Tangier, Morocco: my first day in Africa / by Jessica Lee

I’m in Tangier, Morocco, currently. It’s the first time I’m visiting Africa and I’m doing it by myself.

It’s overwhelming, really. This morning, I took a ship from Algeciras, Spain, which is a port town about three hours away from Malaga.

Before coming here, I had heard stories. There were stories from my girlfriends who were already travelling Morocco. They said that they wouldn’t travel there alone as a female. They had been groped. Then I met an older Swedish woman in Barcelona who specifically warned me about Moroccan men. She said the men were aggressive. That made me antsy before coming here. But with reason…

I feel like a walking target just being in this city. The men look at you differently here. When I was in Indonesia, as a solo female traveler, I was looked at by everyone as a curiousity- something they hadn’t seen before. In Toronto, there’s rarely any eye contact on the streets. In the rest of Europe, it varies. Here in Tangier, it’s almost as if they want to eat you alive.

I recognize that I’m vulnerable as a lone female traveler. I haven’t seen any women travelling here by themselves, like I saw throughout Europe.

I’ve been preyed on already by a “guide” today while I was getting off the bus coming into town. These guides are people who are all friendly when they recognize that you’re not from here. They will walk you to the bus station or take you to a hotel. In North America, we recognize that as kindness, as a gift from strangers. Here, they expect tips and payment and it’s quite harsh.

My guide, a middle-aged man named Mohammad, took me to the bus station personally, which I should have recognized and refused. I thought it was just kindness and because he felt bad that I was by myself. I was actually feeling overwhelmed by all the people on the street of Tangier, and decided to go with him because being with him would be safer than walking around alone, looking for a hostel. I should explain at this point that I never meant to be in Tangiers for the night. I was planning to be on a bus to Chefchaouen, where I had my hostel researched and planned out. But because I got on a late ship to Morocco, I missed the last bus to Chefchaouen, according to Mohammad.

So I was stuck in Tangier, at least for the night. Mohammad took me to a really gross hostel which had tiny holes in their sheets from bed bugs (you learn from experience what to look for). Both hostels he took me to were gross, but what really infuriated me was that I knew he was getting a fee from taking me there. The wall on one of the hostels said it was 80 dirham per person for a night, which equals to roughly over $10, which isn’t bad. Mohammad told me it would be 140 dirham, which would be less than $20, which still isn’t bad, compared to European hostel standards. No one else was staying there for the night, so I would have the room to myself, which is a pretty good deal, except for the fact that the room wasn’t very clean. And there was no wifi. I would have said yes to the second room, except I didn’t want him to win. I didn’t want Mohammad to think it would be okay to scam travelers. I wanted to make it known to him that he should find a new profession because it just wasn’t going to be that easy with me. So I said I would think about it, while trying to shake him off.

I said I was going to get food. He insisted on taking me to this place which had really good chicken. I was curious, so off we went. The chicken was good. But at the end, the meal came out to 105 dirham, which didn’t seem right, when I saw other places advertising things for 25 dirham. You win some, you lose some right? He was probably pocketing the difference, but by that point, I was too tired to argue. I had been travelling the whole day- bus to ship, then onto another bus.

Mohammad asked again which hostel I was going to stay at. I said I was going to decide later. I thanked him, and said I would look for a hostel myself. He said, “Can I have my fee for bringing you to the bus station and to the two hostels?”

I was caught off guard because he was getting commission to bring me around to the different places already. I didn’t want to pay him because he basically preyed on me by not telling me upfront he expected payment, which is dishonest and deceiving. I said, “The places you brought me to weren’t very good. I want to thank you for showing me around by paying for your meal.” He said he paid for his meal already, which I’m pretty sure was a lie because food in Morocco wouldn’t equal to 105 dirham for one person. So I gave him 15 dirham to get him to leave me alone. 15 dirham isn’t a lot, it’s a little over $2. But I didn’t think he deserved this money anyway for dishonestly forcing his services on me.

He saw that I had euros in my pocket and asked me for those, and I said that I needed them when I went back to Europe. He said he had children to take care of, and all those things you say to people when you want their money. I said, no, take the 15 dirham or leave it.

He saw that I was getting out of my chair and about to leave. He realized I wasn't going to give him more money. He then said “I wish you bad luck.”

It was a terrible first experience of Morocco. It showed how quickly people changed when money is brought onto the table.

So now I was alone, carrying my backpack and luggage and walking through the streets of Tangier, looking for a place to stay.

It started to rain heavily. This turned out to be a good thing because it meant that I was huddled under a shelter and that other people who were caught in the rain would run to the same shelter.

It was because of this that I met a nice Moroccan couple who brought me to a hotel. This hotel was too expensive for me, but not all was lost because since the hotel had free wifi, I was able to look up the best hostels to stay in in Tangier. Armed with this new information, I got on a cheap taxi and headed that way.

I am now writing this in a clean hostel, with free wifi and fresh sheets. I had a stroke of luck, as this hostel wasn’t supposed to be open because they are undergoing renovations, but I knocked on the door and the owner took pity on me and didn’t want me wandering the night. He said I could stay for 100 dirham, which is a discount from the regular rate. There is only one other guy who is staying at this hostel tonight. It is quiet and we get along. I have a feeling everything is going to be fine, at least for tonight. Tomorrow is a whole new adventure.