Jeanette Dijkstra is a fascinating woman.
In previous parts of the interview, Jeanette shared the impact of her work as the Country Director of a NGO, working for land mine clearance in Angola. In the second part, we peek into her personal life and how a 51-year old is fighting patriarchy with resilience and business skills.
In the final part of this series, Jeanette takes us on a journey spanning Africa, finally resting in Marrakech. She discusses a post-Covid future and shares helpful tips for solo travelers and why everyone should visit Morocco at least once.
I love my job, I don’t plan on doing anything else anymore. I don’t plan to move back to my home country, not if I don’t have to. Angola is just where I work. And I have a lot of fun, make no mistake. I have brilliant friends here, but home is Morocco.
That’s where I ended up 10 years ago. I always knew that I wanted to live somewhere on the African continent. I have very limited experience in South East Asia, Latin America or the US. I have been there like 3 or 4 times, but I have always travelled extensively on the African continent. That’s where I knew that I wanted to grow old.
But then, I couldn’t pick a country! I have been to 24 countries on the African continent, and I couldn’t choose where I wanted to spend my old days! I was thinking and thinking and then, 10 years ago, I went to Morocco on a walking holiday through the mountains and the desert for 2 weeks. And at the end of the tour, I arrived in Marrakech. As I was walking into the city I thought, “Yes, this is home!”
Then, it took me another 3 years of thinking about it and looking at apartments and I finally bought myself a tiny apartment. So that’s my home.
I travelled a lot by myself on the African continent, and I also worked as a tour leader when I was still working as a consultant. I worked 8 months out of the year as a consultant, and then I spent 3 or 4 months as a tour leader. Because I love travelling and organizing, groups comes naturally to me!
So for me, to travel around with tourists was cool, like a free holiday! I still had to manage the group but that was no sweat on my back! There were only 16 people, come on! So I saw a lot of countries doing that and I loved camping and safari for one month in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia. Eventually, I ended up in Morocco as a tour leader, and I settled.
I have a business partner in Morocco: I was the international tour leader and he was the national tour leader. We started chatting about tourism and how it can be sustainable. It is so easy to say that sustainable tourism is good and to praise eco-tourism, but how do you operationalize that in the right way? It is not easy.
Because it’s not just about saving natural resources or treating your staff well, it’s also about preserving local cultures and local systems, and being good to the people who work for you, make sure that they can make a living. It’s about working with local entrepreneurs and not with the big hotel chains, working with guides that are passionate about their job, who really enjoy what they are doing and not just doing it for the commission that they can get.
We built ourselves a network of drivers and guides and hotels and restaurants and activities that fit into how we see things. That can be from very basic to a 5-star service. We started doing that 8 years ago and it got bigger and better. We have a website and we post occasionally on Facebook, but it’s mostly with the word of mouth that we get clients.
We organize round trips with everything included, we take care of everything. It’s all custom made tours.
We developed a tour for the Solo Female Traveler Network. We started talking last year but then, when we were ready to start, the Covid pandemic happened. Hopefully, we can start at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year. But at the moment, tourism in Morocco has completely flat-lined because the airports are still closed, so clients can’t get in or out.
Now that I am back to a full time job, I no longer have time to lead groups myself. I still try to do one every year, but 9 out of 10 times, it turns out to be a group of my friends and not clients! I am indeed the tour leader but, as I said, it’s not really work for me.
There are not a lot of women travelling alone around Africa. Because there is a lot of nonsense on social media, but it has a lot to do with how people behave. What I mean is, if you are in a Muslim country you need a different approach in what you wear and how you react to people.
If you are constantly trying to be charming and cute, then men misunderstand your body language. In the Moroccan society, they are super hospitable. But yes, there are guys that are looking for tourists, who unfortunately have the reputation of being a little bit looser in their sexual conduct.
I don’t want people to feel like they have to always wear long sleeves and skirt that goes all the way to the ground, but if you dress what would be considered provocatively in a Muslim society, you will receive unwanted attention. That is very unfair, and people should be able to wear whatever they want. But the reality is, the way that you dress and the way that you behave as a female, you are always sending cultural messages.
The same goes for men, by the way. If men are walking around in shorts and tank tops or with a lot of visible tattoos, that will set them apart. Those things make you clearly appear as a tourist and it seems like you can be taken advantage of.
Rule #1 as an anthropologist: if you are looking for a good informant, you need to go and find them! People who approach you and quickly get very familiar with you, are not being friendly, they want something from you. So if I need to ask for my way – and I still get lost in Marrakech all the time, because I have no sense of direction, typical female!- I will go to a shop owner and I will politely ask him.
Women should come and have fun, just be aware of the messages that you are sending with how you dress. You just have to be aware of the cultural difference in that sense. Moroccans are super hospitable but you still need to use your radar.
I hope Morocco opens very soon again and we can have people coming to travel and to be able to show them how cool Morocco is, because it is a super cool country! Especially for people that are interested in the local cultures and the way of life and not the nightclub scene. And then there is the food and the cooking – it’s a super cool country!
I picked it out of a very stiff competition, but it turned out Morocco is the country that I get to call home.
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