Fragile Beginnings (Marrakech, Morocco)


I chose to start my Morocco jaunt in the middle of it all - Marrakech.

Unfortunately, I came down with a cold the day before my flight. My first cold in two years - typical, right? When I touched down in Marrakesh, I could not make my ears 'unpop', and was effectively deaf!

I collected my baggage, cleared customs and had my first Moroccan haggling experience: getting a taxi into the city centre. It was midnight and it was pouring with rain. After arguing with a taxi driver, soaking wet, exhausting my naff high-school French and my 'posh' Arabic, I gave up and just settled for being ripped off. I paid 250 Dirhams for that taxi ride - a major rip-off (but still about £17, probably the same as an airport taxi in the UK I guess).

I was dropped off at Djema El-Fnaa, the main square. Normally at midnight the square would be alive - that's what I imagined - but the rain made everybody clear off. It was empty and wet, and caf├ęs were dragging tables and chairs indoors. Not a great welcome to Marrakech.

I had sketchy directions from my AirBnB host. I spent half an hour wandering side-streets and alleys in the rain, with sketchy locals trying to get my attention and throwing me off-course. They tried everything: selling me hashish, offering me hotels, offering to change my money. Usually a chirpy 'non, merci' was enough, but some of them turned nasty and shouted abuse along the alley as I walked away, such as 'fuck off home American!' and 'we don't want Germans here.'

Heh. I'm British, darling.

I backtracked through my directions and was getting nowhere. Every time I stopped to get my bearing, another stranger approached me. I had to be constantly moving. I could feel myself starting to panic. As much as I intended to appear cool and collected about the situation, it must have been obvious that I was struggling. A teenage guy got wind of this and insisted showing me where I was staying. Young kids are incredibly eager to give you directions - usually because there's a few dirhams in it for them at the end. I don't blame them really.

Five minutes later I was at my AirBnB. I was given a very warm welcome, a huge bottle of water and was shown to my room. My bags were thrown down, I peeled my wet clothes off and I was out for the count.

The next day I woke up in a hot, dark room. 

I could hear exotic birds and people talking outside. I listened for a minute, then it hit me:


'I'm in a foreign country. Alone.'

Even though I had been planning this trip for weeks, and was actively mindful of what I was getting myself into throughout the whole process, it somehow totally winded me. Straight away my mind was rinsed with crazy doubts:

'Maybe it's been too long since I've been abroad.'

'I should have done a smaller trip first to prepare myself.'

'Maybe I just cannot do this anymore.'

That last one in particular was the most echoing. I somehow felt like I had made a huge mistake.

If I had thought to collect the Wi-Fi password when I arrived, I would have been searching for flights home then and there.

I was so disappointed with myself for feeling like this. I thought I felt so ready for it. Where did this all of this doubt come from? Even though I had travelled solo before, I felt incredibly out of my depth here.

It took a few hours to build up the courage to leave my room. My window shutter was locked - I couldn't see onto the courtyard - I had no idea what I was going to be stepping into. I could hear voices: American accents, people speaking in French. Maybe I would have been coaxed out if I could see some faces - do they look friendly? If I go outside, should I introduce myself? Or would that be weird? Should I introduce myself in English? Or will I seem like one of those snotty English tourists who expects everybody to speak English? Should I just smile and say nothing - play it cool? Or would that look arrogant? Oh crap.

The later it got, the more I didn't want to leave. I grew so angry with myself, that I decided to punish this anxiety. No thinking, no psyching up, I threw myself out of my room.

It was beautiful. It was also quiet. There was one man sitting in the courtyard, by the pool, smoking a pipe. He looked like he was in his 60's. I introduced myself. He was American, with a strong Texas/Southern accent. I spent the next hour talking to him. We jumped straight into the deep stuff, talking about our backgrounds, about unrest in the Middle East and corruption in Mexico. He lived in Ecuador, and told me stories about how he travelled the world with the freighting industry.

Meanwhile, my AirBnB host brought out a pot of mint tea - effectively the Moroccan national drink - fresh mint, steeped in hot water and served in a silver teapot with LOTS of sugar. Instantly I felt relaxed and at home. Incredible.

In the space of a single hour, my attitude to this situation was completely different. I explored the complex (a 'riad' as they're apparently called in Morocco), made up of a courtyard with 4 or 5 rooms opening onto it. Suddenly I was very happy here. People were nice. I didn't feel awkward. I felt welcome.

Time after time, when you jump into a situation without much thinking time, it's never as you expect it to be. By jumping into a new situation, you force yourself to just deal with it completely in the present moment. You don't have time for nerves, or fine-tuning what to say or do, because you're too busy kicking ass.

I consider myself a shy person. I'm outgoing, but usually anxious at first. If I have time to anticipate something, I have time to imagine an abundance of ways in which I can fuck it up. I reckon if you don't allow yourself the time to 'think', you'll go out there and deal with a situation in your truest form - genuinely and honestly. You don't have time to make a mask, or decide which version of yourself you're going to be. 

Throwing yourself into a new situation is always a big step; the key is never think of it as anything more than that. Don't give it the time, don't give those little, anxious voices the time either. Identify the situation and just throw yourself in. Recklessly. 

There's probably already a fancy term for this approach, but let's just call it the 'waxing-strip approach'!

I guess that's my first piece of advice when it comes to doing anything by yourself. Jump in and handle it, and you will handle it true to the person you are.

So there I was, sitting in the sunshine, drinking tea and talking to a new, interesting person. This was a good base to proceed with my next step: getting out and exploring Marrakech!

Anthony :)



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