If you’re struggling to comprehend my study abroad experience, try to envision a picturesque, magnificent mountain. Now imagine trekking to its peak, only to tumble down the mountainside the moment you’ve reached that zenith. It’s over in a flash, painful though it is. You’ve got some battle scars, but the next time you climb a mountain, you’ll be more prepared. It’s a majestic mountain, nonetheless.
That is to say, the end of my program is rapidly approaching, and in spite of the good times, I’ve had moments of distress. I want to learn from these experiences, mostly because there’s not much else I can do with them. My recent trip to Fez epitomizes this sentiment.
Fez, also known as Morocco’s cultural capital, is probably one of my favorite cities here. Home to more than 1 million people, Fez is the second largest city in Morocco. Fez is divided into the old medina, the new old medina, the Mellah (what was once the Jewish quarter), and the actual modern part of the city. It’s known worldwide for its leather goods, as well as al-Qarawiyyin University, the world’s oldest, continually operating university. Al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 by a woman, because as per usual, women have to do everything. What I’m trying to say is, Fez is dope. It has also caused me distress.
For instance, Fez is about five hours away from Tangier by train. Given that my friends and I had to wait for school to end before we could depart for Fez, we ended up arriving there quite late at night. Immediately, several taxi drivers tried to swindle us into paying an exorbitant price for a ride to our Airbnb riad. This is fairly normal experience for tourists. What was not normal was the fact that the drivers got into huge argument about how many of us could fit in a taxi, and who would be the one to drive us.
Lesson 1: Be wise with your money when traveling.
We got two reasonably priced taxis and eventually made it to our riad in the old (New old? Old old?) medina. This location is ideal if you want to shop, because the souk (or market), is colossal. I hate shopping in most cases, but in Morocco, bartering for certain goods is expected. Not only do I love bartering, but I speak enough Arabic/Darija to do it well, which is necessary if you’re not trying to get charged the tourist price. Unfortunately, my Darija knowledge doesn’t extend very far beyond basic shopping, so I tend to look like an idiot when a shopkeeper tries to have an actual conversation with me.
Lesson 2: Learn to feel comfortable with your incompetence.
Another noteworthy fact about Fez is that it has the world’s largest urban pedestrian zone. As such, it’s also known for being more prone to crime, especially pickpocketing, than other cities. The crowdedness also means a greater chance that women will have to deal with the harassment that often occurs when we’re in the streets. If you’re like me, i.e. not white, you’ll probably have the distinct pleasure of being catcalled in a way that specifically highlights this non-whiteness. Because if there’s one thing we ladies love, it’s racial fetishization. (This is sarcasm. I have to point this out because some people really think this is a good thing. To those people: It’s not. You’re dumb.) My friends and I have dealt with situations like this and more, specifically in Fez. Unfortunately, these moments are some of the most memorable, and it’s very easy to let one bad experience color your entire perception of a city, a country, a people, etc. It’s important not to let these situations reinforce stereotypes and prejudices that might exist, but it’s also important to recognize the validity of any distress you’ve faced. I think this is a difficult, but necessary, balance to achieve.
Lesson 3: Every country has its degenerates, so try not to let them ruin your whole experience.
There are way more good people out there than bad ones. So when I think of the individuals who’ve made racialized comments toward me on the streets, or harassed my friends for some odd reason, I don’t think “This person represents Morocco.” Instead I think “This individual is garbage in a way that is entirely unique to themselves.” So yes, I’ve had moments of struggle and doubt, but I love Morocco, Fez included.