Strong Independent Woman Travels to Morocco: You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next!

I told this story at a The Moth-inspired storytelling event hosted by Remote Year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and originally wrote about the experience in Midnight Drama in Casablanca here on Medium.

I was peer pressured into throwing my name in the hat to tell a story, was called up, and took the mic with a loose narrative of the trip and a couple “lowlights” to share. Out came a neurotic, stand-up comedy style 7-minute skit, which I’ve attempted to write out here.

Magically, it takes 2x as long to read as to listen (I must have talked fast). Try to speed read it, in my voice, as if I’m sweaty and anxious. It’ll make it better.

Once upon a time, four months ago, I was supposed to take a weeklong trip in Morocco with my significant other. I’d lived in Casablanca my first year after college, and I was really in love.

So the trip seemed like it was going to be a really special and wonderful experience.

Get ready, a plot twist is coming…

A couple weeks before the trip, we got on Skype to catch up, as one does in a long distance relationship.

An hour later, I was sobbing in the shower, beyond confused and utterly devastated. Yes, I’d been dumped.

My first thought was that I couldn’t possibly go to Morocco. How could we be in the same country but not together, how could I travel alone feeling like this, how could I handle Morocco by myself?

Cue the tears and curling up in lots of fabric and self-pity.

But then I thought:

No, I am a strong, independent woman!
I can — and will — take this trip alone.

(Honestly, first my roommate from Morocco said it to me, and then I agreed because the independent-adventurous-feminist gauntlet had been thrown down.)

Romantic getaway or not, this was still my chance to go “home” after 6 years away and see the city and country that shaped my adult life and so much of why I live on the road / abroad today.

I’d traveled alone before —last year, I spent 6 weeks going around SE Asia by myself. I know how to book transportation and accommodations that I can afford and make me feel safe to live and work. I could do it again.

Plus, I had booked a $500 flight that I didn’t want to waste, so I decided to do the logical thing when living on a budget and spend a lot more money taking the trip by myself. Adulting!

I booked myself a nice hotel room on points (thanks to paying for Remote Year on my credit card) for the first two nights and started my trip in Casablanca.

Things were going pretty well, and then I went to Essaouira, which is a little port beach town.

I was doing a good job of traveling on my own again, buying my bus tickets and booking places to stay — all the stuff that Jason and RY take care of for me right now — and was mostly feeling okay about the trip, even though I was also of course depressed and alone.

Naturally, I was getting harassed in the streets and there was Jamal, who kept finding me in the streets of Essaouira and insisting that we spend some time together. But I otherwise enjoyed a quiet few days of eating, reading, and walking around.

Then I went on to Marrakesh, which I’ve visited several times before, and my taxi takes me from the bus stop to the medina and then has to drop me off outside a local mosque because it can’t keep going down the narrow streets.

Thanks to lessons of experience: I get all my stuff as close to my body as possible — purse with laptop, phone, passport, money on one shoulder and duffle bag on the other — locked in under my elbows.

I’m walking down a back alley to find my riad, and though it’s early evening so people are still around, I’ve always got to be on high alert.

I pass a few men and children as I’m walking, and then I see a young kid, maybe 10 years old, walking towards me in the alley. As he approaches, I notice that he’s kind of cross eyed and walking funny, so I’m like, okay maybe not totally all normal but hopefully not a threat.

As we begin to pass each other, he’s looking at me funny and slowly shuffling along, so I’m gripping my bags and trying to gauge the threat level of the situation. He comes up behind me and reaches his arm out, and the next thing I know: Kid. Hand. Ass.

He’s cupping my ass.

I THWACK him hard in the chest and yell out “No!” and step away as soon as possible, because I’m also immediately concerned he’s also going to rob me. (Given that I’ve had 2 attempted muggings in my life, one of which was in Morocco, and many friends have been pickpocketed, this is a reasonable fear.)

I hear a man and woman yelling from the opposite end of the street in Arabic, and I can’t tell whether they’re yelling at him or me. I don’t want to have any (more) trouble, but I am also PISSED about the whole situation.

I call back out in (my admittedly mediocre) French and explain that he’s touched me.

They tell me that he’s not okay, and I yell back (in French), YEAH WELL THIS IS NOT OKAY!

They’re not mad at me, fortunately, and the man helps me find my riad. I get myself safely inside and check in. After about 30 minutes, I stop shaking as the adrenaline calms down.

Now it’s around 7 pm, so it’s dinner time. I’m hungry.

I think, I am still a strong independent traveling woman, so I’m still going to go to Jemaa el Fna for dinner. I’ll be damned if that kid’s going to scare me out of doing my thing, and also I need to eat.

So I walk back through the alley to the medina and get to the main square, which if you’ve been to Marrakesh you know is this crazy area full of people selling everything.

At night there are rows of food stalls all selling the same foods, and there are men and boys harassing you to read their menu and come eat at their food stall, which ranges from annoying to pretty clever, and it’s all part of the “experience”.

I’m evaluating my options, making laps, and I start talking to one boy from a stall that I think I’ll probably eat at when his friend comes up behind me and says:

“I like your butt.”

I just wave him away because I’m like, yeah, you and this other kid.

But a few seconds later, he comes back up to us and loudly whispers in my ear:

“I want to lick up your ass.”

A CHILD just said he wanted to Lick. Up. My. Ass.

So then I’m like NOPE! I’m done. I head back to my riad.

After a few days of men asking me if I need help for directions or to come home with them or telling me to smile, in French, English, and any other language they speak or think that I do, I return to Casablanca.

(Note: I almost missed my train back to Casa and then got semi-lost in a taxi upon arrival. Everything about this trip was great for me.)

I meet up with a former student on my last night in town before my 2 am flight back to Split, and we go to a yoga class and then have sushi dinner, and it’s all lovely. I’m ready to go back to my RY group.

Around midnight, I order a taxi from her house because I think, we’re 45 minutes away, it can’t be that busy at the airport, I’m not checking a bag, and I’ve flown out of it so many times in the past, so it’ll be fine.

Famous last words.

The first taxi won’t take cash and I’m out, so we order another one on an Uber-esque app on her phone so it’ll charge her Moroccan card and I can pay her back later. I get in the taxi and we’re en route to the airport.

Now it’s almost 1 am, and I’m feeling antsy about my 2:20 am flight, but I’m obviously a neurotic person and have never missed a flight before, so I keep telling myself that it’ll be fine and to stay calm.

I’m doing a decent job thinking it’s all going to work out as always, and we’re cruising along the empty highway when, out of nowhere, this SUV comes and just sideswipes us.

1:15 am: Minor car accident.

The two drivers pull over, and now I’m sitting in the backseat of a dusty cheap SUV while my scrawny driver argues with a much larger Moroccan man in a fur jacket and sunglasses in the street outside a lone gas station.

After about 15 minutes, I’m getting pretty anxious, but I also don’t really see how to safely interrupt the situation and not have some disaster situation given that I am a single American woman on an empty highway in the middle of the night with two angry Moroccan men arguing.

Better to maybe miss the flight.

Finally, I poke my head outside the door and ask if we can keep going because, you know, I have this flight to catch, and my driver agrees.

(Side note: he was just going to leave, and then I was like, at least take photos of the cars because you have a smart phone and obviously need evidence if anything helpful is going to happen for you later.)

We finally arrive at the airport, and I grab my stuff and begin to flee the car, and he tells me, oh it’s 300 dirham. And I’m like, yeah, you charge it on the app, and he says, no, you pay cash.

Well, I don’t have cash, which was the point of ordering the car in the first place, so I’m say, ok sorry I have to go, you have my friend’s number, and if I can check in and get cash and come pay you, I will.

So I take off and run in to the airport.

The door guard runs my bags through the scanner and asks what flight I’m on, and I say Lufthansa, and he says, “oh, you’re late! and you’re in the wrong terminal” and points down the hallway of closed storefronts to the other end of the airport.

Now I’m mentally cursing and my anxiety levels are spiking, but I keep telling myself I’m going to make it, just like in the movies.

So I hold on tight to both bags and run through the airport.

Of course, because it’s almost 2 am and empty, they’re mopping the floors, so every once in a while, I hit a wet patch and have to dance my way across the floor and hopefully not slip and break my tailbone.

I reach the other end, panting and sweating, and rush to the Lufthansa desk, where I see a man nonchalantly walking away.

I run up to him and gasp that I’m here for the flight and I’m ready to go and I just need my ticket and I don’t have to check anything.

He waves me away, says the desk is closed, and walks off after pointing to a different Lufthansa booking counter.

I rush over to this cubicle in the middle of the airport check-in area, next to a line of Moroccans in traditional clothes queuing for some unopened flight, and beg the agent to let me get on my flight.

I have almost exactly 30 minutes to departure time, and she makes a phone call, but the answer is no.

And that is when I lose it.
All of the it that I have to lose: Gone.

I’m standing at the yellow Lufthansa desk,
with my bags at my feet and my passport in my hand,
at 2 am in the Casablanca Mohammed V airport,
in a dead quiet area with 50 people standing behind me, watching,
and I just start sobbing.

This isn’t like aw, I’m shedding a few tears, oh no.

This is my heartbreak and 8 days of traveling alone and being harassed by children and men on the street and spending tons of extra money and being homesick.
This is having my butt grabbed and creepy things whispered to me and sleeping alone and having night terrors jolt me awake.
This is being afraid on a foreign highway alone in the middle of the night and wondering whether this will be a defining moment of my life (or death).

This is heavy and heaving, deeply miserable crying.

The agent is not impressed or concerned.

I ask her when the next flight is, prepared to wait a painful number of hours in the airport to leave later that morning. She tells me the next option to get me back to Split is on Lufthansa in 2 days and will cost me an additional $500.

(Remember that’s my original ticket cost, which I didn’t want to waste? Oh the gods must have a sense of humor.)

She also says I have to book before the other flight officially departs, otherwise it likely will cost more. I frantically try to use the airport wifi to find another flight option, but shockingly, there aren’t a lot of Casablanca > Split routes available. I hand her my credit card.

Let’s not forget that I’m still uncontrollably sobbing and making a scene of self-pity the entire time.

Two unimpressed people in front of me and the whole line of Moroccans behind me watch me have my sweaty, emotional, 2 am meltdown with absolutely no sign of self-control coming into play.

As she’s working on rebooking me, I decide to attempt to explain myself, and manage to tell her some of my story.

When I utter the phrase about being dumped — there’s a shift, and all of the sudden, she’s full of empathy.

The agent and mystery man immediately help me behind the counter to sit down in the extra chair, hand me tissues and a bottle of water, bring my stuff in next to me, and start asking me questions.

How did you meet? How long have you been dating? Do you have somewhere to stay? Where are you from? Was he Moroccan? Do you actually know him?

(Did they think I was some dumb American girl getting catfished by an internet love interest? Clearly, yes.)

They offer me their condolences. The man offers to let me stay at his family’s home. The woman looks very sorry for me.

It’s all very kind, even though they’re still charging me $500 and making me stay 2 more days in the damn country.

I message my former student / friend updates, and she lets me know that the taxi driver that I haven’t paid is still waiting outside the airport for me and can bring me back to her family’s house.

She assures me that her mother and siblings won’t mind me staying there for a couple days, and she tells me I will stay in her room and she’ll sleep on one of the couches. Knowing the hospitality of Moroccan families and the comfort of their many couches, I gratefully acquiesce.

Printed confirmation from my now-friendly Lufthansa agent and cash withdrawn from the ATM in hand, I head back out of the airport to the taxi line. I find my driver, and we head to his car in the parking lot.

I apologize (still crying), he apologizes, and we get in his SUV.

I’m back in the same seat, and we’re soon heading down the empty highway, again. I look out the window and see the gas station we stopped in front of and think about the past hour of my life.

He tries to tell me that it will all be okay (because I am, you guessed it, still softly weeping), and I tell him that actually, my new flight cost me 5000 dirhams.

He gasps, hands me a fistful of tissues, and we sit in silence for the rest of the ride.

We pull up to the house, and I pay him the round trip fare, sneak to the side door, and hug my friend. She shows me up to her room, and I curl up in bed and coax myself to sleep around 4 am.

The trip extension ends up being nicer than expected — getting to know her better as a friend, her mom force feeding me too much food at lunch and dinner, going for a training run along the beach, dancing in her living room with my friend and her mom, talking to her siblings about their weddings and families. Her mom hugged me every time she saw me and insisted that I was part of the family and would have to visit again.

Even though I’d been in Moroccan homes and even attended a wedding when I lived there before, it was my first time staying with a Moroccan family.

Two nights later, after yoga, Domino’s delivery pizza, and a quick ice cream run, I called another taxi, got to the airport plenty early, and flew back through Germany to Split.

Katherine is a digital nomad, working remotely while she travels the world — on the road since June 2014. She’s a member of Remote Year 2 Battuta, living around the world with 75 other digital nomads from February 2016 to January 2017.

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writer. traveler. storyteller. art nerd. digital nomad. remote year alum. @williamscollege alum. texan. new yorker. &

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