Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Morocco Trip: Flights, trains, and luggage woes

Charles DeGaulle Airport Paris, France          6:40 am Eastern time/12:40 pm local time

I have set foot in Europe! I am standing in line at Security, waiting to get to my gate. The flight was nice—probably the nicest I had ever been on—but I only got about 4 hours of sleep. This was because I opted to eat dinner and watch an in-flight movie first, so I went to “bed” after midnight. The movie was “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. I enjoyed it, but I fell asleep before it was finished, so I didn’t see the end.

The meal on my flight was actually tasty!

It was startling to wake up at 4:50 by my watch and open my window shade to brilliant sunlight. Sleep fled from my eyes as I was just in time to see us pass from the ocean to the land of the French countryside. I took a few pictures and marveled at the patchwork of tiny, irregularly-shaped fields, dotted with houses and little towns. “So this is France,” I thought. Then it got cloudy and I was unable to see more until we descended for landing.

9:20 am Eastern time/3:20 pm local time

I am aboard the plane to Casablanca, awaiting takeoff! It was so interesting to be in the Paris airport and hear French spoken around me. There were a lot of upscale shops, selling perfumes, cosmetics, leather goods, silk scarves, jewelry, and so on. I walked around and enjoyed window shopping after a lovely two-hour nap, and I wanted to buy a postcard or two, but the money exchange place to get euros was closed.
I have this nagging feeling that I hope my luggage made it onto this plane. Was I supposed to have picked it up in baggage claim and then re-checked it in? I hope not, because I didn’t. They took us out to the plane on a bus, and I watched the luggage being loaded on the carousel for a long time. I never saw mine. I should have at least checked, or asked, or something. Oh, Lord, please let my luggage be on this plane!

Casablanca, Morocco                        5:25 pm Eastern time/9:25 pm local time 

The luggage wasn’t on the plane. I was delayed for two hours at the airport looking for it, filling out forms, etc. They’re supposed to send it on to Fez if they find it. I felt ready to cry as I stood there, watching the same unclaimed items run around and around the carousel, while mine never came out. Oh please! Let it be found!
The Casablanca airport was interesting. I felt unprepared for the number of veiled women, as I had thought I had read that was out of practice in the cities except among old women. Almost every person, women and men, were dressed in traditional Moroccan clothes, not Western ones. I felt like I stood out conspicuously.
I didn’t have to do anything to go through customs. There was one door for “Items to Declare” and another door for “Nothing to Declare.” I walked through the “Nothing to Declare” door and emerged in the main airport without anyone stopping me. Not that I had any luggage anyway.
Oh, how glad I am that my camera & computer were not in my checked luggage! And my contact solution & case! I don’t think I had anything irreplaceable in my luggage, so if it’s lost and I have to get reimbursed for it…so be it.
Once in the airport, I was on my way to look for a restroom, a place to change money, and a phone card. A man asked me a question in French. I replied that I didn’t speak French, so he switched to English. “Do you need a taxi?” Getting a taxi was on the top of the list of things I was worried about being able to do, so I replied, “Yes, I need a taxi to Fez.” He said, “Come with me,” and with some misgivings about whether or not I was supposed to do that, I went. With a mixture of English and Spanish (which he was better at), with a little French thrown in, we communicated with each other. He suggested that I buy a train ticket instead of hiring a taxi, which was going to cost “un beaucoup de money.” Since I didn’t have any luggage to get stolen anyway (other than my carry-on) and I wasn’t afraid of riding the train, I decided to go with that option. However, I told him that I needed money changed and a phone card first.
He showed me the money change place, which I had already seen, and after I changed money, he helped me to find a phone card, which I never would have found. Walking away from the little phone card shop, I suspected he would want money for his services, so I asked him, “Why are you helping me?” He replied, “I don’t understand.” I repeated it in Spanish, and he still said “I don’t understand.” I said, “Yes, you do,” and re-phrased it several different ways in both languages, but he still maintained that he didn’t understand. I shrugged. “Oh well,” I thought. “Whatever his motives, I feel much more comfortable with someone showing me what to do than I would if I just had to figure it out by myself. If I have to give him money, that’s just what I’ll have to do.” We went to a telephone, where I called Marie, told her the situation, and said that I was going to take the train instead of a taxi.
At the phone booth after I made the call, he asked, “¿Tienes novio?” (Do you have a boyfriend?) I said no. “¿Porqué?” (Why?) he asked. “Porque busco el hombre perfecto,” (Because I’m looking for the perfect man), I replied, not knowing how exactly to explain courtship in Spanish. He continued making small talk, asking questions about my family and where I was from and so on. During this time, we made our way downstairs to the train station, where I bought a ticket to Fez for 127 dirhams. The guy asked me again, “¿Porqué no tienes novio?” I repeated the same answer, and thought, “He wants a girlfriend.” He told me it would be a 40 minute wait for the train. “Would you like to wait here, or up in the cafeteria?” he asked. “Here,” I replied. He looked like the cafeteria would have been a much more pleasing option to him, but there were a few seats where people were waiting, and he led me to an empty one. “This is the time when I should pay him,” I thought, so I said, “Shall I give you something for your trouble?” I don’t know if he didn’t understand my English or if I did it wrong, but I should have just had it ready and pressed it into his hand. Otherwise it put the burden on him to ask me for money and thereby look greedy. He didn’t do that. He left, looking rather disappointed, and I sat there, rather confused with what I should have done.
Ten minutes later, he reappeared, and asked me in Spanish, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the cafeteria with me?” He looked very embarrassed, like he was making a great effort, and he said some more things in Spanish that I didn’t understand, and I said, “I don’t understand.” He thought I was now playing the same game with him that he had played with me earlier. Perhaps I was, in a way, because I was pretty sure this was his indirect way of asking to be my boyfriend, and I wasn’t going to have any part of that. He looked frustrated and sighed. “No, tell me again,” I said. “What do you want?” He replied, “Never mind, never mind, forget I said anything,” and hastily departed. The last I saw of him, he was running up the escalator steps two at a time, and he didn’t look back. Poor guy. So I didn’t end up giving him any money. Now I feel bad, because I was very grateful, and he was helpful and I liked him, despite his behavior and his questions. A lesson for what to do next time, I suppose.
I waited for the train and got on. I sat next to a very friendly lady who made a valiant effort to talk to me in French. In return, I made a valiant (but unsuccessful) effort to understand what she was saying. English and Spanish are the third and fourth languages for people here, after Arabic and French, so I will not be able to talk to many people. Plus, my Arabic phrasebook will not be useful, because it is Egyptian Arabic, not Moroccan, and there are many significant differences.
That train took me from the airport to the city of Casablanca, where I had to get off and wait for the Fez-bound train. The friendly lady found an English-speaking person to help me get on the right train, and he was also very nice. He was there with his brother, probably in his mid-thirties, and very proficient at English. He taught me some Arabic and explained a lot of things about their culture. He was outgoing, yet not flirtatious, and I learned a lot from him. He told me my pronunciation was good, and I showed him the picture album of my family. The first two pictures are of the whole family, one in our front yard at Easter and one on Roan Mountain. When he saw those, he said, “I see your family must be an example family. I can see right here that you love each other and don’t have all the family problems I’ve heard of in other American families. He continued to be amazed at the pictures and seemed very moved by them. At the end, he said, “I wish I could give you a picture like this of what Moroccans are like.” So I asked him a bunch of questions.
When I asked, “What should I never do while I am in Morocco?” he replied that Muslims are very sensitive of their religion, so don’t try to attack it or discuss it. He brought up the Danish cartoons that made fun of Mohammed, and said how mad that made people. I wanted to draw him out on whether he really thought I shouldn’t even discuss their religion, or if I just had to make sure I didn’t ridicule it. What about a discussion, for instance, comparing two different views without demeaning one or the other?” “Hmmm… that’s a good question,” he said. “But we Muslims, in the Koran, we already have information about Jesus. We already know about Moses and Abraham. They’re all written up in the Koran. So there’s really no point in comparing religions, because we already know what the Christians and Jews believe.” I thought that was a complex tactic. Nobody here can say, “Oh, I’ve never heard about this Jesus before—tell me more about him." They know their version. Also, they consider it sacrilege to speak against their religion, so it would be a major step just to get someone to be willing to consider logical flaws or information against Islam. It would take a very courageous and well-informed Christian and a very dissatisfied Muslim to ever produce a disciple.
For a while, the guy thought I was interested in becoming a Muslim, and his eyes lit up and he offered to have me over to his house to give me information. I declined as politely as I could.
My train came just as I was about to hear him explain how to barter, but we had to say goodbye. I shook hands and thanked them both. I boarded the train and looked for a compartment that had nice-looking people in it, entering number 5, where there were two young people, a girl and a guy. They both spoke a little English, and we talked about various things. They told me some nice recommendations of places to visit, and also warned me to be careful while I was in Morocco. They asked me what religion I was, and I replied, “Christian.” They smiled and nodded and exclaimed, “That’s good! Good!” I looked at them quizzically. “Really?” I asked, thinking, “Impossible. I can’t believe I’ve met Christians on the train.” “Yes, because all religions are equal,” they replied. They guy said, “I used to dislike people who weren’t Muslims, but then I went to school in France for 4 years, and I became open-minded. Now I have Christian and Jewish friends, too.” 
So now I’m on the train, I’m near Fez, and I’m fighting sleep. I’ve been traveling for over 24 hours. It’s been 32 hours now. I’m regretting that I didn’t go to the bathroom in the airport. I don’t know if there’s one on the train, and I don’t really want to get up and look. But I’m getting ready to whine, “ARE WE ALMOST THERE YET?”


We weren’t nearly almost there. I penned that last sentence at around 7:30 and got in at midnight local time. It was a longer trip than I thought! Mr. A was waiting to meet me at the train station, and he took me home so I didn’t have to catch a taxi. That was very nice, because I don’t know if I would have found it in the dark. It was so good to see Marie!! She led me through a gated courtyard, past an orange tree, up two flights of stairs, and into the coziest, most delightful apartment ever! The first sight that greeted my eye was the blue and white pattern of fabric on the faroushes (couches) in the salon (living room) and the blue and white pottery on the walls for decorations. I then found the bathroom (!) and explored the kitchen and two bedrooms. I took pictures all throughout the apartment. Marie and I sat on a faroush and talked for a little while, and then we headed to bed. 

Faroushes in our Moroccan apartment

The entrance hall (living room on the left, outside door on the right)


Looking into the kitchen from the entrance hall

Our kitchen equipment

Kitchen table and shelving

Our bedroom

The other end of our bedroom

This is the second post in this series. 
Keep Reading: The First Day
Begin at the beginning: The Journey Begins

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