I hate being a tourist. I hate to see so many folks herded together to take the same photos and hear the same stories. To buy the same crafts and eat the same food. It is the sameness…the sameness and the impossibility of intimacy.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand hustle. I know that my visit to any given city other than my own, has potential to make someone – lots of someones – money. The meal I eat, the art I buy, the taxi I take. And if it were just that…if it were just me buying what I need or want and someone selling me those things it would be fine but…instead…instead there is a falseness.

If this reads deflated, it is because I am.

Fes, and now Meknes, have dimmed my Moroccan elation. I’ve been privy to the hard sell and soft sell…voices and faces stern, sweet tea and talk of friends respectively…and they both tire me for different reason. The hard, because bullying is never appealing and the soft, because I love to connect with people and the soft is saccharine without substance.

Being here reminds me of Kandy, Sri Lanka. There, warned about touts, I was “befriended” by a helpful man who refused to take any money after guiding me around town and to the show I wanted to see. Later, I trailed after him as he took me to the market “right before it closes for the week” (yeah right) and the best place for spices and silk. By the time we were done it was dark and deserted and suddenly money was what it was all about. After the soft came the hard sell, and in the dark empty streets I relented. Sadly, that is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Sri Lanka. The friendly guy and his business partner who took me snorkeling and cooked me an authentic Sri Lankan meal (he was a chef) and never expected a dime, begins to balance the scales but the bad came first…its taste lingers.

So it is with morocco. Every time I meet someone it inevitably becomes a sale – a pitch – a transaction of sorts. Friendly conversation becomes, “my uncle has a place in the desert, not like the tours that gouge you, he’ll take care of you. Let me show you pictures” or “that is not a good place to buy silver, here follow me.” Today, in Moulay Idriss, after visiting the Roman ruins of Volubilis, I peered over the wooden bar across the entrance mean to bar non-muslims from entering. Beyond it stretched a beautifully tiled courtyard leading to the green roofed mosque.

A man stepped from the crowd, chatted with my driver and then began to speak to me about the view from above and what amazing photos I could get. “conbien?” in inquired, how much? “nothing,” he answered. Wearing and knowing better I rephrased, “libre?” free? And he answered of course.

Up I followed him, 150 heart pounding, asthma attack inducing steps. The view was nice – not the best I’ve seen but I appreciated the color he added, pointing to points of interest. Then, spiraling back down again, he stopped off at Morocco’s only circular minaret. Interesting but again, not the most impressive thing I’ve seen here. At the bottom, I began rummaging for change – thinking to tip him for his kindness. The 10 MAD I offered was rebuked and a demand for 50 MAD followed it. I argued, reminding him that he’d said free – silly me, the view was free, he was not. I gave him 20 MAD and huffed irritably back to the car.

If only it had stopped there. My driver, when handed the 300 MAD we’d agreed upon for the day’s drive, countered with 500 MAD. When pressed he argued that the time was long, that the trip to Moulay Idriss (5km from Volubilis and roughly 30 minutes in total) was 200 MAD. Already exhausted, I handed him an extra 100 MAD and again, huffed myself irritably up the hill in search of food.

And so it has been…pretenses behind almost every smile. And it pains me because I long to know more about Morocco. I want to know where the women go to socialize (the tea shops are filled exclusively with men, all facing the street behind little round tables), where to find food that isn’t tasteless couscous (worse than American) and dry chicken, and what it is like to live a modern life when flanked on all sides by ancient buildings and fortified remnants of times long gone.

And I get it…tourists are endless. Explain to one, open your heart or home, and that person is gone…another filling the space she left. Who has the time…who has the patience? Still, I’ve been spoiled by previous travels. Spoiled by longer stays – removed from places tourists frequent – so that people are less fatigued and don’t think of me in terms of profit (mostly).

Tomorrow I’m off to Marrakech…I hope for less and better…less hassle and getting over, better food…

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1 Comment on hating what i am

  1. Teresa says:

    I know what you mean, which is why i didn’t try a 3-day trip Morocco while in Spain. Take in what you can!

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