Reading the blogs of people who have spent time in Marrakech is fascinating, and I would have been lost had I not done my research before visiting the city, but something that I have noticed is that a lot of the writing out there doesn’t really get to the point. People wax lyrical about having to bargain in the souks, and about how aggressive the henna ladies can be, but it all reads in a light-hearted, ‘Oh, isn’t Morocco so funny?’ tone, whilst failing to acknowledge the bigger picture, which isn’t so pretty.
Sure, Marrakech is a buzzing hub for tourists and it makes a great holiday destination, but the insistence of the street vendors isn’t just a quirky cultural commodity put in place to make Marrakech seem crazy and eccentric and fun: it is an unfortunate necessity. It is impossible to spend any length of time in the Medina without smelling the desperation in the air. Everybody, and I mean everybody in Marrakech is hustling to make a living, and nobody is really your friend.
On my first night, I admit, I was swept up in the sights, smells and sounds of the Jemaa el-Fna. I was captivated by the hypnotising tunes played by the snake charmers, the billowing gowns of the henna ladies, the calls from the vendors selling fresh orange juice and the cute puppy-eyes of the kids selling tissues and light-up plastic toys. Marrakech seduced me with its charm, much like it had seduced so many before me, and I was enchanted by it.
However, by day two, the reality of the Medina was becoming clear: nobody is happy. Nothing is genuine. The woman promising a gift of free henna because she ‘likes you’ will turn nasty if you truly don’t have any money, the men asking you to pose for photographs with their monkeys think nothing of leaving the poor animals in the blistering heat all day with no water or beating them, and the comatose snakes that are supposedly entranced by their charmers are much more likely to be high on opiates than music (never have I seen animal cruelty quite like in Marrakech).
The first time you walk by the homeless woman and see her son, a tiny, docile boy with no eyes, you feel sorry for her and give her all of your change. However, the next time you see her, dragging him around and slapping him if he can’t walk quickly enough, you realise that the Madonna act is all a lie and the poor boy is nothing but her next meal ticket, a child probably not even her own and perhaps even disabled by her own hand.
The funny guy that jokes with you every day suddenly becomes a lot more unfriendly when you don’t want to eat in his restaurant, and the guy that one day proclaims his love for you, will be offering you 70p for sex and hurling abuse at you the next.
The gang that hang out outside your accommodation and say hello to you every morning will have no issue with pickpocketing your friend just moments after laughing with him. The friendly man that hands you a leaflet for a bar or massage parlour will swear at you if you don’t want a massage RIGHT NOW, and the butter-wouldn’t-melt street kids’ mouths will quickly turn foul if you don’t want to buy a packet of old tissues.
Talking of street kids, they are victims of human trafficking, forced to beg on the streets or beaten. These kids don’t go to school or home to loving families. They are modern day slaves who will likely be exploited for the rest of their lives.
No matter how modestly you dress, being a white woman in Marrakech will never see you treated with any kind of respect. Western women are looked down upon (a theme we often see in Islamic countries, such as with the ‘Dubai Porta Potty’ phenomenon in the UAE).
Growing up in a world where the only women they see are either in full traditional dress with everything covered except their eyes, verses the vast array of free online pornography that teaches them about sex, white women are seen as ripe for the picking, and nothing that you can do or say will change that.
With all that being said, there is still a lot that we can learn from Marrakech.
First, the importance of letting children be children. Of course, the city clearly has a problem with forced begging but the youngsters found in the schools, daycare centres and orphanages (I was part of a volunteer project when I visited Marrakech) are some of the most intelligent, accepting and appreciative people that you will ever meet.
12 and 13 year olds are content with colouring in and playing catch – a far cry from the spoilt brats that we see in the UK! They also have respect for their peers as well as their elders, and it is rare to see a child misbehaving or being rude to a teacher.
Faith is also a prevalent theme in Marrakech, and while Islamic nations often have a way to go when it comes to human rights, it is quite beautiful to see people leaving work to pray in the middle of the day, observing Ramadan even in the scorching summer heat, and to see disadvantaged children growing up with the absolute belief that God is glorious and will provide.
It is also wonderful to experience a culture where pleasure is not derived solely from alcohol and where most teens are still innocent when it comes to sex and drugs. Happiness is derived from reading and singing and drinking mint tea in the sun. From working hard and spending time with family and loved ones. It is having faith. This, I feel, is one of the greatest lessons that we can learn from the people of Marrakech.
Marrakech is a magical city and one that I can’t wait to revisit and rediscover all over again, but it isn’t without it’s problems, and I’d be lying if I said they weren’t apparent.
Have you been to Marrakech? Do you agree with my observations or do you think i am being too harsh? let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this article and would like to support my work, please click the button above to donate a couple of bucks and buy me a coffee. The ad revenue that I receive on this website is minimal, so support from my readers enables me to keep creating content that you (hopefully!) love to read.
Deb at The Front Door Project says
What a beautiful post – realistic and thoughtful. You have a new follower!
Refreshingly honest – isn’t this what people really want to know before visiting somewhere so close and yet so far?
I have been to Marrakech twice now and haven’t experienced any of the things you’ve mentioned . I have never been treated like a prostitute on the street , or offered money for sex . I have never been abused on the streets or sworn at by children . Quite the opposite actually, us people generally see what we choose to see . I think when you go to a different country you have to first show respect to be respected . You have no idea what life is like for them here and their struggles . Off course people aren’t going to be your friends , they are strangers . They are just as afraid of you as you are of them . Just like how you can’t trust strangers in the Uk and you can’t expect everyone to be God’s gift on Earth, you can’t expect that here . Off course the hustle is real and people will try and rip you off , it’s a different culture . You clearly don’t care too much about them , they don’t care about you in return . Open your heart to understanding others and they will open their heart to you . It’s easy for us to hate on the Henna women for ripping tourists off considering we come from a country where we are blessed to have all the necessities. Others aren’t so lucky here in Marrakech and life has forced them to figure out their own way of making a living . You are obviously going to be seen as a pack of money as a tourist by some people that are struggling to make it by day by day , if you were in that situation you would do the same . You can’t judge the way a person earns their bread when you have a lush job that pays well. I have found happier people in Marrakech than in England by far , if you let yourself embrace their real culture and know how to avoid the tourist traps you can find such honest people . The children that you talk about were so happy to have seen me buy an ice cream for them , it made me cry and think about them for days . There is no need to add to the bad publicity that is already out there for Marrakech. For anyone else that is interested in getting an insight to the poor street children’s lives , read this article https://en.qantara.de/content/street-children-in-marrakech-the-oasis-of-sesame-garden you will get a better grasp of their everyday struggles . I stand by the motto , if you have nothing good to say it’s better not to say it at all. Peace
Travelling Jezebel says
Is it not cold up there on your high horse? I don’t care about the people of Marrakech? Lol I was there for a month working with street kids, orphans and homeless people. We opened a food shelter for homeless people during Ramadan and helped teach former street kids English. Every night we made food parcels and walked around giving them to those in need. I got so close with one of the homeless ladies that I got her name tattooed on me. What’s more, as you would have seen if you did a little bit of research, much of this blog focuses on human rights, probably more than any other travel blogger. I have the #1 ranking article on Google for slavery in Dubai and write frequently about human trafficking and modern slavery (as well as FGM, honour killings etc.), which raises awareness and actually helps the situation. So maybe you should stop virtue signalling and bother to find out a bit about who I am before attacking me, just a thought 🙂
Oh, and by the way, those kids are trafficked and you shouldn’t even be giving them food. You think it helps, but it doesn’t. The best way to help is working with a legitimate organisation that tries to tackle this problem (or supporting an organisation like this financially).
Wow! Very interesting article and blog. I spent four months of Morocco and in total two weeks in Marrakech. My experience was not so bad as yours, I met very nice people in Morocco and Marrakech but also some rude people. In Jena El Fnaa square I got a couple of bad experiences, one it was some guys putting a monkey on my shoulder, taking my camera to take a picture of me and then asking me 300 dollars for the picture. It was easy to do as I had an injury in my arm at that moment. I started crying and told me no way I was going to pay 300 dollars for a photo I did not even ask them to take and a guy who was working on one of the terraces next door approached me and told them to leave me alone. He them invited me to a nice coffee and told me to relax and ask me to please consider that there were some very bad people in Morocco but they were not all them same. It was also in Jena Fnaa square that someone offered me to clean my boots for 20 dirham and I agreed and once the job was finished I was told it was 20 dollars, which I refused to pay and again other local person who saw the situation helped me and excused himself for that kind of behavior.
About all the other things you are mentioning I think there is some of it but it is not so black and white. I met really nice people in Marrakech, I never saw anyone putting a bad face to me because I did not eat at their place. And I got invited to a meal and drink in cafes a couple of times by the owners just as a courtesy.
And I never got that sexual trade experience you are mentioning in my whole 4 months stay in Morocco.
A lot of girls in Marrakech dress Western and I spent a lot of time in Zagora which is one of the most conservative parts of Morocco and as it was 45 degrees when I was there I would wear shorts and sleeveless T shirts and nobody bothered me. The local tourist guides told me it was OK to dress up fresh as I am a tourist. Many tourists were dressing up like that with no problem.
I met a lot of Morrocan people telling, ” we are not all the same”, please give us a chance. I think your article is really good but it is missing a part of the whole picture.
I felt really safe when I traveled Marrakech in general and I got really nice people helping sometimes, even for free. But my attitude was really hard always telling people before hand. I am not going to pay you money for this.
But still thanks for sharing your experiences. I find it very interesting to read about problems that I might have missed with my experience.