By Charlotte Morgan
By Charlotte Morgan
Marrakech – The author Tahir Shah writes this famous quote in Arabian Nights: “What are tourists for but for tricking?”
His character in the book laments, “Simply trick the tourists like everyone else, most of them will never come back…and what other use are they?”
Has this become the mantra of the medina of Fez?
I experienced it first hand this week. I am an experienced traveller with cultural interests in Morocco. I love the country and often travel in remote locations. Does this make my experience more shocking? Or did I experience the reality of the medina?
I spent quite some time in Fez two years ago, and often wandered alone at night, so it was with pleasure to return to visit this beautiful, historic city. Standing outside the main gate of the medina, I could not help noticing the gangs of young men hanging about lurking behind the Bab or in the corners of derbs. I chose to ignore the boys’ body language. After all, I’m an old Moroccan visitor, and was with two Marrakeshi friends. I didn’t originally see the malice and bad intent behind their eyes as I strolled around snapping memories on my iPhone.
Certainly I was attracting attention for a trick.
“Did I need a guide?” they asked. “No thanks. The last thing I need is an unofficial guide, thank you.”
“Directions to the tanneries?” they asked again. “No thanks.”
“Buy a carpet lady.” “Nope.”
Suddenly my friend grabbed my arm and shoved me to his side. “Put your iPhone in your bag now. Those two guys are talking about how they are going to grab it.” Wow. An audacious trick indeed, in broad daylight at 11:00 in the morning. Where, I ask, are the police? Why do they allow these petty crimes? Clearly these boys have no fear of being caught, and I was in a public arena.
So I’m thinking what the repercussions would be of stealing shiny tourist tech. When did these boys’ lives become so poor that stealing became a respectable profession? Ali Baba and the 40 thieves in modern day attire. Where are the morals of society if strangers are fair game for youth to rob and trick? Where is the protection for tourists in a city where its main income in the medina is tourist shopping and tours?
As I pondered this and walked deeper in the Fez medina, I felt the malevolence of the youth (almost exclusively boys). I couldn’t see any women and children walking about. What was going on, where were crowds of tourists and local families? Had the medina become a no-go area? Buildings are falling down around you. It looks uncared for. Gangs of youths look at you, assessing your wealth and vulnerability. Does your age make you a target, a quick hit and run, stealing your bag and hoping for wallet, camera, and passport?
I would like to say conditions improved as we ventured deeper into the medina, but that was not so. More boarded up shops and for sale signs, once off the main streets, more discussions in street darija behind my back. Should they rob us? What did we have? Would we fight back? At this point one of my friends decided it was just too dangerous for us to continue. We walked back quickly to the main Bab, our trip ruined.
Morocco is a country that traditionally welcomes visitors, a country with a rich history and tradition of hospitality and generous behaviour to strangers. How has it changed so radically? Looking around, one sees unemployment and hopelessness, tales of tourists being stabbed in the centre of the Fez medina, drug use amongst the young, lack of permanent, well-paid employment. Is this what is driving the young to drugs, seeking oblivion and passing away the boredom of unemployment, knowing there is no secure contracted employment in the medina, an uncertain future where every day is the same with no possibility of escape?
So why bother trying when you can trick a tourist with no repercussions? Because once the medina’s reputation as a violent crime-ridden area becomes prevalent, there will be no more tourists.
Please act now. It is necessary to clean and repair housing, refurbish public areas, and employ a more visible police presence to reassure visitors that you care. The building of new artisan workshops and the river walk are positive steps. Allocate funds to help the young find secure homes and employment. Young people are a country’s future, and tourists pay for that future.
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