How I was welcomed to Morocco: A travel tale

My first Morocco tales, dated on my travel journal Aug.28th.09

Al Akhawayn University Morocco

Destination: Al Akhawayn University. But not so fast!

I did a crazy trip en-route to Il Maghreb: San Juan (Puerto Rico)-NYC (2-night stay); NYC-London (3 nights); London-Madrid (6 days); aaand in just one day: Madrid-Casablanca, Casablanca-Fes, Fes-Ifrane. See, the means of transportation I had to use in the last “legs” of my trip were…interesting…

First off: I met a Moroccan lady on the plane (Madrid-Casablanca) that lives in Spain and visits family in Morocco often. We spoke about cultural differences, as I tried to use most of the Arabic I knew. She tried to respond in Egyptian Arabic so I could understand, which was AWESOME. My Arabic should be better than it is given to the program I completed in Egypt, but because of circumstances, well…still, it was better than I thought it was after I felt I failed an oral test miserably last month! And we will get into that…

So this sweet Moroccan lady actually went all the way from the airport to the train station with me and bought my tickets all the way to Fes, which I greatly appreciated. Then I got off at Voyageurs (?), one stop BEFORE my Moroccan lady. So we said goodbye and there I was, off on my own. First REAL (by that I mean for need to survive) attempt at using my Arabic was “I want water and food. Where can I get them?” I of course used the only spoken Arabic I can survive on (Egyptian), in addition to a funny kind of wording (Ana ayza ashtarii mia wa ta3m. Mahal feen?). Workers just laughed and looked at me both funny and cute. Or maybe just funny. I don’t know. All I remember was repeating myself until they finally understood. There I found Fayrouz pineapple (the best drink in the world) and my water. Then I remembered it’s Ramadan, so I was discretely hiding my stuff and taking on weird positions to be able to drink my ice-cold Fayrouz (again, best drink in the world). After my refreshment, I began to ask “where is my train?” There was a clear board that said my train should have been in the platform I was in…it was 3 o’clock and my train was leaving in 15 mins…I was like where where, trying to explain to people how I only speak Spanish, English, and very limited Egyptian Arabic. They just giggled and tried to explain to me (which you know it means sending me to different places EXCEPT the right one). AT ANY RATE, I finally made it to the train, which happened to be AWAY from the ACTUAL station, a bit of a walk in a random rail that seems to be out of order (?).

Now I was off to Fes. Yay. I met the sweetest Moroccan lady with her cute, SUPER hyper kid. After about half hour of a very broken, yet kind of cute, conversation in Arabic, she told me she actually spoke a bit of English. Ok. She must have been entertained. Her English was good enough to hold another conversation. But I insisted in using Arabic. So we just tried to speak in Arabic with her using English if I absolutely did not get it (meaning, MANY times. Haha). The most hilarious part must have been when her little kid yelled “You’re crazy!” to her mother in Moroccan Arabic (because she was speaking English and the kid thought it was gibberish). Or maybe when I left my purse in the bathroom and the lady reminded me of it. *coughs* My mind is way out there. Then I passed out and woke up RIGHT before my stop in Fes. Whoa, that was close. And there is where the REAL fun began. I got off with all my luggage, struggling to make it into the main “meeting place” (Latina + a semester abroad. You do the math).

Theeeeen…guess what happens? Yup, my “arranged transport” from Al Akhawayn University was not there. Beautiful. I thought maybe I didn’t look well enough, so I ignored the ragul (man) by a shared taxi yelling “Atlas!” (Where Ifrane is located). So, the ragul left and I end up completely stranded, I figured after 15 mins. Thankfully there was a hotel nearby. I checked the Internet. An email sent last minute by the university telling me to confirm my arrival. Dude, if I send you my flight info shortly before my arrival, it means in fact I WILL arrive. But, NO. MOREOVER, there was NO emergency phone number listed in the email. It was 7 o’clock by then. University offices were closed. GREAT. Mind you, here I am starting to freak out. A little. But then the ragul at the maktab al-istakbal (reception, and if I typed it right. Ha) told me there is a grand taxi coming out right in front of the hotel that takes people to Ifrane (Atlas. I KNEW THIS!! Grrr…). I was like, yay, solved! But not quite…

Fez Morocco train station

Fez train station by Davide Cesare Veniani

I went outside and what happened? It was time for iftar, or breaking of the fast. During Ramadan, the holiest month of Islam, Muslims do not eat or drink ANYTHING from sunrise to sunset every day. Then, as soon as the sun is down and the call of prayer hits, poom, BUFFET TIME!! Meaning: NO ONE is on the street…NO ONE. So, I was stranded for another hour. Then 8 o’clock hits. Nothing, except for a man trying to charge me 300 dirhams or $30 to take me to Ifrane “direct.” Ermm NO THANKS. Half an hour later, a family walked by, the people looked “reliable.” Again, in my broken EGYPTIAN Arabic I asked when and where could I catch a grand taxi (shared cab) to Ifrane. No answer. Just a bunch of Moroccan Arabic I didn’t quite get. But by their faces of indifference, I figured they didn’t know anything (Thank Lord for body language). However, someone “eavesdropped” my discrete conversation…so when I least expected it, a horde of ten men or so approached me like hungry tigers. Oh no, oh no…

They all tried to tell me that I was pretty much screwed and wouldn’t find any shared taxis at that hour, that they were all “done for the day.” So, basically, “I had no choice” but to pay anything between 300-500 dirhams for the ride (depending on the driver, of course). At this point I was just so tired, so frustrated because they were trying to explain to me other methods of transport (which were too complicated for me to understand and too expensive ANYWAY). I understood nobody, as everybody is spoke to me at 483564837 mph. Then I just broke out. I started to cry and sob. I heard several “aww!”s and such, then I say, or yelled, very frustrated: Mafish feluus! Wa laken ana laazim aruj ilgamia3! (I have no money! But I must go to the university!) over and over again. I honestly had NO money at that point. I forgot to mention to you I had (well, STILL HAVE) Egyptian pounds worth up to $200 USD…just to find out they are not exchanged in Morocco, khaaalas! (like AT ALL, done, finsihed!). Sooo, I only had like 135 dirhams left because I could not even see the balance of my Puerto Rican card and didn’t want to overdraft at the airport. Anywayyyyyyyy…

In what possible way could this mess turn into something…productive? A random man just stood up in front of the pack of wolves, Obama-style, calmed the crowd and delivered a speech. It was lovely to hear him speak. His rate of speech was lovely. His basic (VERY, very basic) selection of words was almost musical. I was understanding word by word, meia meia (100%). It was absolutely wonderful. “You need to get from here to Ifrane, right? And you have no money for small taxi, right? Ok, just come with me.” Yes, I did go, along with random driver, or sajbak as he said (his friend). Am I out of my mind? Probably. But guess what happened? I was taken all the way to a random spot in town, about 10 mins away from where I was, then they found me a big lime-coloured Mercedes Benz which served as grand (or shared) taxi, paid that driver, the petit taxi driver (or sajbak), then gave me 100 dirhams back. So? The whole deal ended up being 35 dirhams or $3.50 I was mabsuuta awi awi (very very happy)!! However, I had to wait for the Mercedes to get full, meaning I had to be in this part of town, full of only men, for like an hour more. I took the opportunity to buy a yummy sandwich since I only had a Fayrouz and bottle of water in my system. I read the menu: French and Arabic only. Meats…meats I had never heard off. I looked at them. Hmmm. “Steek” looked pretty legit (yes, it was spelled that way, both in French and Arabic. Hilarious). Paid the whopping amount of 20 dirhams (about $2. HA!). Delicious DELIIIIICIOUS, hearty, thick whole-wheat pita with the best seasoned steak. Ahhhh. Maybe I was too hungry. But it’s been 2 days and haven’t had ANY tummy problems. God is GOOD.

Soooooooo then I was in the lime-green Mercedes. After an hour I finally got to the university. It was 10 o’clock. PM. I was exhausted. The guards just looked at me like “EH!?” I mean, imagine a 5’4, 103-pound girl that looks 16 tops, arriving at 10 PM to a college campus in a car with a bunch of men, looking like crap. Umm YAH. Afterwards, the guards looked me up in the system. I showed up. Thank you Lord. But theeeen I had to wait like 20 mins. for an “official university car” to take me from the entrance to my dorm. While I waited, I explained to the guards, a young lady and a man, my odyssey. Entirely in Egyptian Arabic. I’ve never seen an Arab laugh so hard in my entire life. They kept asking me what did I say. I would repeat it, act it all out as desperate/frustrated as I was while stranded in Fes. They almost fell from their chairs. I made their night. I’m a bawler like that.

Al Akhawayn University Morocco

*phew* that's the next day btw...lol...

And that was my first day in Morocco!! *hears weird noises in background* I know, I know. You all must be SO proud… lol…

Have you been to Morocco? Got any crazy stories for me!? Comment!

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