There are always at least two ways to react to any situation. At the end of an otherwise perfect stay in Morocco, we had the unfortunate experience of being robbed and lied to, by none other than our very own AirBnB hosts, M and his wife Z.
We had gotten to know them over the course of nearly 2 weeks total. After a great first week with them, we promised to return at the end of our loop through Morocco for another week’s stay, since we had planned to take the ferry again back to Spain.
We decided to leave our big suitcase with them with extra clothing that was more suitable for colder climates. It was a decision I do not regret; it was a great experience with packing light and living more like a true nomad.
We trusted them so much that we did not bother to check the suitcase closely when we returned. We also didn’t leave behind any valuables we would really miss anyway.
However, a day after arrival, we did a quick inventory check of our cash reserves. We were missing about $200. Confused and perplexed, we felt silly for not checking our cash stock more regularly. It had been several days since we last checked, and we thought it couldn’t possibly have been M or Z who took it. It must have been at a previous AirBnB, or we were robbed on the streets while we weren’t looking. We had heard about expert robbers who used chopsticks to pick pockets, so it did not seem unfathomable that robbers could selectively steal cash while leaving the wallet and/or other bills behind.
So we wrote down the exact amount remaining – $280, and the date, May 15. It was the 14th in actuality, but I misremembered the date. I had briefly thought about carrying my wallet with me at all times from then on, but again, it just seemed so impossible for the problem to be at M and Z’s place, that I didn’t think it was necessary.
Then, on May 17, after dinner with everyone, I found that 75 dirhams (about $7.50) was missing from my phone case wallet (a different wallet from the one with all my (US) cash). I panicked because I literally had just used that money to buy ice cream on the way back from soccer, before dinner, only about 30 minutes ago.
M and Z saw me frantically searching for the cash, and a few minutes later, presented me with 75 dirhams. Z said she had found her 1.5 year old brother, who was visiting for a couple of days, with the money grasped in his hand.
This felt like a red flag, since to have taken it, he would have had to unzip my backpack, dig out my phone at the bottom, and ignore the shiny coins visible in the front pocket of the phone wallet, to take the cash from the inner pocket. He also was a shy child from what I observed after spending some time with him, always pointing to objects he wanted and looking to caregivers for permission instead of just grabbing them.
It was the first time it dawned on me that Z could actually be a thief. I decided to check my wallet with all my US cash. There was only $140 remaining. 3 days ago there was $280. And we did not go out at all to sightsee in the interim, only out to play soccer twice with M. I could no longer lie to myself that someone here in that household was responsible.
I trusted M completely and he was the one we had bonded with more since he spoke English, but Z only knew Arabic and M always served as a translator. There was also almost no way M could have done it; we are light sleepers, and the only times we left the house was to play soccer with him. I hadn’t brought my wallet to soccer since I wanted fewer things in my pockets while exercising.
But Z ever admitted to taking the money. We could see it on her face, but had no way of communicating, and it was not our style to outright accuse people. We decided to remove ourselves from the situation as quickly as possible, packing our belongings and leaving for another AirBnB the next day. It was not a pleasant goodbye, however, as M was in disbelief of the facts that lay before him and insisted that we miscounted our money or even made up this story entirely/put on a show so that we could pay him less.
We had still been negotiating a final price, and had not paid them yet for this second stay. M did not know how to set up his AirBnB account to accurately reflect the price he wanted, so the price we booked at was only about half of what he envisioned, however we did not feel it was fair to pay that full amount after the fact, because there were many other AirBnBs for much cheaper prices, with better locations or amenities. For his asking price, we could have gotten a very nice apartment entirely to ourselves. In fact, this is where we moved to after we found out about the robbery.
We procrastinated for a variety of reasons, which included feeling awkward about talking about money with a good friend, but also because he wanted cash and we wanted to use AirBnB via credit card, since we had no good way of withdrawing more cash and it felt more official to use AirBnB, but he distrusted AirBnB and rarely, if ever, used his linked bank account.
We wearily realized that we should have heeded the initial red flags of someone asking for payment in cash rather than through AirBnB. I have learned from this experience to NEVER compromise on the rules, even if the host pleads for money urgently to pay his mortgage, since AirBnB payments take 3-5 business days to reach one’s bank account. The lines were blurred because we had made a good friend, but in the end, staying at someone’s home should be treated strictly like business.
We felt completely betrayed. It wasn’t so much the loss of money as the loss of trust in two people we considered to be good friends. To be lied to by one and to be thought so poorly of by the other. I am a terrible liar, so I could not make up a story or act out a lie, even if I really wanted to.
I admit I definitely spiraled for a few days into a shell, losing faith in humanity and thinking I should never travel again or trust anyone in this world. While I did not think M had a role in it at all or had plotted this from the beginning, but of course the initial reaction was to think this. I wanted to warn other potential future guests, but at the same time didn’t want to think about or deal with the situation any more at all.
I bounced back more quickly than I could have imagined, however. All those practices of turning one’s thinking around really do pay off! I put myself in M and Z’s shoes. They could not work at their jobs during Ramadan for the entire month, and since M so urgently needed the money in cash from our first visit, finances were likely tight for them. From Z’s perspective, she was probably getting increasingly concerned that we hadn’t paid them yet for the second stay. So I suspect she took matters into her own hands in taking the $140 at the end, though it does not explain what happened to the $200 in the beginning. Perhaps she believed in the initial asking price M wanted.
It was not like we did everything right on our end, either. We should have paid them before the visit with AirBnB, since we were staying with enough time to ensure the money made it into their bank account. Procrastinating on talking about and deciding on a final amount hurt both parties. Avoiding uncomfortable but necessary tasks is never a good thing.
At the end of all this reflection, I concluded that they were still good people, but extreme circumstances can make even good people do bad things, especially if the opportunity is there and it’s unlikely they’ll get caught. Humans make mistakes, and we all face temptations. I had not met many people like this before, but my travel companion, R, had friends who ate food or took small amounts of cash lying around and then completely denied having done it. It does not make them sociopaths or bad people. Anyone would be ashamed of admitting to a mistake made in a moment of weakness or desperation.
I decided to reach back out to M. I did not think it was fair to punish him for what someone else had done, and was ready to pay whatever amount he felt we still owed him. It was not worth losing a friend over. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and I always try to do the right thing, since I believe in karma. The amount we already paid was sufficient based on the initial AirBnB price, but if he wanted a little more, that would be fine with me.
M said the amount we paid was fine and we did not owe him any more. To our surprise and shock, he told us that he was preparing to divorce Z! That he had a problem with her and her entire family, who visited their house occasionally. Apparently her sister took some of my clothing. Upon double checking, I was indeed missing my most prized and irreplaceable Michigan Medicine jacket, and a few pairs of underwear! He said he searched her belongings and could not find my clothing.
I was floored, but hey, losing something before made me more accustomed to losing other things, on the bright side. Also, I took it as a lesson in letting go of attachments to more material things. I still had my health, and possibly a friendship, and those are most important. It also helped to put myself in Z’s sister’s shoes — they were a family of 11 children, and I doubt they were able to have much in their lives. My heart also ached for her 1.5 year old brother, who seemed shy to the point of being withdrawn, likely from neglect.
It seemed like such a crazy situation he was going through. He had a lot on his plate, and I did not feel I knew him well enough to get involved, so I stopped messaging him. I have not heard from him since, so I don’t have clear answers. I don’t know what to believe.
There are always at least two ways of looking at and reacting to a situation. I can believe the worst in M and Z, that they set up AirBnB as a ploy to rob tourists and had planned this all from the beginning. Or I can choose to believe in the best of people, to recognize that M and Z were in financial trouble and Z saw an opportunity to alleviate that pain, and M was innocent and reacting appropriately to finding out his wife and her family were not who he thought they were.
I can see people scoffing at me, saying I am naive and will continue to be taken advantage of if I always believe in the good in people. But I would rather have this positive outlook on life and occasionally be taken advantage of, than to have a hardened, bleak worldview of not being able to trust anyone and always feeling the need to watch my back.
I share this as a cautionary tale for other travelers. Hide your money in multiple places, and do keep track of it. It’s just standard practice, and you should make it a habit. Whether you choose to believe other people are good or bad, things like robbery can still happen in the best of cases. Don’t be afraid to travel. The world is still a beautiful place, and has so much to offer!