The moment I told people that I want to visit Marseille everybody tried to convince me to not go. According to most people in Brussels, Paris and Mulhouse, Marseille is the worst city in Europe. Believing them, you can’t cross a zebra without getting raped there. Some of you maybe read my “Nimm dich in Acht Mädchen” Post. It’s about an awkward encounter in Paris. As a woman traveling alone I learned to be careful. Luckily I had very few dangerous situations. Though I can’t stand men whistling, trying to touch me or talk to me on the streets anymore.
I though Marseille has to be like running the gauntlet all the time. Because of all the stories I was scared as hell when I arrived. Usually I get lost in every new city. I just walk to get to know my surrounding and mostly I find my way back after a while. In Marseille I spend my first week walking exactly planned routes and having no eyes for what happens around me. I felt lost and unsure.
Maybe it would have helped to stay at a locals home and have somebody who shows me the city from another angle. But for the first time in my life Couchsurfing completely failed. Two hosts canceled on me in the very last second, so I had no chance but staying in a Hostel. The “Hello Marseille” Hostel is great and I enjoyed my stay their at the fullest.
But still, How should I ever meet people if I just hide in a Hostel?
To complete the misery I experienced right in the beginning my very first shitstorm. The reason to chose Marseille was that I thought it’s very interesting to have a city with a high number of right-wing populists and a very huge Muslim society, too. How does it feel if the statistics tell you that at least one of your neighbors votes Front National? Is the city divided? And where is the line? I posted this questions on the Couchsurfing-Forum in Marseille and tried to find somebody joining me for a walk through the poorer north-city. Remember: I was still really scared. I would have never walked there alone. Anyway, the reactions to my post were very bad. People felt attacked and thought I’m racist. I did made so me mistakes. The poorer quarters of Marseille are mainly Muslims neighborhoods and my fear to go there of course could be racist motivated too. Also I offered a beer as reward for showing me around. Not my smartest idea ever for sure. In the end I deleted my post without any results.
And I felt even more unsure. I knew that I extreme right-wing and Islam are two sensitive topics. Even in German I have difficulties sometimes to use a language which insults nobody. In English I have no clue about political correct writing and suddenly I felt very unsure if I’m good enough for what I’m doing. I’m not a skilled journalist, I’m just a curious woman who wants to write. But is that enough? Do I have enough knowledge to deal with some topics?
But the first week had some light moments, too. One night I could stay with a Latvian-French couple and their three-month old son. I told them about my fear to go to the north-city and they gave me a car ride through it. I don’t believe that woman get raped there or something but for sure you can see that it is a poor neighborhood. The houses are old and run-down. I saw long, long lines of people waiting at the red cross’ for food. Streets where the car bumped in meter-big holes and manly men on the street. We drove by the big block where Zinédine Zidane grew up and when we arrived back at their apartment my fear wasn’t gone. I still had no idea how to talk to people there or find another topic for Marseille.
On Friday, after a week in Marseille which passed by with mostly stupid touristy stuff and writing about not having anything to write about, I met a friend of my former flatmate in Berlin. My flatmate originally comes from Marseille but lives in Canada now. Her friend used to come over quite often, but mostly for partying. Though I have good memories about these evenings. But the meeting in Marseille was a disaster. He was wasted from the night before. It didn’t seem like he had some sleep and somehow we didn’t managed to have a conversation. We met in his favorite bar where he met a lot of his friends but introduced me to none. He took his glass with him when he went out to smoke or to say hello to some friends. And once he was back at the table he forgot about what we where talking and his eyes went through the room, searching for more friends. If he found some he just jumped up, took his glass, said “I’ll be back in a minute”. Of course he wasn’t. I think we both were delighted when I made up an excuse to go.
It was such a disastrous date that I was laughing loud the moment I left the bar. It was Friday evening. I still felt lost in the city. I haven’t had a place to stay for the night and no plan how my second week in Marseille would look like or where I could sleep. Thinking about all this, I got lost. Something happened why I was lost in Marseille, laughing about nothing. I lost my fear. I started to like what I saw around me and apparently I discovered a really nice quarter. I crosses a lot of zebras and nobody tried to rape me.
This was the moment my experiences in Marseille changed.
Later this evening I went to a Couchsurfing event. There I met a girl who spontaneously hosted me for the weekend. But more important: I met Ahmed who became my most important friend in Marseille in the second week. He called all his female friends to find a place to stay for me and took me for long walks in the nature around Marseille. On my last evening in Marseille I had some really nice stories to tell and a great time behind me but, as I though, nothing important to write about. Even though my second week was far better than the first I still wasn’t sure if I’m skilled enough to write about the Muslim community in Marseille
And this is when I asked Ahmed if I could write about him in for my blog. He smiled and answered every of my questions thoughtful and with endless patience. I’ll present you his portrait within the next days, but it wouldn’t be complete without the story around
In the end I haven’t learned anything about Muslim life in Marseille but I learned that sometimes the stories right next to you are the best.