Over the years travel writing about Morocco has improved. Gone are the stories rife with orientalist fantasy, or filled with warnings about being ripped off by unscrupulous vendors in the souks. However, the Irish Times recently ran a story by Michelle Walshe that has created a debate amongst both expats and locals
The headline - 'As a woman in Morocco you cover up, no matter what the guide books say' - immediately evoked a reaction on social media from readers.
Cafes are men-only domains. Shopping malls cater for Muslim not western women. The veil is not only in fashion, it is integral to the culture. As a western woman, you make adjustments. You don’t go out alone at night. In fact, you don’t go out alone at all. You cover up, no matter what the guide books say. And you speak French or you don’t manage. - Michelle WalsheShopping malls only cater for Muslim women? One response on Twitter pointed out - @IrishTimes And the shopping. How can one miss Zara, H&M, Mango, in heart of city? All next to cafes filled with men and women.
Marrakech resident Mandy Sinclair responds...Statements such as, "Cafes are men-only domains. Shopping malls cater for Muslim not western women. The veil is not only in fashion, it is integral to the culture,” are not only inaccurate but a laughable misrepresentation of the city. One doesn’t have to venture far to discover cafes lining the street with both men and women. And head on down to the central plaza (everyone knows it) on the weekend where international high street shops Zara and Mango are heaving with locals and you’ll soon find that the same clothes available in these shops are available in any other city around the world. I can speak from experience as I recently nipped in to Zara while back in Canada and during a weekend getaway to Barcelona.
|"Cafes are men-only domains"|
The comment about "covering up" also drew a response.
"It has never been suggested to me, either explicitly or in material I have read about Morocco, that I should cover my head in any manner in order to fit in" - Canadian Expat Kathi Black.Most general advice to tourists is to dress respectfully. While it is true that young women often find themselves the centre of unwanted attention, in general, Moroccan men are respectful to women. Most expats soon find they are recognised as part of the community and treated as such. Even in the Fez Medina, which is far more conservative than Marrakech, women feel safer on the streets than they would in many Western cities.
Mandy Sinclair backs that up. "What couldn’t be further from the truth is the blanket statement, “As a western woman, you make adjustments. You don’t go out alone at night. In fact, you don’t go out alone at all.” In fact, I’m waiting for my single female colleague to finish up for the day so we can meet at our favourite wine bar for after work drinks. I’ve felt safer in Morocco than I do in most European and North American cities."
Another expat, Kathi Black, agrees, "I live my life as I would in Canada. I live alone, work alone, and travel around the city and country alone. I exercise common sense safety measures of course. But I have never felt scared to leave my house alone".
Kathi also disagrees with the Irish Times story and the claim that Marrakech tries hard to be like the West. "Western countries like to call themselves “melting pots” and flaunt their “tolerant” views, but Morocco is quietly living those values and has been for centuries. Moroccans are extraordinarily proud of who they and would never try to be something else. They don’t try to be like the West, but they are in many ways, because of their French influence and in that sense they come by their Western influence and liberal thinking honestly, in an authentic way. But they also live unabashedly in their ancient roots. In Marrakech you can pass the morning in the shops of the local shopping malls, and the afternoon in cafes and restaurants as you wish, and the evening in the ancient medina among an exotic culture that in many ways hasn’t changed since the 7th century".
Kathi goes on to say, "As a guest in this country, I do my best to show graciousness toward my hosts. I attempt to communicate in French, a language I do not speak. I have learned a few essential phrases in Darija in order to show respect, but I have never had a problem not knowing the language. There are more than enough selfless locals who will give you the shirt off their back, a ride to the local agency, their translation services and split their lunch with you. It has never been suggested to me, either explicitly or in material I have read about Morocco, that I should cover my head in any manner in order to fit in.
For the record, French newspaper, Le Monde. has named Marrakech among the world’s top 20 destinations to visit in 2017. According to data from Morocco’s Tourism Observatory, more than 8.1million tourists visited Marrakech in the first nine months of 2016.
Kathi Black is the co-owner of the tour company Roaming Camels
Mandy Sinclair runs the popular blog Why Morocco? She also is the founder and managing director of Say Something Communications SARL and Tasting Marrakech food and cultural tours