Imlil to Marrakech

I began to head back to Marrakech from Imlil, walking down the dirt road through the town center, past the kind salesmen who helped me with directions two days prior, past the fruit stands where I had purchased cherries the day before. Before I arrived at the end of the road where the taxis wait for passengers, a white utility-style van slows down as it drives by. “Marrakech?” a man yells out of a rolled-down window. “Yes, is that where you are going?”…”Is this a public bus?” I respond. Impatiently, the van starts to pull away – a sign that they do have a place to be in a timely manner, meaning than they are not trying to kidnap me or put me in an uncomfortable situation. I stop them as they drive away, jump in the vehicle and find a seat behind the driver. The van is filled with Moroccan men, and a moment after sitting down I hear the word “Russea” spoken several times. I had heard from several people that in Arab countries, Russian girls are often associated with prostitutes. With my light blonde hair I had been mistaken for a Russian many times, and assumed that this was another. The only difference was that this time, I was being mistaken for a Russian [prostitute] in a questionable white van surrounded by young and middle-aged Moroccan men. After a few minutes of worrying and imagining escape scenarios, a teenage boy asked for my bus fare (which was a ridiculous amount that I haggled down immediately to only slightly more than the locals were paying) and I tried to chat with him a little in Arabic to show that I was not a typical tourist, and that I could understand at least some Arabic. We rode in the van for another thirty minutes, and the other passengers were kind and respectful to me the entire time. No issues arose whatsoever. The van pulled to a stop in a small village where there was a large group of people waiting next to a school bus. We were told to leave the van and to transfer to the bus. On the bus there were women and children as well as men of all ages. I was lucky and found a single seat by a window in the back, but those who came after me had to share two-person rows with three or more people, and many people were left crammed in the aisle in between the rows of seats. I counted around 26 seats on the bus, yet there were over 45 people. A group of young men (eight or so) were squished in the aisle next to me. They immediately struck up a conversation, excited to practice their English, and even more enthused when I responded in bits of broken Arabic. We talked for the remaining 45 minutes of the ride, discussing their shared love of running (one of the men had recently won a famous Moroccan marathon), their English studies, and their views on American politics and the American media’s sentiment towards Islam. They asked about my opinions on why terrorism exists, reassured me that it has nothing to do with religion – they even cited the recent bombing near a mosque in Saudi I believe, saying that if terrorists were actually Muslims they would never do such a thing – and that they are saddened that so many Westerners equate Islam with radicalism and terrorism. Somewhere in the conversation some of the men were trying to get their shy friend to say something in English; he knew very little, and was afraid to speak in English, especially to me. After a moment he said, “you’re pretty” and the other men began laughing hysterically. Unsure of how to react, I pretended to be only somewhat amused and turned to look out the window, unresponsive to the comment. The men noticed, and those who spoke more English immediately assured me that the man was only joking, and not to worry about it at all, and that they were sorry if it made me uncomfortable. It was a thoughtful response, and I told them not to worry, and that I knew he was only joking (at least then I knew). I  left the bus and we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

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