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Morocco -- Her Tips for Travelling Solo


Learn some Arabic...

Very little English is spoken outside some of the posher places catering to North Americans and other English speaking tourists. Rudimentary French and Arabic are languages of commerce and intellectual matters (in the banks, stores, cafes). Arabic is the state language, taught in the schools, but in the rural areas, three major Berbers dialects, depending on geographic locale, is the lingua of folk. However, a smile, a nod, and a few Arabic words go a long way in getting what you need. Here are a few words to help you along your way.

Please: "afek"
Hello: "Salam A'la Kom"
Good-bye: "Bismallah"
No: "la" and Yes: "Eeyeh"
Thanks: "shoukran"
God willing: "Insh'Allah"
Washroom: "vaysay" or good, old-fashioned, "W.C."

Dress with sense...

To avoid pestering men (in the guise of offering to help any ladies in distress), don't look like an obvious tourist. Dress conservatively, covering arms and below the knees. To blend right in, and therefore go about freely, I walk tall and dress like the local women -- fine cotton kaftan and head-wrap, kohl-eyed, wearing heaps of costume-jewelry.

Remember that many of the roads tend to be cobbled stones, and often muddy after the rain. Wear comfortable, closed shoes and not sandals. In open shoes, your feet can get wet, very dirty, or worse, stepped on by animals.

Be culturally correct...

As in all countries, do your best to respect the culture and customs. Moroccans are very proud, traditional people who expect women to act formally in public. Smile a lot with your mouth and eyes. Speak quietly, but firmly. Hand-gestures are welcome, but don't touch anyone or pick up food with the left hand. Never look into a man's eyes while speaking or initiate physical contact with him. Dark glasses and a fake (if necessary) wedding band are wonderful deterrents.

By all means, trust your gut and consider invitations to visit families, and always bring a small gift (special delicacy, something for the house or hostess). Try to verify with someone at your hotel or B&B whether they know the person who has invited you and whether this is a proper invitation you can accept. Always wash hands, as is the ritual, before sharing food with your host and hostess.

Seek out local women...

These encounters will always enrich your experiences in Morocco. Women are more free to express themselves amongst one another, and thus you can learn at close range about the culture. I found that there are three main places to find women:

Hammam (a segregated-by-gender steam bath): where women congregate to clean, beautify, exchange news and information, relax, and get ad hoc childcare advice. Neighborhood hammams are inexpensive, ritualized fun, and let you be part of a community. Ask a staff member where you're staying to take you the first time, or arrange another way. Once, in an antique store in Essouira, I asked the owner about the hammam she goes to. She not only escorted me but provided all the bathing accouterments.

Markets: especially on certain days of the week (varies in each locale), women do the food shopping. Hang out with them and watch how real bargaining is done.

At home: off with the veil, anything goes. Women are wickedly funny, sensuous, and deeply caring at home. The first time I accepted an invitation to visit a Moroccan family, it was from my waitress at the hotel. I didn't know what to expect. Inside the kasbah where her family lived, in a private courtyard, I found her sisters, mother, and grandmother laughing uproariously while they danced to Michael Jackson on a boombox. When I joined in, granny pinched my bottom and motioned to her rotating hips. Wow, I thought, so this is what goes on behind the veil!

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