Several years ago I visited Morocco with a small group of like-minded travellers from London, whom I had never met before. We all boarded a plane from Gatwick and took the surprisingly short (and astonishingly cheap) journey to Marrakesh, Morocco. I wrote about the 5 Days in Morrocco experience in-depth in another post, but I wanted to highlight one of my fondest memories from that trip that included local experiences in Morocco.
The trip I took would definitely be classified as “once in a lifetime” in my books; it was a sprawling journey that took me from the exotic souks of Marrakesh to the charming oasis in Dades Valley, and I even spent a night in the Sahara Desert sleeping under the stars. Every moment of the trip provided a story to tell later. Perhaps that’s why my blog post on Morocco is so wordy and much too long. Yet none remained with me quite as significantly as this one.
On a trip filled with so many memories and once in a lifetime moments, it is incredible that this simple interaction is what has stood out the most vividly in my memory.
A Village in Rural Morocco
The sun had set as we prepared to head out for a walk down the single road in the town we were staying in. We had arrived just as the sunlight had begun to fade, dipping behind the nearby mountains, and checked into our hotels. It had taken an hour or more to cross the winding roads in this mountainous region to reach our destination for the night, and my face had been plastered to the glass window of our minibus.
We would be eating at the hotels that evening but had been informed it was not ready. Therefore we opted to take a short walk in the village to pass the time and appreciate the view of the stars. Since most of us lived in London we did not often get a chance to gaze upon the stars.
The local population were friendly as we walked through the town, but not overly so. At one point I had trailed a few feet off of the back of the group when a local woman approached me. She had been standing at a storefront with another woman when she had stepped towards the road and simply said:
“Bonsoir, ca va?” (Good evening, how are you?)
I had taken almost 8 years of French classes throughout my formal education, and it was time to put all of it to work. I reached deep in my memories of studies and replied. “Bien, merci, et vu?” Polite, a little formal, but I had at least not butchered the pronunciation; mentally I declared this a win for hours of study I never thought I’d use again.
The next question was a little harder, pushed my French a bit further to the limits, but she spoke slowly and simply so I could follow: Why were we visiting the village?
The question took me by surprise. In Marrakesh, I had some encounters with local women who were trying to aggressively sell me goods. Though this woman stood before a shop there was no indication she was trying to draw me into it. In fact it looked as if they were closing up for the evening. Interested in the turn in the conversation I smiled and engaged, while several of my group hung back to watch the interactions.
My french was abysmally poor; I should have immediately messaged my old french teacher and apologized for failing to leverage the very good education she had given me. I couldn’t find the right tense for anything, so I simply spoke in the present tense, but somehow managed to have a conversation and express myself. I admit, a lot of gesturing and hand motions filled the gaps that were left by my memory and lack of vocabulary.
I explained in rudimentarily spoken French and exaggerated gesturing, that we were staying the night in a nearby hotel. She knew the name when I mentioned it and called it beautiful (it was).
Next, she asked where we were from. Finally, a question I had been trained to answer in 6th grade French! “Nous habbitons à Londres” (We live in London). She exclaimed her surprise at how far away we had come and asked again why we were visiting her village.
I explained that we were visiting her beautiful country and had come from Marrakesh that morning. We had seen many wonderful things. And tomorrow we would travel to the famous Dades Gorge, which was not far from the village. I (tried) to explain how beautiful her village was, and that we were happy to see the sky and stars.
We laughed when I stumbled over words, or couldn’t find the right one, but five minutes later I realized that we were having a conversation.
Some of the group had carried on walking and had turned around after a time. They rejoined those of us conversing with the local woman and reminded us that dinner would soon be served. I explained we were late for dinner and thanked her for the conversation. I couldn’t remember how to accurately say “it was a pleasure to meet you”, but I must have said “merci” (thank you) a dozen times as we took our leave.
A simple conversation, spoken in broken French, brought me an unusual experience in a rural Moroccan village that remains etched in my memory. The smile on the woman’s face, as I described the area as beautiful, is something I would never forget.
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What an amazing opportunity to see authentic Morocco and meet the locals. Nice to go somewhere away from toursist crowds. Great post!
Thanks Katy! These are the moments that continue to inspire me to travel.
What a beautiful and heart-warming story. It’s always such a refreshing experience to get off the beaten path and meet genuinely nice and hospitable locals, far from the big cities with aggressive vendors and scams.
Thank you! And yes, really lovely to meet some truly authentic and wonderful people while traveling.
What a special interaction. And it’s amazing how useful your school French actually was! It helped you have this great experience.
Thanks Bliss! I was shocked that my French stood up so well while traveling. My grammar may be poor but I have the ability to string together enough vocabulary to be understood at least!
That’s awesome that you were able to get away from the super touristy areas! (And props to you for being able to draw from the French you learned in school to have a conversation! I took 2 years of Mandarin in high school and 2 quarters in college and I feel like my Mandarin can really only fend for itself in very, very limited situations.)
Thank you! I’ve been able to get by on French for more common interactions – ordering at a restaurant, counting numbers, etc. But it was an unusual experience to have a conversation that went beyond the rudimentary training.
I really enjoyed this piece so utterly – and I never knew they speak French in Morocco!
Thanks Shafinah – the official language is Arabic, but a majority of the population also speak French. English is not widely spoken so I found it helpful to use French instead. This is due to the fact that Morocco was a French Protectorate until the 1950s.
This is so sweet! And yay that you managed to communicate – did it make you want to get back on Duolingo and re-learn more French? I always feel like that after good interactions. 🙂
I had a similar sweet experience in a teeny village in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. We were hiking through the mountains and we came across a group of women getting ready for a wedding. They were covering themselves in henna, so they pulled me in with giggles to join them. I had no idea what was happening (until later, when our guide could translate) but it was all so fun and sweet. My arms were dyed by the henna, so I ended up with simpson-coloured arms for a week! 😀
Thanks Josy! I have considered adding French to my Duolingo, just for a refresher. And I love to hear that you had a wonderful experience in rural Morocco as well. That sounds like such an incredible celebration to become involved with.
I love this. I always find the places I’ve liked the most are those where I’ve been able to have a wonderful interaction like this. I had a similar experience in Latvia with a local who was trying to explain what a traditional drink she was selling was, and the kindness, warmth and genuine curiosity was more than enough to make this one of my favorite places now.
Thanks Emma! That sounds like such a beautiful experience in Latvia. I love meeting with warm and friendly locals who are as curious about me as I am about them, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the culture you’re visiting.