We’re on the road to Morocco

by Will Sanders on January 4th, 2013

I paced back and forth around my dad’s place on Friday morning. It was 8:30, but it was Christmas week, shouldn’t we be leaving for the airport at 8:30? It is an international flight that leaves at 12:30 from the busiest airport in the world after all. I had told my father the night before 9, now I was thinking of going and dragging him out of bed to take me earlier, my mind was fretful and those precious 30 minutes seemed important. To kill time I went on youtube and watched Bing Crosby and Bob Hope sing ‘We’re off on the road to Morocco’ for the hundredth time. I finally hollered at my dad at 8:45, and we left ten minutes later getting a substantial jump on things. On the way my father and I got to talking and laughing and missed the turn for the new international terminal, which to be fair really comes and goes with little or no warning. He started cussing and I calmed him down which is normal for my dad and I, and we figured it out. I got to the terminal and rushed across the airport on the people mover. I made it to my gate with time for a nice coffee. I was off on the road to Morocco, the song was in my head on loop, and I only had a day in the air left to go. I sipped my airport coffee and watched people on CNN scream at one another on a flat screen in the corner. Fiscal cliff, blah blah blah.

Don’t fly delta unless you have to.

I got to New York with just a couple of hours to connect to air France. The little I saw of J.Fitzgerald.K airport didn’t impress me, as airports go it was no Singapore, let’s put it that way. I was lead outside to a tiny elevator waiting in an endless que in about 20 degrees. A couple tried in vain to help their baby warm up but the wind was vicious. I tried to let them on first but someone cut in front of us and we had to wait for the next one. I found and made the gate with just enough time for lunch. I had a gyro which was just sort of good enough. The beer was 8 bucks so I passed.

I boarded and found my seat, a nice window close to the bathroom. A younger guy with a heavy Scottish accent sat next to me and explained that his girlfriend and he had be separated and that she was ‘dev estit id’ that they weren’t sitting together, and if I was traveling alone would I mind. I didn’t mind and said sure, then realizing she was sitting smack dab in the middle seat in the middle row sandwiched in between two people and I had just traded a window. It was just six hours, and I was happy either way, but was quietly mad at myself for always saying yes to people, I am too nice and need to learn to say no sometimes. Just after take-off I tried to use the TV screen in the back of the seat in front of me, it came with all the latest release movies and TV shows but one problem: the sound was stuck on some droning ambient noise. I complained and got moved to the window on the exit isle with nothing in front of me but leg room. Sometimes nice things happen to people that have done something nice. The food on Air France is amazing, by the way. Shepherd’s pie with different cheeses, bread, and free flowing red wine, I almost couldn’t finish the whole thing. Pretty good wine too. Man, leave it to the French.

I had less than an hour to frantically find my gate in Paris, which has a very art covered and confusing airport. The big sign of departures has a terminal number, but the terminal is subdivided into huge sections separated by train. I guessed a section and guessed right, then went back into security, which was slow and endless, a clock on the wall was nagging at me the whole time. Finally, I flew in with about ten minutes to spare. I checked my email and got an email from a teacher at the school in Morocco. She sent train instructions, which were helpful as I was to land in Casablanca and take the three hour ride to my city. The past several weeks I have gotten a real kick out of telling people ‘oh yeah I will land in Casablanca and then take a train to Kenitra’ like it was no big deal.

The flight from Paris to Africa was uneventful. I tried to sleep but the mountains out the window stopped it from happening. The sun came up on the other side and shot shadows over bright jagged peaks with rock faces. Every time I dosed off I would wake up and look out the window and become once again dumb struck. This was a brand new landscape, it was empty and arid and contoured like a waded ball of paper that had been unsuccessfully smoothed out. It was a small plane, and I was starting to see a lot more people in Muslim dress and a lot fewer people who looked like me, and I hadn’t heard English in a long time.

I landed in Casablanca and got my heavy, heavy bag,(which I will be hefting for the rest of my story here) then the guy in customs gave my passport a spanking brand new stamp. Soon, it occurred to me, I would need more pages again. I am so fond of my precious little book of stamps and visas and memories.

I found the train station, managed to buy a ticket and figured out where to wait. I killed a half hour with a coke and an old soggy half sandwich from a lunch counter, sort of an unfortunate first meal in a country so known for food, but options were limited. The train rolled in and I pointed to it and asked the conductor “Kenitra?” he gave me a lot of words that made no sense to me along with a nod that did so I climbed aboard. Because of the email I had gotten in Paris, I knew to change in Ain Sabaa station, which as luck would have it was the terminal station on that line.

The sun was perfect. It was bright and warm but not too hot. It was lemonade on a summer day perfect, just enough breeze to be cool, sunny enough to need shades. I stood there on the platform waiting for the connecting train at Ain Sabaa station completely exhausted. I knew it was just a couple of hours more to Kenitra and then I could finally sleep. It was 24 hours since I had been pacing waiting for my dad the day before, and I just can’t ever sleep on an airplane. I have pulled an all-nighter plenty of times, I am a cowboy. This was fine, I knew I had a couple of hours left before the misery set in, then a couple of hours after that of semi functional movement if need be. But it wouldn’t come to that, I told myself. Just got to get to that train station in Kenitra and walk out across the street to the school and they would whisk me away to my new digs and to nap nap land.

The train exploded into the station in a furious scream. One minute everything was peaceful on the platform on a perfect nice sunny day, then the entire reality shifted and was filled with this gigantic rusted demon. People who had been chatting politely with strangers and puffing cigarettes were now rushing to get on, me with them. I drug my huge bag along a hall in the train until I found a compartment with an empty seat. Six or seven teenage looking kids eyed me up and down then lost interest. We rode in silence, everyone looking at the floor or out the window, or at their phones.

Each station we came to, I asked “Wesh hada Kenitra” which was also in the email, it’s the local dialect. Each time one of them would do a hand symbol very close to the just so-so motion but favoring the direction we were headed. Not yet in other words, the smallest effort possible to answer my question. For an hour I bothered them with this at every stop, clearly they felt that the time it took for one of them to wave no vaguely should have been spent texting. I got that they were getting sore, but also I hoped I had made it clear that I would sure appreciate being told when we got there. The stations had no signs, no announcement was ever made, and I had no other option but to rely on strangers.

I listened to the Ramones on my ipod, then the Ronettes, then different tracks from Stax by the Bar-keys and Otis Redding. I was listening to the track ‘Tramp’, Otis singing with Carla Thomas, daughter of the great Rufus Thomas. She spends the whole song fussing at Otis, telling him ‘Otis, you coming straight out of the Georgia woods’ and ‘You don’t wear continental clothes and you don’t have a Stetson hat’. The music and the landscape out the window started to fade, my eyes started to close. I kept it going, but I was a prize fighter on the mat at the end of a ten count.

In my dream I was with my friends on a stage in a nightclub. We were all singing the song from the show Cheers ‘sometimes you wanna go, where everybody knows your name (dum dum da dum) and their always glad you came dum dum da dum’. The train jerked to a stop and my head shot up. The terrain had been becoming more urban looking before, but now we were at a station that looked like wide open spaces with small mud farms thrown hither and thither. We were not in Kansas anymore. I looked around at the teenagers who I had been bothering, they seemed as bored as ever. I left the compartment and walked down the hall, people were climbing on and off, bumping past me in either direction. I asked a guy near the door, I pointed in the direction the train was heading “Kenitra?” He shook his head and pointed in the direction we had come and said “Kenitra” meaning I missed it. God knows how far back I missed it, God knows how long I was asleep, God knows where the hell we were now. All I knew was it wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

I went back into the compartment and grabbed my stuff, the teens didn’t seem to care or notice. The helpful man pointed out where I should wait for the next train, he seemed really concerned, he actually got off the train with me and walked me across the tracks to the platform with his hands on my shoulder, even though it was clearly the only place for me to go. He pointed into the distance of where we had come from and said “Kenitra”, I nodded and thanked him with an enthusiastic merci. He ran back to the train just before it started moving, and in a few seconds it was gone. There I was, in the middle of the Moroccan country side, waiting for a train with no idea when it would come and no idea of how long it would take me to get to a place I had no idea that I could find.

The sun was still warm and perfect, and I lounged on a concrete bench. On the other side of the platform was a village of mud adobe huts next to fields. I sat there for several minutes watching people wander across the tracks to get from the village to the other side of the station. Nobody seemed to take much notice of me, no matter how out of place I felt sitting there. A heard of sheep went along the wall with an old man following. Then the people were once again gone, and the platform was quiet, and I was alone. I thought of trying to sleep again, but the sun was too bright, I would have to find shade. As I sat there it struck me how little I was worried about my situation. I didn’t have to be in Kenitra that day for any reason, there was nothing planned for the following day. If worse came to worse I had money in my pocket and was sure I could ask someone for a place to sleep, a nearby hotel or on the floor of one of the village houses. Surely I could find someone around here who would love to get a little of my cash, might help them out a whole lot. I might even luck out and find a kind grandmother who wanted to feed me, I thought to myself. I was tempted to just wander off into the country side, just to see what would happen. I also felt pretty good that another train would come, just a matter of when. I walked into the station house to find a man in a very dark room behind a window. Again I asked “Kenitra?” this time pointing to my wrist. He started talking in Arabic, and apologetically I shrugged. Impatiently he pointed to a posted hand written chart at the number 14:45. It occurred to me that I had no idea what time it was in this country, I had nothing but jet lag and sleep deprivation. 2:45 could be hours for all I knew, or already past, what if he was telling me I missed the last one. ‘What the hell’ I said to myself and went back out to my bench. Nothing else I could do, and it was such a pretty day.

After a few minutes a man approached me. He was tall and had an old face that looked wise and was cut with cracks a kind smile. He wore one of those hats with the brim sewn to the front, but his was more old world than Puma. He didn’t bother with language, one look at me and he knew better. He took out a cigarette and fist with flicking thumb, he needed a light in other words. I have been quit since October (although I do cheat here or there, beer depending) so shrugged and shook my head, he smiled and put the cigarette in his coat pocket. I pointed at my wrist, he actually started to look at my wrist like there was something there I was showing him. I pointed more emphatically and shrugged and he had sort of an ‘OH’ expression and pulled out his phone to show me the time, 2:10, not so bad. He sat next to me on the bench, we both smiled and nodded at each other, ‘please join me’ in other words.

So we sat there, two men from different places with no mutual language on a bench in North Africa, both content and happy with the others silent company, both waiting on a train. A little bird decided to land near us. We both studied it. It was a brown bird, my Mom or Uncle are avid bird watchers and would have been able to identify it, but not me. After about ten seconds if flew off. The man called to another man walking on the platform across the tracks, the guy threw a lighter across to us and my guy caught it, lit up, and threw it back, the other man walked on. A train started coming and I collected my stuff and stood up, it came into the station without slowing and speed right past me, leaving me standing there like a fool. This made the man giggle and shake his head, he explained the whole thing to me in Arabic that I didn’t understand, but used a hand gesture of the train flying past which I did. I sat back down, and we both laughed. After a while I pointed to my chest and said ‘Kenitra’, he pointed to his chest and said some place in Morocco that I didn’t know and I smiled like I did. ‘Oh’ I said, which was stupid. I guess I hoped he we were going the same way and he could help me out, no such luck.

By and by, the train pulled up and we got on. The guy who had sat with me disappeared down one of the hallways without so much as a fare the well, I suppose he must have been sick of me already. Now, the question was getting to Kenitra without messing it up again, and how long it would take. My brain was getting fuzzy from the tired and I didn’t know how long I had been out or how far I had over shot, I was guessing at least an hour maybe two. I was standing in the section between cars next to the door with a huddled pack of travelers. From my bag I pulled a Christmas present, a book called French for Dummies, same folks that make the computer help books with the happy triangle man on front. I found how to say every time word you can think of except hours. I looked in the travel section and couldn’t find ‘how long to’ or ‘when do we get to’, maybe someone ought to make a book called ‘How to write a French phrase book for Dummies‘. So, I tapped the guy’s shoulder next to me and said the word Kenitra and started making a show of counting on my fingers to indicate hours. “Va minutes” was the reply, which from my 2 week French course I recognized as 20. I was still waiting to use the other French I remembered from those two weeks, maybe at some point I would have occasion to tell someone to ‘pick up the fork’, I thought to myself.

After 20 minutes and two stops I was there, my feet landed on the platform like they were the first on the moon. I marched out of the train station and sure enough, across the street was the school. I walked in the front door to the reception desk and with a banging fist on the table I proclaimed that I had just flown in from America and boy were my wings tired. If they got the joke they didn’t show it.

So they knew who I was and may or may not have been expecting me, I couldn’t tell. They wanted to know where Latoya (the other intern from my school) was. I told them I didn’t know when she was getting in, the next day maybe. They all started to freak out, the school was closed the following week, nobody would be able to pick her up from the train station. They wanted to know why I didn’t know more about her travel plans. They started demanding that I email her, which I did. They wanted to know her number and tried to call her, but when the number didn’t work they wanted me to tell them if I knew the country code. I thought it was 011 to call America, but I wasn’t really sure. They kept asking me to look it up. I told them that I would be happy to sit all day and wait for Latoya at the school if nobody else would. They said that was silly and I wouldn’t have to do that, I told them that she is my friend and I was not about to let her get lost in Morocco. I got angry then, I wanted to know why Latoya’s arrival was new information. I had myself emailed when I thought she was coming to the director of the school (who doesn’t return emails, by the way) and I was sure she had done the same. I wanted to know why it was now becoming my job to find her.

So they took me to my apartment, well first the wrong apartment and left me in a strange hallway for a while, then they marched me around the corner and a few blocks down to the right place. Finally after all that I started to pass out in a bed with no sheets that smelled like mildew. Pretty soon I was hacking and sneezing, so I have been on the couch ever since. It is, to be fair, a hell of a nice couch.

There is one teacher here named Hassan has been helping me with the Latoya situation, just because he is super nice and way cool I think, the school doesn’t seem to care one way or another. I waited for her Saturday at a café where I read and ate tangine, my new favorite thing on planet earth. I left a sign on the school door (the one place I knew she knew about) which read ‘Latorious MAT’ with a map to the café, she never showed. On Sunday I got a panicked email that she was unable to use her ATM card in this country and was penniless and unable to buy a ticket at the train station by the airport. We have no phones in this country, and I emailed and emailed, it was clear we had no means of communication and for whatever reason she couldn’t get back online. I wound up rolling up my sleeves and taking the three hour train ride back to the Casablanca Airport in hopes that she was still there. It was hours after her first message and I was panicked and sure she was too. I pictured her in a ball on the platform with all her bags crying. The train seemed to take ten times as long as it had a couple of days before. Finally, I got there and there she was. I pointed with a thumb over my shoulder and hollered across the station “What are you doing? Kenitra is that way, Dopey.”

I made sure she got fed and we took the train back. We got in at about midnight, it is 11:30 the next day as I write this and she is still passed out.

Today we will figure out the money situation. I had the same trouble with an ATM here and then found another one that worked so I am confident that she will do the same. As soon as she wakes up we are heading to Fes for a few days.

The food here is amazing, the people are so kind, the café’s are perfect for surfing the internet and sipping mint tea. I am already very much in love with this country, although already apprehensive about the school. I hate to toot my horn, but if I wasn’t around she would still be stuck at the airport, waiting broke and hungry. We still don’t have hot water, by the way, and I’ve just now put a pot on the gas stove for Latoya’s shower, she just got up.


Where ever you are I hope you are glad to be there. More later.

5 Responses to “We’re on the road to Morocco”

  1. Eddie says:

    Nice blog! Thanks for sharing all this. Welcome to the Arab world. Remember, no matter how bad it might seem at times, you can always console yourself that at least it isn’t “You-know-where!” :)

    Keep us updated…there must be a way to link your blog to your FB account, I’d imagine.

  2. Ragan says:

    This was awesome. And touching. Latoya’s a lucky gal to have you as a friend. :) Buena suerte from Costa Rica to Morocco!

  3. Lindsay says:

    Wow what an adventure youre having already. Glad to hear you both got there okay. Enjoy yourself and keep us updated :)

  4. Alix says:

    Will- you are my hero (as well as Latoya’s!!) What a big heart you have to go all the way back and find her. I’m a bit pissed that the school made no effort though; that could have turned into a very dangerous situation for her. I hope things change once you two start teaching. Casablanca… wow.. sounds like a dream. Your adventure is only beginning-I can’t wait to read more! Stay safe, take it all in. -Alix

  5. Theresa says:

    Daaaaaaaaaamn, it’s a good thing LaToya had you there, Will. Sounds like you have quite the adventure of your own getting there too! Isn’t missing your train stop fun? :p

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