean, check out that store owner in the video — the dude is literally pouring tea for us while he’s yelling! Non-natural barterers will have a rough time buying stuff in Morocco. People who love to argue will flourish. But no one should take it personally — it’s just the way it is. (OR, you can do what I did and let other people do the bartering for you, and just sit back and drink tea.)
You’ll get used to it
After spending two weeks in Ouarzazate, Mike and I booked a couple more nights in Marrakech before leaving Morocco. It was actually the start of Ramadan, and we didn’t quite know what to expect.
After having a lovely dinner at the hotel, we decided to head out into the medina again and get dessert. OMG! What a different experience from when we first arrived… I was no longer terrified of the windy walled streets, and the men who harassed and followed you, nor of talking to vendors with food I couldn’t recognize. We walked those streets like we owned them, went directly to the snfege donut man for one of my favorite bites of Marrakech. We didn’t have change, so he gave it to us for free. (What!? That had never happened in Morocco before. Could it be the Ramadan Spirit?)
Then we continued to walk through the streets, un-afraid, and strangely un-molested (again, I think that was because of Ramadan). Then into the square where we tracked down our favorite fruit juice stand. And then wandered around for just a little more, taking it all in, without any of the anxiety that I had felt in my first few days.
We made our way back to the hotel — stopping to purchase a mini tagine without even haggling, because the price was well under what we decided to pay (Ghost of Ramadan Present, is that you?) and stopped by the donut man to give him the rest of our change.
One of my world-traveling friends told me, “Honestly, Morocco is one of those ‘you wont believe it til you see it’ places, and NO amount of chat will prepare you! It is an incredible place, a real attack on the senses, and will open your eyes to an incredibly unique culture — there is truly nowhere else like it! You’ll have a blast.” And all that was true.
I hope this post helped ease some anxiety. And if anyone else has tips for traveling to Morocco, please leave them in the comments!!!