Before the entire world went into hyper lockdown mode, I was travelling around in Morocco with my sister- a bucket list trip for my birthday that saw us traipse from the historic city of Fes to the blue pearl- Chefchaouen. An unforgettable place. This was my second trip to Morocco in two years, last year I spent a week there with my wider family, between Marrakech and Essaouira. Needless to say, Morocco is a place that holds a special place in my heart. The people, the food, the vibe, the culture… it’s a journey of discovery and adventure and wonder. However, every time I tell people about my trips to Morocco, they have a questionable look on their faces and I know what sentiments are likely to follow; the traders in the medina and the words accompanying that look are “pushy” “uncomfortable” “forceful” etc. I get it; I’ve had that look before and the sentiments that follow, on my first visit to Morocco. Yet when you compare the traders in the medinas to waiters outside a restaurant trying to get diners to come in, in a city like Rome for example or the haggling traders on a weekend market, like Columbia Road Flower market, it really is no different. These are the people you expect to meet In a market place; they are trying to sell you something in their own way but a simple no thank you, often does the trick of moving people along and leaving you be. Or maybe they peak your curiosity and you learn something new that day…
This trip to Morocco opened my eyes to travelling differently, not least because I travelled with my sister who is a different type of traveller. She talks to people, traders especially; she stops to ask for directions and makes conversation. Every “hey” her way was often met with one back and a promise to come back and look at their stalls- which we often did. She is trusting and open. I, on the other hand, am a different kind of traveller- I try not to ask for directions, to be honest I am that person in the group who is good with navigation, but I am not the chatty type, I don’t do well in crowded places, I am at times way too awkward at making conversation with acquaintances let alone strangers, so I hide behind my sunglasses with my headphones in my ears, classic introvert. But not my sister.
When I asked her why she does this, she said; “these people rarely get any interaction from us strangers in their land other than to remind them of how pushy they can be, but half the time it is not about you.” Everyone is trying to make ends meet, trying to sell you something but you don’t have to buy it, trying to tell you a story but you don’t have to listen, for the most part it’s the interaction. As we wandered further north into Morocco, the terrain was different; a lot less frantic than Marrakech the medinas are quieter, their traders remain and those whom we stopped to ask for directions were all too happy to help us. For some we were one of the few foreigners they’d spoken to that were pleasantly responsive.
Travelling is a privilege for most of us; we leave our homes to go to other people’s, treating the locals with a bit more openness is called for. A respect for their land and a reception of their friendliness is necessary because half the time it is not about us, it is the interaction they have with us as guests in their homeland and you might be the first friendly foreign face they have encountered that day. In light of everything that is happening in the world right now, I would give anything to be as open as my sister as we walked the medina, return every smile and make as much conversation as possible. The human interaction, warmth of strangers and the openness of their hearts and their land to us, outsiders.
As the world brings us closer together in this peculiar moment whilst asking us to stay apart, spare a thought for the many interactions we failed to acknowledge as we strolled down little roads, ignored waiters outside restaurants or brushed off flower stall owners in market places calling to us to buy their flowers. We may be in isolation, but we have never been closer than we are now, this moment will eventually pass and the next moment, our next chapter, will come grace as we discover foreign homelands and enjoy the hospitality of cultures. Grace will come from strangers in a medina, waiters outside a restaurant, in the warmth of their smiles and small conversations and the privilege it all brings.