While the bazaars, riads and kasbahs have always delighted our Moroccan Souks & Sand travellers, it’s actually our charismatic local guide, Youssef Laamimi, they consistently sing the loudest praise for.
Although straight — we know: disappointing — the young Moroccan is keen to show off his country to the gay community. The ‘real deal’ as he calls it.
Youssef introduces himself below while also listing off all the reasons he adores his homeland. Read on!
How did you end up becoming a tour guide?
I had an interest in anthropology at university and I thought the best job for this academic department was to join the tourism industry. Travelling is not just a job for me, rather it’s my ultimate passion in life. Meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds is an asset; I make new friends from all over the world. Now I can stay for free wherever I travel, cause there’s always someone in town to invite you home.
What is it about Moroccan customs, culture and history you enjoying showing off most?
Morocco is diverse, from north to south or east to west, there are several unique customs our travellers are exposed to. I love to show our travellers the real deal in Morocco. In my country, our actions are determined through our feelings, so we always think with our hearts. Visitors always find it strange, but after being in Morocco for the length of the tour, they realize what a good thing this can be.
Is there one aspect of Moroccan culture/history you want visitors to walk away with a better understanding of?
Understanding Islam as a faith of peace and tolerance.
Are there any specific activities (cooking class, camel ride etc.) you personally love on Out Adventures’ tour of your country?
The camel ride is always my favourite activity. The Sahara is where I belong. It is my home, my cradle. I am in love with the desert and what it has to offer Morocco. So proud of it.
What about destinations/cities on our trip; is there a specific city or site you love visiting?
Fes and Marrakech are top destinations as far as cities are concerned. They both have a unique charm about them. And they both date back to the medieval times where they became hubs for Moroccan knowledge like science, algebra, mathematics and medicine.
Tell me about Moroccan cuisine. What makes it unique? What are your favourite dishes? Anything visitors MUST taste before leaving?
Moroccan cuisine is diverse. The secret, my friend, isn’t the presence of one Moroccan spice, rather a mixture of Moroccan spices called Ras El Hanout. If India has curry, Morocco has Ras El Hanout. This is Morocco’s legacy.
My favourite dish is Tagine with preserved lemon and chicken. It’s a must and I always recommend it to travellers.
What about books, movies or music? Any popular Moroccan novels or films you’d recommend to our customers to read/watch?
There are several books that involve Moroccan culture, cuisine, and politics. I always recommend books written by local writers more than orientalists. My favourite Moroccan writers are Taher Ben Jeloune and Fatima Mernissi.
In regards to movies: The Man Who Knew Too Much, Gladiator, Son of God, Lawerance of Arabia, Exodus, The Jewel of the Nile, and Kingdom of Heaven.
I know Morocco is well known for its spices. Are there other products that Morocco is famous for? Perhaps something guests can pick up as a souvenir.
Morocco is a country with lots of exotic souvenirs to take home, travellers usually purchase local slippers, Fez hats, fossils, and copper made lamps.
Can you talk about the gay scene in Morocco; from what I understand, homosexuality is illegal.
Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco by law, though we do respect people of differing sexual orientations. Any public harassment towards gays in Morocco is subject to a penal code that may lead to a short imprisonment and fine. So the gay community is respected as long as there is no public affection.
I see. In that case, I wonder if there are any gay bars in larger cities?
Unfortunately, gay bars aren’t a thing in Morocco. Not even in bigger cities. However, private parties or events organized by gay people are quite common. They’re usually in a private location that’s inaccessible to the public.
I know Morocco actually used to be quite accepting and liberal of the LGBT community back in the 40s and 50s. Do you know why/how the country transitioned to a more conservative stance?
True. Morocco was quite open about it because nobody knew what it meant to be gay back then. Once LGBT culture was recognized, then the law was obliged to make it illegal due to our religion.
This has been really insightful. We’re always excited to learn about different cultures. And at the same time put a face to the LGBT community in areas of the world where we’re largely invisible.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat!
Out Adventures runs two annual Morrocan Souks & Sand tours. For departure dates, prices and details, click here.
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(All images courtesy of Youssef Laamimi unless otherwise stated in the caption.)