Traveling in Morocco has been challenging, for many reasons. I am a female, solo traveler and it is my first time in a Muslim country and my first time in Africa. Absolutely everything is different from what I am used to. When I first arrived I was scared to walk anywhere by myself, I spoke no French and I was terribly lonely. But now, after 3 weeks, I feel much more confident and comfortable traveling alone.
I’ve been moving around a lot through Morocco:
I started in Marrakech, the merchant town, and traveled North to work at an olive grove near Benslimane. I was treated quite poorly on the farm so I left to Casablanca, the economic center. Then I went even farther North to Chefchaouen, a beautiful, blue town in the mountains. I spent a few nights in Fez, then a few more in the port town of Essaouira and now I am back in Marrakech.
Thankfully, I found a travel partner, a Brazilian from Sao Paulo, who escaped from the olive farm with me! It was my first time on this entire trip traveling with another person, and it was incredibly enjoyable and so much easier than traveling alone.
It is remarkable how different I am treated here when I am alone and when I am accompanied by a man. Alone I am constantly stared at, cat-called, followed, and even grabbed by men on the street. But when I was with my travel buddy, André, I was never hassled. Of course, this angers me terribly, I should be respected with or without a man by my side!
But it seems that women in this country are rare and men are not used to interacting with them. Not only do you not see women out on the street (it seems like 1 in 20 people in public are women) but when you do see them they cover up. Most women wear a hijab (headscarf) and long robe or dress, but some also cover their entire face (sometimes not even showing their eyes) and even their hands (with gloves). Women are always in groups, hardly ever alone, and many aspects of life are segregated. For example, in mosques women pray in different rooms, behind men or do not enter at all.
For me the most remarkable segregation occurs in cafes. Morocco is full of cafes, where soft drinks and hot and cold nonalcoholic beverages are served. The setup is almost always the same: the drinks are prepared inside and customers mainly sit outside at small tables with chairs placed facing the street. The customers are almost always entirely men. When I do see a Moroccan women she is always accompanied by a man and will sit inside at the back of the cafe, never outside and never alone. It seems that cafes in Morocco are places for men to go and people-watch. I always feel uncomfortable walking past one.
I try to blend in with the locals wherever it is I am in the world, but here it is nearly impossible. Instead, I have decided to take on one important local custom.
It is prohibited for Muslims to drink alcohol, though you can find it here (Moroccan wine and beer especially). I have decided to refrain from alcohol for the duration of my travels here in Morocco (1 month). I am also refraining from drinking coffee, which is not nearly as popular a drink as green tea is. In fact, Morocco is one of the greatest green tea importers in the world.
The most popular drink in Morocco is Moroccan mint tea, or thé à la menthe, which is sweetened green tea brewed with fresh mint leaves. It is delicious, though often much too sweet! The preparation of this tea is very specific and therefore a matter of pride. If a Moroccan offers you tea it is considered rude not to oblige. It is not unusual to strike up a conversation with a Moroccan on the street and immediately be invited to his house for tea. Usually he will sit you down in his nicest sitting room or patio while he or a family member prepares the tea and sometimes bread and sweets. Asking for more tea is encouraged but offering any sort of compensation is impolite.
The tea is served in small, decorated glasses and poured from a height of about 1 foot, creating bubbles in the tea. Moroccans believe the more bubbles the better! I have no idea why. A special, metal teapot is used to make this tea because it is actually brewed on the stove, but in a pinch it can be brewed in a regular teapot instead. This tea is drunk at any time of the day, during, before and after meals. If fresh or dry mint are not available sometimes wormwood is used instead!
This is a recipe I have come up with after observing Moroccans prepare the tea. As usual with my recipes on the road, precise measurements are difficult to acquire.
Moroccan Mint Tea
Thé à la Menthe
Enough to serve 4-5 people
- Gunpowder green tea, loose leaf, enough to fill your palm
- 2 teaspoons of sugar per person
- 1 bunch of fresh mint
- Boil 1 pot of water.
- Wash the mint very well, leave the leaves on their stem.
- Place the green tea at the bottom of a metal teapot, pour just a dash of hot water in and swirl around for 15 seconds to wet the leaves. Pour out the water.
- Scrunch up all the mint into a ball and drop into the teapot. Place the sugar on top of the mint and then pour hot water over the sugar, leaving 2 inches at the top of the teapot.
- Place the teapot on the stove and leave for about 3 minutes, until the mint leaves start to bubble and rise up. Remove from the stove.
- Pour out one glass of tea and then pour back in to the pot. Again, pour out a glass and then pour back in to the pot. Repeat one more time. This mixes all the sugar in the tea.
- Moroccan mint tea is served in small, decorated, glasses from a great height. Begin pouring tea into a glass and raise the pot about 1 foot away from the glass to create bubbles in the cup. Drink immediately as the tea will get more and more bitter as it sits.