People often misunderstand me when I use (and I do so quite liberally) the words "interesting" and "different," assuming that I mean them in a derogatory way when really the reason I rely on them so heavily is because they are quite neutral as far as adjectives go. For me these words are just a shorthand for when something veers away from what I'm used to, and in the given moment I can't decide how I feel about it. So yes. Morocco was immensely interesting, and very, very different.
I'll start with the good. The beautiful Islamic architecture was a sight for sore eyes after having spent so much time in Europe (I've seen more than enough cathedrals and castles), and as a chef I loved walking through the medina souks and seeing items like camel's heads and spleen sandwiches (the abundant fleas and wasps were less appealing but, oh well, what can you do). I was worried about my visit coinciding with Ramadan, but in the end it only enriched the experience - I got to have iftar (the traditional meal at sunset) a few times and I'll never forget my first night in Tangier, when I could hear the call to prayer from my bedroom and was startled by the cannons that signal the end of fasting. Coming from a secular society, it was pretty wild to see the empty streets in the medina, with entire stalls and shops left unlocked with the merchandise uncovered, as everyone went home to eat with their families.
But after nearly three weeks of being here, I fear that I have gradually devolved into the worst possible version of myself. I am now the girl who rolls her eyes instead of thanking the driver when getting out of a cab because he's charged more than the ride was worth (they really don't like to use the meter in Casablanca and Marrakech); who alternately ignores and snaps at strangers that try to talk to her on the street; who insists on wearing sunglasses well after it has ceased being bright enough to do so because the social ensnarement that ensues from making accidental eye contact is too much; who has been known to return to the hostel in late afternoon and contemplate skipping dinner just to avoid dealing with people. I more irascible and cynical than ever, and I realize that this description probably makes me seem like a bitch. But the truth is that to travel alone, as a girl, in this country, you kind of have to be.
Friends and family constantly checked in to make sure I was okay, as when I'm bored and have wifi access I am prone to sending out melodramatic messages and emails ("A polygamist just tried to hit on me!"), but the point I've been trying to make - through tweets, blog posts and the like - is this: safety is a relative term. Apart from the occasional bisous and a few handshakes that lasted too long, no one ever touched me, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little uncomfortable from the moment I left my hostel to the moment I returned. (Except when I was in a group and/or in the company of a guy which, fortunately, was often the case because I picked awesome hostels). I think I mentioned the racial catcalling I encountered everywhere ("Ni hao," "Konnichiwa," "Hey, Japan," "Hey, China," and my personal favorite: portions of Gangnam Style complete with the dance) but never could completely block out without feeling a twinge of anger. And don't even get me started on the staring; if you ask me, headscarves are secondary to sunglasses with perfectly opaque lenses when it comes to a single girl's travel necessities.
Fear is too strong a word, but I felt adrift in a culture of discomfort. I don't like being told what I can do or where I can go, either explicitly because it's "not safe" or implicitly because I noticed pretty quickly that there are places women simply do not enter. But I made an effort to respect the local customs; for example I did my part and wore pants and shirts with sleeves that at least covered my shoulders (even in boiling hot Marrakech) and didn't take photos without permission. What I found intolerable, though, was the lewd behavior of the men. Messing with a Muslim woman is a serious offense, I gather, so instead men (not all, obviously, but many that I encountered) verbally project whatever sexual frustrations they have onto the foreigners. I suppose what bothers me most about the catcalling and being followed - and not just in Morocco, because every society will have guys that are assholes - is the inherent power imbalance it entails. Most men will never know what it's like to feel their body tense up like a coiled spring every time they hear a car slow behind them or are walking home after dark with the emergency number pre-dialed and a finger hovering over the call button. Let me tell you from experience: it really, truly, absolutely sucks.
I read somewhere on a travel forum that if you stay in Morocco long enough you will begin to distrust everyone. This is sort of true. For me I think the turning point was when I booked a walking tour through my hostel and the guide just took me to a bunch of shops that he very clearly earned sales commissions from, which brings me to the stressful, dramatic experience that is shopping in the medina. I always felt at such a disadvantage because the seller knew the true value of the object, while I had no idea. I didn't mind overpaying for things, especially after seeing how they were made (the leather workshop and ceramics factory left deep impressions on me), but I doubted that very much of my money found its way to the actual artisans. I also met many perfectly genuine and hospitable locals, but for the reasons above I felt that, especially in places like Marrakech, the tourism sector was imploding on itself.
I came with an open mind. I ate enough tagines and cous cous to last me until my next visit. I made new friends. But if I had known what it would be like beforehand, I would not have gone to Morocco by myself.