At work, I’ve gotten an incredible opportunity to become a trainer of one of our accounting tools, and this allowed me to travel. First I went to Braga, Portugal, to train an IBM team there. I spent a week in Portugal and then went back to Poland for another week. And then I went for a week to North Africa.
And don’t get me wrong – Morocco and Tunisia were great (Tunisia was better, not tainted by the whole they-fucking-lost-my-luggage thing that happened in Morocco), and I really wish I had more time to visit them (I most probably will have). But it’s good to be back in Europe, even if it’s still not my little corner of the universe, not Poland yet.
Now, I didn’t have much time for myself in Morocco. I arrived late in the evening, and exasperated because the airline lost my luggage. I had not one, but two layovers – in Berlin and Rome – and when I came to Casablanca it turned out that my registered bag didn’t come with me. It stayed in Rome. Perhaps it wanted to visit. I’d like that too. But I definitely prefer my luggage being in the same place as I am… or at least the same continent, if you catch my drift.
If it was Baggage, it would walk over to me through the Mediterranean Sea quicker than my luggage came to me on a plane.
It didn’t come with me; I made a claim at the Royal Air Maroc desk, and went to the hotel with what I had with me, or on me, which was a laptop, a Kindle, a notebook, a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt with “HOLMES” written over it. Not exactly the most professional of outfits, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter: in the morning, I had to be at the client’s office. Fortunately, they were very understanding. And nice.
My luggage was supposed to come that night, on the very same flight from Rome I came on the day before. Only, it didn’t. By that time, I was really frustrated. Day two of being at the client’s office in the same clothes and without even the possibility to brush my teeth was not the greatest of experiences… but I made it. I am (or I was anyway) a sailor after all, I am (was) used to getting by with not much to spare. That same afternoon I went to a shopping centre and bought a change of clothes, a toothpaste and a toothbrush. Then I felt like a human again.
My luggage finally came on the third day, late at night. I decided to not go and collect it right away; I was to be on the airport anyway the next morning, as I was going to Tunisia. And I did just that.
So how was Morocco? I was in Casablanca, the economic capital of the country, and it looked like it. Very industrial, not really touristic place. Lots of cars and lots and lots of people. Like I said, I didn’t get to visit anything except my client’s office, so that was a bummer. But all the people I met were very nice and polite.
I was in Egypt three years ago, so I expected something similar in Morocco. It wasn’t. People don’t harass you in Morocco (or Tunisia) the way they do in Egypt; nobody asked me for a tip in Maghreb, but baksheesh was probably the most frequently used word in Egypt. I didn’t attract as much attention either; my European clothes didn’t stand out, and even though I was probably the only naturally blonde woman I saw in these two countries, nobody commented on it or was in any way improper. In Egypt me being a blonde attracted A LOT of attention, and not necessarily the good kind. I was uneasy about going anywhere by myself in Egypt. I didn’t feel absolutely secure in Maghreb either, but it wasn’t because of the color of my skin, hair or eyes, at least. And I did wander off by myself both in Morocco and Tunisia, although always in an area used to seeing tourists.
I didn’t get any kind of disrespectful or discriminatory remarks or behaviour from men on the grounds of being a female either, at least not outright. Everybody was very polite, even too much so, sometimes. But there was a lingering, subconscious feeling of dismissiveness, not very pronounced, but present nonetheless. An afterthought of a culture that isn’t very nice to women. It’s changing, of course, but the traces are still there, even within the part of society that is well-educated and rather Europeanized.
If I said that those two countries are civilised, I’d be making them an offense. Of course they are civilised; it’s just a different civilisation from our own. Although, Europe seeps through in many ways, some more obvious than others. Like not everybody speaks perfect French; before I went there, I thought that was the case. But no. They learn French at school, but it’s not really their language. They speak Arabic at home and at work and everywhere. French is for foreigners. However, if you listen to them speaking in Arabic, you will hear that it’s not proper Arabic. It’s not only got French influences; more often than not, a big parts of sentences are in French, let alone separate words. Like, they will say five words in Arabic, then use a French expression, then continue with Arabic, say “donc” (French for “so” or “hence”), speak another sentence in Arabic and finish with a French word.
And the shopping centre in Casablanca: a big mall (they even call it that, a mall) with all European and American brands and only a few that I didn’t recognize – but maybe because they are just not present in Poland, but still are international? Who knows? And I mean – McDonald’s, KFC, Terranova, H&M, Carrefour, even Starbucks for God’s sake. Or the way they dress – most in European clothes (more people dress traditionally in Tunis than in Casablanca), most young women without hijabs (and again: more hijabs in Tunis).
But there are other things, subtler things. Things that are hard to define, but yet undeniably there. In the way they speak, the way they greet you and say goodbye, the way they look at you. And especially in Morocco – the way their keep their distance. This is very European, keeping people at a safe distance, at an arm’s length. In Tunisia they’re more open in the way that they’re more likely to talk to you about themselves and ask equally personal questions, more likely to hug or kiss you on the cheek instead of shaking your hand, more likely to touch you incidentally or in order to put an emphasis on something they’re saying.
The following was written three weeks later:
It’s the last day of February, and I’ve been traveling for the last month. Yes, month. I left on 2nd February. It’s 28th now, and I’m going back to Poland tomorrow. And I can’t wait to be back.
Don’t get me wrong, this trip has been wonderful in many ways. I got to visit places, meet people, discover other cultures. I’ve had adventures and I gained so much experience and I learned so much new stuff that I can use in the future… but still, I’m glad to be coming back. Traveling is great.. coming home after a long time is even better.
Not that I had a chance to really feel dépaysée. Casablanca is really *very* European compared to Tunis or any town in Egypt I’ve been to. Even the architecture doesn’t fit in the standard, traditional Arab way of construction, especially in the city center. The buildings there are either high office buildings, often covered in glass, or smaller tenement houses that would fit in perfectly on the streets of Paris, Firenze or Krakow. There is the old Medina with swerving, narrow streets full of little shops and stands, and there you feel like you really don’t belong. It’s crowded, most of the stuff they’re selling is counterfeit, it stinks horribly. I didn’t like that place at all. I could compare it to the souk in Tunis – streets even narrower, more crowded, also selling mostly counterfeit, but somehow it was much nicer there. For starters, it was cleaner and didn’t stink as much as the Medina in Casablanca. The people were nicer, obviously used to tourists (my most bizarre encounter – I was walking behind Besma, my host, I wasn’t saying anything in any language, and suddenly a guy starts speaking to me in Polish, trying to get me to buy his stuff. I was dumbfounded. I asked him how did he know I was Polish – he said “It’s the face”. I don’t get it, really. Plenty of bright-eyed blondes walk this Earth, and most of them is not from Poland. I am still dumbfounded, I guess. Besides, his limited Polish was quite goo!). In Casablanca I constantly got the feeling of being ogled by men and glared at by women. In Tunis it happened, too, but in Casa it’s more of a regular thing, not an exception like in Tunis. I just feel very white, very blonde and very female in Morocco. In Tunis I simply felt like a tourist. In that way, even though Casablanca seems much more European and Tunis is more Arab and traditional, I felt more welcome and at home in Tunis.
The thing I already noticed before – that people are much more touchy-feely – is still valid, both for Tunisians and Moroccans. Moroccans seem to have more of a distance towards us, Europeans, but between themselves they keep pretty close. Holding hands, casually touching each other on the arms, hugging (women as well as men), kissing on both cheeks (that is French influence methinks). In Europe, if two guys are holding hands, you immediately think they’re a couple. Here you cannot make any assumptions. (When you think of it, in Eurhttps://amythewicked.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=389&action=editope women – especially girls – are allowed to hold hands or hug each other without being subject to assumptions, but that’s a topic for another time.)
All in all, I’ve been in Morocco for four full days and twelve in Tunisia (not counting half-days when I was traveling). And I am honestly glad it was this way. I loved Tunisia – I loved the archeological sites of Carthage, I loved the beautiful views in Sidi Bou Said, I loved the souk full of life and colours and people, I loved the air and the weather and the sun, I loved the people who were very nice and helpful, both at work and on the streets, I loved the sea and the general feeling of it all, like I was on vacation. (Despite that I was leaving for work every day at 8 am and coming back later and later as we went on – on Monday we came back around 6 pm, but next Monday we left work only after 8 pm.) Morocco may pretend to be a little more European, but it’s less clean (and neither of those countries could win a cleanliness award), it stinks (Tunis does too, Megrine – where the factory at which we worked is – was terrible, sometimes it was almost unbearable, but that was an industrial zone. The medina in Tunis smelled much better than the medina in Casablanca) and it’s all just… industrial. There’s not much to see. I was at Rick’s Cafe, I didn’t go in. I haven’t seen the movie anyway. I was at the Hassan II mosque – that was impressive – but it was probably the only thing that I really liked.
To be completely honest, the prettiest, most impressive city I’ve visited during this month-long multi-destination trip was Porto. I was there for just one day, one Saturday between a stay in Braga (which is only like 50 km from Porto) and going away to Tunisia. I walked as much of the city as I could. And I fell in love with the city.
Really, usually when people are listing the most beautiful cities in Europe, it’s always Paris, Berlin, Firenze, Rome, Vienna, even Krakow. But never Porto. I don’t know why, though. After just half a day there, it became one of my favorite places in Europe. Just after Paris and Krakow, perhaps a tie with London.It’s really, truly, beautiful. All of it – buildings, little streets, the coast, the river, the bridge, the greenery, the climate, everything. I need to get back there someday and visit some more. Maybe for an extended weekend sometime in June? That is, if I can afford it. And if I have someone to take with me – visiting by yourself is fun, but visiting with someone else is much more fun.
And you know what? Portugal is very different from Poland. I didn’t speak the language there at all, and Portuguese people rarely speak English. In Morocco and Tunisia everybody speaks (better or worse) French, and I speak French. But still when I was in Portugal, I felt almost like at home. I felt absolutely secure and safe on the streets; in Maghreb there was always the slightest doubt at the back of my mind. In Portugal, I didn’t fit in with my bright eyes and blond hair any more than in Tunisia or Morocco. But still I felt like I belonged there, which I didn’t in Maghreb. It wasn’t yet home, but it was close. It was much more mine than anything in Maghreb. It was just… common. European. Familiar. Mine.
This was an awesome travel. But… boy, I’m glad to be coming back to Europe.