The Rider Ingenue – Noah Huffman

“You know, she’s something of a legend in this town.” Naoual rose from her perch on the corner of the wooden desk covered in loose papers and an overflowing binder. “To be honest, I’ve never seen her myself,” she conceded, “but some of my friends have.” Others in the room chirped with stories of affirmation, citing occasions of her spotting at a square or somewhere downtown. “She’s brave,” Naoual meditated, looking out the open window in the back of the room, “I know I couldn’t do it. She has to be strong— like a man— if she wants to survive. People will try to take advantage of her because she’s a woman, but she must stand her ground.” I nodded in agreement, remembering my own journey this morning. Like metal ladybugs spitting plumes of exhaust, hundreds of nearly identical little red taxis swarm through the tight and winding roads of Fes. In only one of these cars is a female driver. Her conception instigated a buzz throughout the old imperial city. A woman driving a taxi? Unheard of— and perhaps not even allowed. Why would her husband permit her to take up a job traditionally reserved for men? It was unbecoming of a woman to assume such a position, and perhaps telling of her spouse’s failure. A Fassi taxi driver is acerbic and reckless, coasting in and out of traffic with narcissistic intentions to get wherever he needs to go the fastest. He is sometimes underhanded and always determined to make the most money he possibly can, even if that means cheating his customer. It was hard for the locals to imagine a woman fitting into this picture. But nevertheless, today she drives, a victory for the women of Fes.

Four-hundred kilometers away, the wooden stalls of street merchants begin to clatter forcefully as two motorcycles blaze a trail through the narrow street surrounded by high red walls. The pedestrians jump out of the way, praying they will remain unscathed by the blitzing vehicles. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the pop of color of a head scarf. “They’re so empowering, the women riders,” Meriam tells me in awe. “I thought about getting a motorcycle of my own, but there’s no way I could have one back in Fes.” The Marrakech medina is made up of equal parts tourists, shopkeepers, and motorcycles. The bikes fly by constantly, leaving a choking black haze in their tracks. They honk madly at foot traffic, annoyed by its mere existence. But the most interesting part about these bands of riders is the inclusion of women in their ranks. Nowhere else has there been an abundance of women driving motorcycles in the country of Morocco. Usually, they are seen driving cars (although still less frequently than men); however, here in Marrakech, women speed by without a single worry other than their urgent destination. Most consider the Red City to be the most open-minded in all of the country, unsurprising due to the number of European tourists and the Western influence over the years. This liberalism has trickled down to the emboldened female riders. However, it was a shock to have these motorcycles allowed in the old medina of Marrakech. Perhaps I was spoiled by the prohibition of vehicles in the Fes medina that I was horrified to find them coming at me left and right in Marrakech. The roads felt too small to accommodate the both of us, and due to the size and speed of the motorcycles, they often won out. I remember walking down a street when a bike ran into the back of my leg.

Attention!” the rider yelled at me in French, obviously frustrated with the tourists in his city. But his assumption that I should have known he was coming up behind me was absurd. The traffic in the area made it impossible to hear him coming, and I certainly did not grow eyes in the back of my head. Another instance which shocked me was in the heart of the medina. Hundreds of people were moving indiscriminately and a motorcycle ran through the crowd, forcing the people to make way for the entitled driver. It was stunning to me that this could be allowed, or that someone would even think it appropriate to do something like this. It became a delicate question in my mind: How can Moroccans balance the old with the new? While motorcycles are a great convenience and allow women a new opportunity in society, they wreak havoc in the busy and touristy souks. It is an issue whose themes impact the entire country. How can modernity be attained while preserving a historically and culturally important past? The solution is not one which is clear, but like the Fassi taxi driver, the future can hold many unexpected answers.

The busy souks of Marrakech

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