Obviously, I have been bitten by the travel bug. And Morocco has been a place that I have always been fascinated by. I mean who hasn’t seen Casablanca and thought Morocco must be the most romantic place on earth! Black and white, romance, intrigue… yeah well uhm… Reality. Check.
(This video gives you a feel for some my initial impressions of Morocco- and about living in Rabat.)
Fast forward to 2016 and you have modern-day Morocco. Vibrant, thriving, safe (No major or minor terrorist activities in more than 10 years!) Muslim, conservative, modern, traditional, exciting, relaxing… You get the picture- all contrasts.
Click on one of the images in the gallery to open them up and see some shots from my first two weeks here in Rabat, Morocco! But don’t forget there is more to the story following the images!
I had read so much about Morocco before coming that I definitely had some preconceived notions about how I would be perceived as an american woman- blond, tall, and light eyed to boot! Also- uhm… my hair at the time of arrival was about 4 different bright colors! (Faded but there!) I really think some of that research caused a bit of my anxiety the first few weeks. I was worried all the time about my clothing and if I was covered enough. I always felt like I wasn’t. I wore shades day and evening because I didn’t want to accidentally look at a man, in case they got the wrong impression.
Our first walk into the more market-ish area was almost terrifying. There were people everywhere, stalls made up on the ground all along the walk way where the shops were, a man walked up to my companion and got really close and was mumbling under his breath at her… it was all a bit overwhelming for the third day!
As things settled in, I realized a few things that helped me relax a little- at least about the city.
1- It is just a city. All the excitement, the taxis, the markets etc is just like a dozen other big city centers I have been in before, except this is Morocco. At the time I hadn’t even been in a Medina yet, so this is just comparing Rabat’s normal commercial area.
2- Eric, our community ambassador had dinner with a couple of us one night. He is an American man who has been living in Rabat for the past three years. We asked him a lot of questions about our safety, perceptions of American women, how the city operates, traditions etc. He was great at not making fun of our perceptions and notions and he really put my mind at ease. Thank God because on that walk- I was trying to figure out how I could only stay in Morocco for two weeks and then go someplace else- like Spain- for two weeks and then meet the rest of the group in Germany. Seriously! I thought for sure two weeks was the most I was going to be able to manage here.
When you don’t speak the language, when the culture is completely different from yours, when you are in a new place- all of this can be so overwhelming. Plus, like in Europe, things start later than in the US or even for me, than in Central America. In Costa Rica the sun rises and sets around 6 (AM and PM) so stuff gets done early! Here, we head out for dinner around 8-8:30. We get served by 10 (if we’re lucky) and then we still have to eat, and maybe get a drink. (Yes you can drink in Morocco, Rabat is probably the best place to actually do that though- the other places in the country- not so much.)
We have enjoyed walking around and taking pictures, getting to see the city. It is much smaller than it appears to be on the map and there are some nice little areas- but it is not a particularly pretty city and there is not a lot of history or special culture. It was built-up about 100 years ago, specifically to be the government center of the country by the French.
I do get a lot of comments from the men. “Nice Fashion, Happy Hair, Chick chick, Oh My God, Mademoiselle, etc.” It is also apparently a “thing” to make this weird shooshing noise when women you are “noticing” walk by. One time my friend Shannon and I were walking around and this group of about 10 teenage boys walked by- they went past both sides of us and made that shooshing sounds (ALL OF THEM!) as they passed us. WEIRD! I have also gotten quite a few very nasty looks from the older women. That kind of surprised me. Especially since I am really very covered up. I have a white linen shirt I wear over everything. I wear leggings under my dresses/skirts- even though everything goes to my knees. I don’t know what else I can do to be appropriate, except maybe not fret so much (but that is a story for the full-month recap!)
The food is awful. I mean really just not good. Tagines and couscous are foods that Morocco is known for, but please for goodness sake, do NOT get excited about them in Rabat! UGH! We all feel like we have been eating bread (Moroccan pancakes, Panini, sandwiches, pizza) and spaghetti until we are bloated. Can someone please make me a decent salad or some roasted veggies?? There is one rotisserie chicken place we all really like called Coq Magic. At least we can get some protein there to accompany our rice AND French Fries. UGH! That isn’t helping me be comfortable here- I mean I LOVE FOOD! I am a food and travel blogger after all… Hopefully that will get better the longer we are here and maybe we’ll find some better restaurants.
So anyway- that is the story right now and I am sticking to it- until I leave Morocco and I can update you after the last two weeks and tell you my final impressions of the country. (We are traveling to Fez and Chefchaouen so maybe they will leave a different impression- we’ll see.)
Have you ever been to Rabat? What were your first impressions? Did you ever get more comfortable? And seriously, did you like the food?