Photo: Amelia Wells
“One rotten fish can make the whole bucket stink.”
It’s late September in Taghazout, a small surf village on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and I’m sitting at the edge of the world watching the waves crash against the rocks.
I sip strong black coffee and chat with a new friend, the owner of a local backpackers, about safety and misperceptions in Morocco.
He shares the above proverb with me.
For those who work in the tourism industry, that rotten fish (in the form of robberies, political unrest or an isolated attack) is the proverbial boogeyman. Just a whiff of danger and foreigners will cancel their flights. An act of terror (as occurred while I was living in Kenya)? Total disaster for the industry.
But I don’t want to tell you what happens when the fear-mongers win. I want to tell you why you shouldn’t listen to them in the first place.
Every place in the world has a rotten fish—often many.
They’re the reason people tell women not to travel solo to India, Zanzibar, Turkey, Morocco, or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-unsafe-country-of-choice.
“It’s not safe.”
“Men don’t respect women there.”
“It won’t be pleasant.”
I’ve heard it all.
I (and just about every woman ever) learned since birth to fear. Fear attack. Fear violence. Fear bad men. Fear everything, right? Society teaches us that.
And it’s true. Of course it’s true! The world is a scary place. Especially for women. We’re working on it, but we have a long way to go. Change, however, has never happened when we stick to the status quo. Fear-mongering doesn’t keep us safe; it keeps us the same. So if you want something different, you have to ignore the fear-mongers.
That’s what I did. Here are seven reasons they were wrong and I can’t wait to go back to Morocco:
1. Berber hospitality is unparalleled.
Within days of my arrival, I was enjoying home-cooked meals with new friends’, cosily sipping tea in roadside cafes, and exchanging words of greeting with dozens of acquaintances on my morning walk.
2. Morocco is statistically safer than home.
According to the 2015 World Economic Forum Report, Morocco ranks in the top forty safest countries in the world—placing it well above the UK and US.
3. The surfing is world-class.
From beginners like me to top professionals, everyone will find a wave their size in the coastal region around Taghazout. Go a bit before high season, which starts late October/early November, to enjoy an entire beach to yourself.
4. Tourism is a key industry, and tourists are treated well.
In addition to high cultural standards of hospitality, everyone from my riad hosts to my surf instructor seemed genuinely happy to have me. I felt warmly welcome from the start.
5. Storytelling is an art form.
One of my favorite memories from my weeks in Morocco involves sitting in a shoemaker’s tiny shop ensconced in the scent of leather and cigarette smoke, listening to his stories. No rush—only the age-old tradition of weaving words.
6. Every market is a colorful sense experience.
Men and women in colorful kaftans and djellabas, precisely stacked blocks of perfume, cones of bright, pungent spices, and glittering racks of jewellery satisfy every fantasy I’ve ever had about labyrinthine marketplaces.
7. The artistic and musical traditions are exceptionally rich.
I dare you to listen to traditional Amazigh music, peruse the artisan shops of Chefchaouen or watch a master craftsman at work and not fall in love. If I had a home, I would fill it with things from Morocco—and I never say that.