Tourism is king here in Morocco. Or queen. Either way, seems I’m the get out of jail free card when passing through police security checkpoints. But I’m also the flag that sometimes gets us stopped. For instance, when stopped for a requisite hash check in the Rif Mountains, we were waved through. (Presumably I can transport hash, no problem?) But when driving to Chefchouan in the Rif Mountains, we were stopped to confirm that the car is actually authorized as a tourism car. I’m the flag that alerted them to check for that. The green-eyed, blonde-haired tourist. The obvious non-Muslim. So if Mokhtar is walking with me through a village, he is stopped and asked if he has a tour guide license to take me.* It’s often discretely and I don’t even know about it, but it happens. We are always being watched. He doesn’t have a tour guide license so it can sometimes be a problem. “Can’t you just tell them we’re friends traveling together?” I ask naively. “No. We’re not married. Only married men and women travel together. Not friends,” is the answer he gives. Wow. This is amazing to me! So while we can walk together sometimes, especially in a larger city, it still poses a problem because I’m obviously non-Muslim. The tourist. Always trying to find a solution, I suggest I wear a hijab. But I’m told it won’t work. They’ll still know. That’s exactly what I was told in Turkey when I suggested I wear a birka through the markets. “It won’t do any good,” they told me, “We still know.”
*Tour guides are a protected resource in Morocco. The licenses protect their livelihoods and the tourists from scammers posing as guides. So it’s really a good thing it’s followed so closely. But frustrating when you’re just two friends trying to explore Morocco together, especially when one is actually Moroccan!