A couple of years ago when my friends and I were deciding on our annual girls vacation destination, we were looking for someplace exotic and different, but safe. We decided on Morocco as it is one of the most progressive Muslim countries and one of the friendliest to tourists.
As it turned out, our annual girls vacation ended up including a male friend, that facilitated our experience of going out to a bar in Morocco. We took a private tour, which I felt would also help us feel safer in such a different culture. Our tour guide spent the majority of our days with us – driving us around the country, to restaurants, sights and attractions – before dropping us off at our hotel for the night. He strongly cautioned us against going out on our own in the city at night for our own safety. As a group of boldly insolent 20-somethings, going out was the first thing we did on our first night in Casablanca.
The city didn’t seem particularly threatening, though I can see why our faithful tour guide wouldn’t want a group of Westerners he was responsible for roaming the winding streets of Casablanca on their own. But nonetheless, there the five of us ventured, the four girls and our male companion. One of the most striking things about walking around in an area with bars in Casablanca is that there are no women in any of them. It makes you immediately aware of your gender. It doesn’t help that many of these bar patrons are sitting facing the street so as you walk around, you feel a little judged by everyone.
Eventually we got to a place that didn’t look so unwelcoming. Our guy friend asked if we were allowed to go in and we were ushered inside. We sat at a little table in the corner and once again, it felt oddly like we were being watched. It was like being in the dream sequence of a David Lynch movie. I was a little unsure if they looked at us with scorn, curiosity, shock or all of the above. But whatever it was, they weren’t disrespectful or rude. In fact, at some point when I got up to go to the bathroom, I was going up a narrow staircase to the only bathroom (no women’s bathrooms in bars), and a gentleman coming down the stairs pressed himself up against the wall and bowed to let me pass through.
After having a couple of beers, since they did not have hard liquor, we wandered over to another bar – this one a little more vibrant and hip. We were hoping to get a table with a hookah and they told us they had none available. As we were walking out to try another place, a man chased us down asking if we wanted hookah and we followed him to the basement of a building that seemed closed. Maybe not the smartest move on our part, but it was worthwhile. In the basement was a beautiful decorated, dimly lit alcove and our own private table with a hookah. We were treated very well, presumably because they were expecting a hefty tip. We drank and smoked and since it was just us, we felt more comfortable. At the other end of the room, there was a severe looking man with a beautiful young woman. He was obviously not happy that we were barging in on their private time and made sure to tell our server that we should not take pictures.
Eventually, we made our way to another bar, this time there were more women, but this was obviously a grimier place and it was much later in the night, and it became blatantly obvious that the men in the bar thought we were hookers. Since we were with our male friend and I’m sure they assume he had paid for our services, we were left alone. The bathroom there left a lot to be desired. But I guess that’s what happens you have to pee into a hole in the floor while strange men use the urinal on the other side of a curtain.
Thankfully, we did make it back to our hotel in one piece, though in hindsight, the entire night could have gone very poorly for us. We could have been mugged, assaulted, solicited as prostitutes. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. Of all the unique experiences I had in Morocco, this was the one that gave me a real understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in a predominantly Islamic country, particularly with regard to the activities I take for granted, like having a beer at a bar on a Friday night.