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A Train From Marrakech

Morocco looked the way I’d imagined it, full of tiny twisting streets that are old, narrow and confining, and where being lost is simply a part of tourist life. Dead ends, doors that look exactly alike and giggling teenage boys lurking in shadow, watching bemused as you wander astray were daily occurrences.

Summer in Marrakech is dry and cracked, and I felt sorry for the nested storks perched atop the old city walls. The souks are thronging during the day and shuttered in the afternoon, and only animals and unwise tourists are caught outside at midday. Riads, cool and quiet, are enclosed sanctuaries, more calm and beautiful than any castle I’ve ever seen.

Sitting on a rooftop, surrounded by skulking cats, you are overlooking history. From above, the past looks dauntingly beautiful and disturbingly out of touch. The daily call to prayer is an alarm that resonates through you like something rich, ancient and forceful.

The people seemed mysterious, especially to western tourists, and our lifestyle and theirs feels separated by centuries; it’s a place much of modern life hasn’t touched. On most days we were American tourists, on some days we got by with my rusty French, and on few days we were Colombian and I stayed silent; prices were slightly lower on these days.

In Morocco it is hard being a woman. I’m too entitled, demanding and accustomed to going where I please, doing what I like and wearing what I want to. At our riad in Marrakech they told me I would bring shame on my boyfriend if I didn’t behave a certain way. Sleeping on a train to Fes I awoke to find a teenage boy photographing my chest. On a beach in Tangier, wearing a long skirt and short sleeve jacket the locals stared and stared.

By the time our ferry reached the south of Spain, a week and three cities later, I was exhausted from feeling ashamed, watched and restricted. As we crossed the border I threw away the jacket I had worn too often in the heat to keep myself concealed.

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