After a year of travelling with my partner, fearlessly hitchhiking everywhere, it was time. I had to try by myself. As a woman, in a foreign country, I was scared. I mean, we’ve all received the same message; travelling solo is fine, unless you’re a woman. Throw hitchhiking in the mix and you’re just doomed.
Not only will people tell you not to hitchhike, but our hitchhiking was only made acceptable because we were doing it together, as a couple. Even though we never had any bad experiences while hitchhiking (thank you life), we heard countless horror stories. And most of them ended on the same note: Marika, you can’t hitchhike by yourself.
Now, as a strong independent feminist, I refuse to let my gender dictate what I can or can’t do. So, despite my own fears, despite all the stories, despite all the ‘’advice’’ and despite what society hammers in my head every day, I decided to do it. I hitchhiked alone, as a woman*. And guess what? It went great.
Walking out of the house, which that morning meant Morocco Animal Aid (MAA) where I volunteered for about 2 weeks, was difficult. It was the first time I stepped into uncertainty by myself. The streets seemed brighter, my eyes clearer, I felt aware of everything, myself included. I was definitely more conscious, a little nervous, but I held my head high, I knew I could do it, I know I deserve to be here just as much as any man. My heart was beating a little faster than it usually did, I didn’t have a reassuring hand, or the slow chatter of sharing thoughts and feelings that usually accompanied these moments of leaving a place.
At the same time, I also didn’t have the distraction pulling me away from myself and my surroundings, and I felt much more. I felt every step, I noticed every details and colors of the buildings around me, every person that crossed my path. Although being extremely vigilant and cautious is a heavy burden women have to carry, and that I will now take on as I travel by myself, in this moment I appreciated its unexpected silver lining: being completely in the moment, perfectly absorbed in the now.
I will give you a moment to appreciate the strength and beauty of our minds and the cognitive processes that allow us to reinterpret and restructure information in such a way that we can find positivity in anything.
After walking down to the main street, came the moment of truth: my first hitchhike. I felt awkward, standing there by myself, naked, vulnerable. I spoke to myself a little, watched a few cars go by before I managed to take the hitchhiker stance. I was quite selective, which meant I had to rely on unreliable prejudice as I judged the appearance of the car and the driver. Mostly, I was trying to avoid single man that were probably not going far, when TA-DAA! A jeep with two girls pulled up. The perfect first ride. They were only going to the next village, but I was super excited to announce they were my first ride as a solo hitchhiker.
A few minutes later, after refusing a few rides not going far enough, a young man stopped, surf board between the two front seats, and offered to take me right out of Agadir, to the exact spot I wanted to reach. See, last time Vincent and I lost almost 2 hours getting short rides across Agadir just to get to the highway towards Marrakech, where we got picked up in 5 minutes. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake. The driver worked with tourists and he was going to deliver the said surf board in Agadir. It turned out he travelled quite a bit, and we discussed the differences between visiting western countries and non-western countries. I also ended up explaining MAA and the dog shootings, to his surprise, as he had heard the shootings himself but had no idea of the extent of the problem.
I am not sure why I felt safe, and it is something I am, and will keep, wondering about. I think there were multiple factors: having all my bags on me (my backpack was small enough to keep on even as I sat in the car), the physical barrier (although not that much of an obstacle) of the surf board, the company car and the fact he obviously worked with westerners a lot, how easy it was to communicate, his immediate offer to drive a little further to help me. Not only did I feel safe, but I was very happy to see the ride end in the ideal spot, without any remarks, insinuations or ‘’you shouldn’t do this’’ speech on his part.
Here comes the best part. Now I walked with confidence, not looking down as the men hitchhiking along the same road stared at me. You probably have this image of me walking down the street like the prom queen staring down people in the hallway, but wait. The beauty is that I didn’t even feel the need to overcompensate. I quickly traded my tough look for a smile as I met smiles and surprised looks (I told you this is Morocco!). I stopped past the line of locals hitchhiking, happy and satisfied. I was almost there.
I waved at less than 5 cars, when I saw an expensive-looking rental car slowing down 10 meters ahead. Two men in the front, a few fancy suits hanging in the backseat.
‘’Fin radi?’’, they asked.
‘’Marrakesh!’’ I answered.
They gestured for me to jump in.
I settled in, happy. I was on the right track.
‘’Fin radi?’’ I asked back.
‘’Marrakech!’’ they said.
Not only were they going to Marrakech, but they were also tourists from Oman so they were going straight to the Jamaa El Fna square, my destination for the day.
When I tell you hitchhiking in Morocco is too easy…
I got to enjoy a perfectly relaxed 3 hour ride, knowing I didn’t have to worry about where I would end up, as I discussed politics, language, economy, geology and environment with the driver, who spoke flawless English as he is finishing is PhD in Scotland. We exchanged emails, in case we end up in the same country again, and I walked out of the car, knowing exactly where I was. Safe and sound. I made it. I felt like I was radiating freedom, breathing possibility.
It might sound simplistic, but that afternoon is the most empowered I remember feeling. We spend our lives learning that women just can’t afford to take certain risks, to do certain things on their own. Not only are certain activities, qualities and behaviours restricted to males, but most public spaces are also owned by man, like streets. Feeling safe is largely restricted to cis white heterosexual men, especially in the streets, especially at night (easy read on feminism and urbanism here and urbanism and street harassment here). Whether something happens or not doesn’t matter (I mean, it does, but regardless), we feel like it will, we fear it, anticipate it. Every day, every night. We learn to accept it, live with it, ignore it, but it’s always there.
So, I was scared. But I did it. I pushed my boundaries, and I was lucky (or privileged) enough to reach my destination with so much more than I had when I left: pride, strength, empowerment. I felt free, finally.
I can do this.
*A bit of context: I’ve been hitchhiking for a while now, and starting getting used to it, feeling comfortable, knowing the hows and whats. Further, I had been in Morocco, hitchhiking from North to South and everywhere in between, for more than 3 months. Not only was I used to the roads, the customs and the language (speaking French also helped, a lot), but I knew something very essential: Hitchhiking in Morocco is unbelievably easy. Not only did it remove the worry and stress of wondering if you’ll find a ride, but it gave me something important: the liberty to choose my rides. Of course, you can always choose. But choosing to say no to a ride, or not asking for a ride when you’ve been waiting for 5 minutes (who am I kidding, this is Morocco) 5 seconds, and you know other cars will stop, is much easier. Of course, my privileges also made it safer and easier for me to hitchhike by myself.