I’m back to home sweet sandy home. No more dirt or deciduous trees for a while. =)
How I came to be here is something of a story though. This whole trip was fraught with times that I was saved from my inexperience only through a series of good breaks fortuitous enough to border on divine intervention. My departure shows this all too well.
The day begins with me in Tanger. I had a pleasant time the day before wandering the streets with J?rgen and slept soundly. About 8:00 I sort of drowsed up and lay about reading a book of adventure stories my aunt, Sharon, gave to me in Paris. “No problem,” I was thinking, “there is a 9:00 train, but I don’t need to catch it since it only takes five and a half hours to get to the airport station; Casa Voyageurs.”
So I work my way out of bed at a leisurely pace, noting a little stiffness and pinkness in my left knee. Not especially concerned I stuff my copious quantities of clothes, medicines and reading materials back into my bags and get ready to go.
I’m generally a pretty light traveler, but I wasn’t home for Christmas and my family was kind enough to hold it off for me until we met in Paris. I got pretty much a complete wardrobe, a goodly portion of a pharmacy and a few sweets. In the interests of saving weight I disposed of the jellybeans in the first two days. The remaining non-consumable parts though probably weighed in at about 80-90 pounds. Thanks to a solid suspension system on the backpack I could carry it all pretty well at a quick waddle.
Walking is after all the only exercise I get here. It though I get in spades with it taking about 15 minutes to get to work and about an hour to get to the Peace Crops bureau.
So I head out of the pension around 9:15. About half an hour later I’ve decided I’m not lost and that I’m close to the train station. I find a cyber cafe and send out a little update to the effect of not being dead and en route to Nouakchott, inshallah.
I make it to the train station at 10:45 with plenty of time to spare. I’m a bit sweaty since the temperatures had started to climb to the 90’s, but none the worse for wear other than the lingering stiffness in my knee.
All is looking good. My first bit of worry comes as I examine my journal. Coming up from Casablanca I notice the trip took six and a half hours. “Hmm,” I think, “my plane leaves at 18:20. They told me to be there at 17:00. 11 + 6.5 = 17.5. 17:30. Half an hour late. That’s not good. I wonder how strict they are here on boarding?”
Then as the ticket fellow came around to punch my ticket he told me I had to change trains in about an hour.
“The fellow at the ticket counter told me it took five and a half hours. Right? Could he have said ‘sept’ and not ‘cinq’ maybe? Is it seven and a half hours and not five and half? I know he didn’t say ‘six.'” My insecurity about my French combined with my fear of getting stranded in Casablanca and played in my mind.
Once I was at the stop I saw the next train didn’t leave for another half an hour and though this did nothing to calm me it did leave me time to go into the station and ask about what time the train arrived at Casa Voyageurs. Much to my relief the fellow told me we would pull in at 17:15. Perfect.
Back out at the station, I was munching on a chicken sandwich when another of the passengers waiting on the platform asked me, “do you have the time?” “Yeah, it’s 3:20, so they train’ll be here in about fifteen minutes,” I said taking note of her perfectly accented American English.
Never able to pass up an opportunity to chat in English I ask her where she’s from and she reveals that she is an ex-Fulbright scholar en route to New York before heading home to Washington D.C. Samantha is her name and as I look at her I see how her angular features and dark hair decidedly give her the look of someone from the Middle East. She tells me that with her fluent French and passable Arabic she doesn’t have any trouble getting along here.
I mention my worries about and resolution of my scheduling problems with our arrival in Casa Voyageurs. “But,” she questions, “what about the half hour to get out to the airport?” “The what?” I respond in a vain attempt at postponing the revelation through incomprehension. “Casa Voyageurs is not the station at the airport. The airport is another train that takes half an hour.” “Oh,” I say still hoping that perhaps this is some sort of cruel joke on her part.
She seems convinced and it explains a discrepancy in my notes of 30 durham between what I paid to get to Tanger and what I paid to get back.
I ask her to watch my stuff and jog back into the station to ask about the train to the airport. Every hour at five after. Trip time takes 33 minutes. I’d arrive at 18:38, to late to even watch my plane departing.
“I appear to be screwed,” I think to myself.
Back out at the platform, Samantha and I talk for a while longer and I notice that it’s 14:40. This is not comforting since the train theoretically arrived ten minutes ago. We have been sitting on the platform the whole time and this clearly has not happened.
Another five minutes pass and the sign flashes “train 15 minutes en retard” as the train pulls up. “Goodie,” I bemuse, “if I wasn’t screwed I’m going to be 15 minutes late.”
As it turns out we arrived 20 minutes late.
Samantha has thankfully decided to forgo her first class compartment and rough it with me and about five other people in a second class compartment. I’m really thankful for it because in addition to being an entertaining conversationalist she has the clue that I lack. She’s already given me several good possibilities with the best being throwing myself on the mercy of the Peace Corps in Rabat.
This is something of a gamble since country directors have pretty wide control and I could get anything from a nice place to stay to a kind smile and nothing else. I figure I’ll just lie down in the street outside the bureau and they’ll have to do something with me since me getting murdered and beaten on the bureau doorstep would be decidedly bad press. If there is one thing I think I can count on worldwide from the Peace Corps it is an avoidance of bad press.
She inquires of one of our fellow passengers where one might find cheap lodging in Casablanca along the lines of the 40 durham pension I was at in Tanger. I learn at this point that “louche” means “ladle” when used as a noun and “seedy/shady” when used as an adjective.
In the process though she explains my plight and it becomes the talk of the car; everyone has an idea and a suggestion. They are mostly in Arabic though and so not especially useful to me.
The fellow of whom she inquired initially is of the opinion that I can buy out all the seats in a “grand taxi” for 200dh and make it to the airport on time. This was Samantha’s original suggestion, but our being 20 minutes behind schedule caused her to retract it. He is emphatic though and tells me he will help me when we arrive.
Betting on his certainty I decide to give it a try.
I am betting pretty heavily too. This taxi will cost me 200 of my remaining 300dh. I could maybe manage to survive until the next flight on the 300dh, but on 100dh I’m pretty much up the creek.
I bid Samantha and my Moroccan benefactor a quick good-bye and we are off. It is, of course, 17:35 (5:35pm). We are, of course, in a town of four million. The traffic is, of course, a horrendous snarl. My driver keeps the pedal to the metal and I keep my eyes pretty much affixed to my watch, especially for the last ten minutes of our 35 minute car ride.
So, 18:10 we arrive. I hit the ground at my best impression of a run (again, carrying 90lbs.) I arrive at the ticket counter and in my best help me for the love of God voice I ask about the flight. She starts to glower at me and then apparently is taken by a bit of pity and instead picks up the phone with an exasperated look and calls someone.
I’m panting and trying to get my bags ready as she tells me, al-hamdallah, that I can still get on, but I can’t check my bags or they’ll refuse. This seems odd to me since my bags are huge, but she’s for it, so I am too. She gives me a boarding pass and tells me to hurry.
I take off at a run again and make it to the rotund guardian of the gates. “You can’t take that bag,” he declares. “It’s too big.” “Please, please, please, I say. My plane is leaving and I have to catch it.” “No,” he says, but I think I see a glimmer of hesitation. “I don’t have any money. If I miss this flight I have to sleep in the airport. I’ll carry the bad on my lap. I’ll find something to do.” He glowers a bit. “Please, please let me go.” I ask on the point of begging. Had I been female it would have been the perfect time to start crying, but it was a move I didn’t figure I could pull off.
He sort of grumbles and looks aside allowing me to run past and nearly into a police officer three steps later. “Green card?” he asks. “You mean for Mauritania?” I respond in a rapidly degenerating melange of French and English. He looks at me, seems to realize that communication is next to impossible and waves me on handing me a card (green) to fill out with my passport information.
I scrawl some stuff on it and jog up to an empty window. I look up onto the wall and note with a sinking sensation that it is now 18:20 and my plane may well be on its way to my home. I head around the window and a shocked and authoritative voice tells me to get back around the window. It sounds serious enough and belongs to a large enough police officer that I dart back out of instinct as much as anything.
I’m sort of bouncing around with my suddenly stifled energy calling through the window that my plane is leaving and I’d really like to go.
Of note, I was under the impression “je vous en prie” was along the lines of “I beg of you,” and I I was sprinkling it in liberally between my “s’il vous plaits.” Turns out it means “thank you” in general. So they police may well have been ignoring me because I appeared a sweat soaked gibbering idiot and they were forming plans as to how to subdue me.
After a could minutes one of them wanders over, glances at my passport, and stamps it; waving me through. I take off again at my quick waddle to the gate. I breathe a happy sigh to see a waiting room full of mulafas and bou-bous.
After I made it through one more metal detector I drop my bags and stand for a moment in triumph. Most of the room stops to examine and discern my dysfunction, but I don’t care. I am arrived. I don’t have to sleep in the airport. I don’t have to go begging at the Peace Corps office. I get to go home.
The plane takes another 20 minutes to get ready and we leave almost 40 minutes late. I don’t care though. I’m going home.
I make it home and fall pretty quickly asleep noting the increasing pain in my knee. Apparently it was holding off til I finished my trip to give up the ghost because I awoke this morning with it looking more a grapefruit than a knee. I can walk, it’s just anything that requires bending that doesn’t work so well. I’ll head to the bureau Sunday and get an opinion on it.
It feels good to be home.