11 MO ago

From Hidden Away To On Display: Clothing Choice + Freedom in Morocco

This month, I’m feeling a bit trapped.

We’re in a big new city with lots to explore, but I can slowly feel the drip-drip-drip of my energy being drained.
Its a little bit harder to get the “normal” things taken care of here, like get yourself groceries and go and buy a train ticket all in the same day, while simultaneously trying to figure out a mixture of French and Arabic, navigate unknown streets, the new people vying for your attention and a constant deluge of new sights, smells and ways of taking up space in the world. Its also a bit harder when you’re trying to fit in a full day of of work at the co-working space, go to the awesome RY-hosted events and oh, did I mention balance relationships and connections here and at home?

Its a lot. (I wrote a bit about it on a recent Instagram post, though, so I won’t spend too much time re-iterating it). Just realizing that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a real thing to address before I can focus my attention and care outward.

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs: you have to take care of the bottom of the pyramid before you can reach the top
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: you have to take care of the bottom of the pyramid before you can reach the top. I’m pretty much at the bottom all day.

When I feel I’m not reaching my full potential, or able to spend time focusing outward, its usually when I’m not comfortable enough within my basic needs. So, when I see or feel this way, I usually realize what needs to be done before I can move up the pyramid, so to speak.

By the way, Rabat is pretty big. While walking is usually my preferred method of transportation, here we have to take taxis to and from the co-working space to get there in a timely manner. This usually leads me to spend about 80% of my time there (and if I can swing it, eating all my meals in their tasty tasty kitchen!), while the remainder 20% of my time is spent sleeping and showering at home. *Surfing twice a week, and planning side trips require an extra effort that I’m not quite sure is sustainable, but I’m trying to fit all those in, too.

This year will be filled with ups and downs, and I don’t usually like to post the hard stuff on social media. Where’s the fun in that? But, its not just a ‘vacation’, rather, we’re trying to build a life while being constantly in transition.

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We’ll all go through some rough stuff this year. From deaths in the family, to layoffs, to ending relationships, to missing out on the celebrations and conversations that happen around tragedies, comedy and politics that happen where we come from, we’re not going to be a part of it in the same way as before.

We have to learn to make our own anchors, because home (if we still have one) is too far away. Its not all perfect waves and beach weekends and incredible afternoons finding deals in the local markets, though we’d like to show you all of that all the time if we could. Its a bit more of an effort to get out of bed, to continue your careers and your friendships along with trying to test to see if being a “digital nomad” is viable. I am open to the challenge, and we’re all having a lot of fun, but, feeling like I’m not free to walk to a family dinner down the road at night without a male friend is a bit rough for someone used to getting up and going wherever I want, whenever I want. Getting what I need is harder, and I’m adjusting.

Two weekends ago in Marrakech, I met up with a dear friend who flew in from London. Exhausted and fed up by the oppressive desert heat (its stayed about 110 degrees fahrenheit the whole weekend), one night, we both decided to try something. Typically, she and I err on the side of dressing demurely when traveling in more conservative countries. On our trip to India together, it was t-shirts and flowy pants, so while we will always look like tourists (her: a tall brunette from England, me: an overly expressive American blonde easily mistaken for a German) we’re used to covering up when exploring rural Thailand or mosque-hopping in Istanbul. It just makes sense.

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Lily in the Bahia Palace
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Hanging in the Majorelle garden in 110 degree heat.

But after walking through Marrakech all day and seeing other tourists running around in spaghetti strap sundresses, watching beautiful french women pass us in tiny shorts and crop tops, we thought we’d each try something a bit more… risqué. She showed a bit of knee, in a flowy dress and long sleeves, and I decided shapeless flowy pants and a loose tank top were acceptable.

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Welp. TOO MUCH SHOULDER.

Well, that was a mistake. After an hour in the main square (Jemaa El Fna) I had had pretty much enough of all the staring. While being completely covered still gets us a fair amount of looks and shouts, showing any skin whatsoever gets you straight up touched. After dinner, while we were watching two men jab and duck each other in a makeshift ring in the square, there were definitely hands on my butt that weren’t Lily’s. And, unfortunately, said gentleman went as far as to physically lean his pelvis into me. I left, feeling a bit dirty and also unsure if saying something would have helped the matter.

Walking back down the street with my shoulders cheekily exposed elicited twice as many “I LOVE YOU!”-s, and whistles, which sadly, as women of the world, we’re used to. (Cat-calling happens everywhere). Grin and bear it, ignore it, engage with it, its become a norm that we all have gotten braver at responding to. But, I had never experienced the touching at such an alarming regularity. I felt lost. Do I yell? Do I physically slap their hands away?  The small pieces of fabric over my shoulders gave me a shield – when they were gone, so was my protection. When men walked behind us, every chance they got I was touched – on the shoulder, on the bum, on the leg, an arm snaking around my waist as they walked past.

I started noticing that the women tourists we passed, who earlier seemed so effortless in their fashion and epidermis choices, seemed to clutch tightly to their male counterparts, their grins plastered on their faces as they sweat through their makeup.

Looking different than the population you’re traveling to and living in can be extremely alienating. This year will be filled with putting all of us in different situations (which is kind of the point, TBH) all to varying degrees of discomfort: Some Remotes here have gotten “Are you sure you’re not Moroccan?” but will probably experience the feeling of otherness in Asia.

Yet, this happens to people we know and love on a daily basis, especially while traveling: Specifically, while most of the white people on our trip were feeling pretty comfortable in Valencia (myself included!), some of my POC friends had pretty scary experiences: racism, abuse from authority figures, inability to stand up for themselves, and otherness. (Conversely, here’s a list I recently read of places that welcome black travelers).

If we can blend in, and make ourselves less noticeable, should we? I think nothing of throwing on a t-shirt and long pants these days to head to the train station, the grocery, out shopping, but in a world where I’m used to cat-calls on my morning runs (its a problem for female runners that is identified all over the world) and constant street harassment wherever I go (thats a video of a single woman in NYC walking and being catcalled 108 times in just one day, guys, the US isn’t any better in some places), is it something we should chalk up to a cultural difference that we bring upon ourselves, or is it straight up abuse?

We’re here to navigate life in a different country, and part of that is feeling comfortable enough living it here. Yet if we were to want other countries to adopt the comfortable “western” experience, then we lose the beauty and uniqueness of the place we’re seeking out. We travel to understand, to experience and connect with people of different beliefs and backgrounds, and I lean on the side of honoring cultural norms.

But, some nights, its just too damn hot to wear a t-shirt.