All the Moments a Man Followed Me Around in Marrakesh

Africa

Morocco

This post was contributed by Chimdi Ihezie.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, catcalling and street harassment happen way too often in many places, but here is this writer’s personal experience in Morocco. In no way is this post a statement against a specific place or specific cultures, because the harassment of women is, unfortunately, global. That said, not all travel experiences are “feel-good” moments, and it’s important to provide space for writers to reflect on their experiences – both good and bad. 


The first time was the day after I landed in Morocco. I’m traveling with a Remote Year, a remote work and travel program, and a week before they gave us a presentation about Marrakesh. Being the good student I am, I listened hard and I thought I knew what to expect. “Their customs and cultural norms are going to be different than what I’m used to,” I reminded myself that early and often.  I had landed the night before after traveling across Europe for four months prior, so when I parted the curtains in my bedroom on that first morning in the city, my eyes widened in delightful surprise. Gorgeous clay buildings dotted the perfect blue sky. Orange and palm trees lined every sidewalk. Horse-drawn carriages battled with motorbikes and luxury vehicles down wide four-lane roads. It was noisy and chaotic and beautiful. Sunshine was abundant and temperatures were in the 70s. But I knew to chill on my tank top game. (Good student, remember?) Instead, I threw on a long sleeve navy blue t-shirt, blue skinny jeans without any rips or tears, and my fake black Timbs (#ballinonabudget). I was ready.

I left my temporary apartment complex excited to inhale the smells of the city and explore my first country on the continent of Africa.

I stepped outside and the first thing I noticed was the layers. Despite the warmth, many Moroccans were wearing jackets and coats. It was rare to see someone wearing only one layer of clothing like I was.

The second thing I noticed were the men. Having grown up in the DC area, I was no stranger to seeing men in groups hanging out on a city corner. But what struck me in Marrakesh was the way these groups seemed to dominate all public spaces, from the rows of open seating in the restaurants and cafes to the sidewalks they looked out upon.

I did see women. They were often coupled up and many wore hijabs or covered their hair. I made note of every woman I saw that first day because of how slowly the number grew.

The most important thing I noticed was about myself. It didn’t take me up to a block to realize that despite what I considered “conservative” clothing, I stood out as a foreigner from a mile away.

The first man that followed me caught me on the way to the grocery store. I noticed his presence almost immediately but it took him a minute to begin speaking to me. In French, he began asking me questions. As always, I secretly thought to myself, “Still got it!”  But outwardly I was resolute, shook my head, and continued to walk. Persistent, he trailed me for a few long and increasingly annoying minutes.

As we reached a crosswalk, I pointedly turned my body away and ignored him.

Barbara Cameron Pix

In my experience, the men hitting on me usually have somewhere they need to be. That apparently was not the case with this man. While I assumed I was free when the light changed and I made my way across the street, a few minutes later he was still behind me.

When I turned and noticed, he took this opportunity to catch up to me and then jostled me with his body (in that seemingly harmless but lowkey threatening way that women are all familiar with). He alternated between French and English in an attempt to get me to engage.

I had enough.

Without breaking my stride, I pulled down my sunglasses, shot him my most withering, cold stare and snapped, “Leave me alone.”

Clear. Direct. Sunglasses up. Power walk resumed.

He continued to follow me.

I noticed that I was the same person I had always been, but my words, no matter how strongly spoken, didn’t bear the same weight. The casual codes of communication, the easy displays of power, the expectations of how a woman like me should behave were different, but I wasn’t.

Barbara Cameron Pix

He eventually stopped following me.

Not quite shaken, I returned to my apartment and changed into a looser shirt. I was irritated, but I wasn’t angry. Ultimately, I recognized that I was the one visiting their country. They had their own customs and I couldn’t be mad that my ignorance of them made me an easy target.

As my stay in Marrakesh progressed, I didn’t stop going out. I just conveniently found a number of new Netflix shows to binge watch on weekends (Y’all, Money Heist is truly everything.) And I didn’t buy a hijab. It just so happened that “bad hair days” had me wearing my scarf more.

But if I’m being honest with myself, I genuinely did struggle with how to be true to my humanity while living through experiences that quietly seemed to challenge it.

The second time I was followed it was after doing an impromptu photo shoot in a park with Barbara (as one does, #portraitmode4lyfe). I was walking home from my workspace alone and saw a beautiful lush garden that I knew I had to share with Instagram. A man walked past me and looked in my direction as I posed near the cacti. I took that as a sign to cut my modeling career short.

This second time was largely the same, but doesn’t experience just make all the difference? I quickly shrugged my winter coat back on, and let my face relax as I shook my head no. He cheerfully harassed me for my WhatsApp details as I walked away and I reaffirmed my disinterest. After rebuffing him several more times, he appeared to get the hint as I exited the garden.

But of course not. A moment later he was behind me. This time, when he asked for my name I told him. I realized what an absurd joke this was, and pulled out my phone and started an Instagram story. I asked him to introduce himself to the camera and I captioned the post, “Being followed again  if y’all don’t see me later.” We carried on friendly conversation and after saying “No,” so many more times than should have been necessary, he stopped following me for real.

The IG story kept loading but didn’t post. Rather than a reflection of spotty wifi, I took this as a sign to delete it. After all, this is the reality of travel. If you’re doing it right, you’re forced into situations that aren’t comfortable. Cultures that make you question your place in the world. Experiences that broaden your mind and challenge how things “should” be.

I think you could replace every mention of Marrakesh with DC and this reflection would still make sense.  

 

Marrakesh remains noisy and chaotic and beautiful. Like every place with people, it can be a little dangerous. Like any place with men, it, unfortunately, comes with a little street harassment.

I think you could replace every mention of Marrakesh with DC and this reflection would still make sense.  

As a traveler, I’ve learned that you have to be smart and careful no matter the continent. Fear should never be the reason you keep yourself from seeing the beauty of this world with your own two eyes. Every now and then things get a little bright, but I hope you handle the challenges ahead the same way I do:

Clear. Direct. Sunglasses up. Power walk resumed.


Meet Chimdi: Chimdi Ihezie is an artist, vlogger, and videographer based out of Washington, D.C. She is currently embarking on a 12-month, 12-city world tour to showcase the opportunities available to women of color to travel internationally while remaining true to their melanin. Keep up with her on IG

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