Morrocan woman in essouaraia

A Very Un-British Story


If you want to experience culture shock but haven’t saved that many air miles, then Morocco is a good option. Everyone’s been there and there’s loads of good advice to be had. Don’t catch the shopkeeper’s eye as you walk past, (unless you want to end up with an expensive rug) Cover up your body shape if you don’t want to be harassed.

In reality, I was over prepared. Sporting a wardrobe of hideous blowsy tents that I wouldn’t normally be seen dead in, I shuffled through the medina with my eyes averted like an exotic flower, until I realised……… no one was noticing me! Most of the shopkeepers were too engrossed in their smartphones to drag me in, and I’m getting past the age for sexual harassment.

The people were so calm and friendly I almost felt ripped off. I was worried I wouldn’t have any mad stories to tell.

That was on day one.

Day two, the plan was to go for a hamam. It’s traditional in Morocco, and, as relatively wealthy foreigners, we had a choice. Go to the tourist spa and pay English prices. Get pummelled, steamed and treated with mud baths and scented oils. You come out relaxed, blissful, and a lot lighter in the wallet.

Or, go local. In my head there’s a dark, cosy room where the local women are hanging out, swapping gossip in a sisterly way while a little old lady slaps you with a loofah so hard you want to cry. Its warm and steamy and it makes you feel smug and knowledgeable; A traveller, not a tourist. You come out glowing with self-satisfaction and missing a few layers of skin. This is possibly based on a distant memory from Turkey and an article in lonely planet.

Then there’s the real life experience. Sit with your shivering friends, with your tits out, while the local women scream and spit venom at the men at the door, and possibly each other. Try to bargain in broken French when it comes clear the men have ripped you off leaving no money to pay the women, get dressed and undressed five or more times as your understanding of the situation flexes and then finally decide to go elsewhere, at which point a little old lady screams in your face and tries to rip your t-shirt off your back.

If I could have a shiny dirham for everything un-British about that scenario I could’ve gone to the tourist spa.

Our birthday girl and holiday queen, Hayley, was finally led into the next room where she sat alone in the corner staring into her bucket and feeling like a lost child. We had to go and rescue her, so, tops off again, we followed her into another cold and well lit room. This one had naked women in it, so at least we were on the right track.

We sat, confused, looking at our buckets and trying to suppress the hysteria, while a few helpful women gestured to us to rub soap into ourselves and rinse it off. We must’ve looked like we were from another planet, where we didn’t know how to wash.

A woman came in eventually and gave us all a perfunctory rub down with a mitt then sloshed a bucket of water over our heads, and our relaxing hamam was complete. We found out later she didn’t even work there.

And yes, we did come out glowing. With indignation, embarrassment, but mainly, just relief.

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This post was written by vikmartin


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