Sunday, December 6, 2009

Part 2: At long last I have returned to finish the story!

After walking in the rain the required 7 or so minutes across the border, weaving between approaching vehicles and border entrepreneurs enticing passersby with last chance purchases, I arrive finally at the gate that will release me back into Morocco. But alas I was not allowed to pass because I hadn’t gotten my passport stamped. After asking several bureaucrats (all the while it is STILL raining) I make my way across several lines of slow moving automobile traffic and back, still not finding the elusive window. Eventually after wandering around for nearly an hour and without the help of a single border guard (NOT one of them could direct me to the ‘putain de guichet’

like this, but in the rain and without the hats...

to get the form and the stamp), I finally was able to obtain the customs form at the drive-up window, but I couldn’t convince them to service me since I was on foot. After completing the form, and trying futilely to keep it dry, I join the nebulous mass of people that characterizes all bureaucratic transactions in Morocco. In a refreshing twist, the bureaucrat refused to acknowledge a woman who jammed her arm past mine under the narrow window aperture. He took my passport and wet customs form, stamped as necessary, and off I went finally to emerge back into Morocco.

But alas the adventure was only beginning. Ever still in the rain, by this point I was soaked through my hoodie, cardigan and shirt down through to my padded bra. At the entrance where the grand taxi had deposited me a few hours earlier, there was total chaos and no Tetouan-bound vehicle in sight. After scoffing at a ridiculous offer of transport for 200 Dh (I paid 15 Dh to get there), I stood amidst the hordes without a plan or a clue. Before entering Spain I had switched my phone off to avoid fees should I receive any calls or texts. So standing bewildered and stranded in the rain I searched through my thoroughly wet bag filled with 2 wet books and my grocery purchases for my phone. It occurred to me that I might call Alaina, have her commission a grand taxi and come fetch me. However tragedy struck when I couldn’t turn my phone on because I had forgotten it requires a security code. It’s such an incredibly, infuriatingly reliable piece of archaic Norwegian technology that I never switch it off and am thus unhabituated to entering the code. There I was, wet and utterly screwed—I had no phone numbers and no notion how to get back to Tetouan. Happy Thanksgiving.

I do not imagine that I can remit the complete desperation of the situation, but like any good Muslim would, I surrendered. I submitted—after all Muslim means one who submits—to the situation, bereft of a plan. Eventually I started asking people shyly if they were headed to Tetouan. None of them were remotely interested in assisting me, despite how pathetic and clueless I was. After watching 2 or 3 wild hordes overtake the few incoming Tetouan grand taxis, I noticed a woman over wrought with bags. I approached her and said, “You need help. I help you.” And I took some of her bags, of which was a large package of adult diapers. Oh the dignity. A young man, whose name I would learn is Radwan, had also come to her assistance, and I followed them without thinking and without a notion of how we would proceed, knowing only that they would provide. I heard the woman, whose name I’ve forgotten, say the Moroccan word for public bus. I agreed, assuming that she was suggesting we make our way for the next town over, Fnideq. So Radwan arranged a grand taxi to take us a few km away into town. We then walked the rest of the way (still in the rain) to the bus station, which is really too sophisticated a term for the location. There we waited still more, me with my own small bag and two of the woman’s bags (I hope the diapers were intact when she got home). When the bus for Tetouan approached, it was Bedlam! Radwan was the first of our troupe on board, and he dutifully saved seats for us. I managed to fight my way through, triumphing over the diminutive but nonetheless ruthless Moroccans, and boarded from the back door (that’s what she said). In no time the bus was excessively full, yet another miracle of flaunted but practical (contextually speaking) lack of safety standards. Radwan was a pleasant and well-mannered conversationalist and the woman generously offered me water, which I drank, from the communal bottle.

grand taxis next to Lovers Park in Tetouan

We reached Tetouan after about 90 minutes, but my duties didn’t end there. Radwan and I followed our 3rd companion into the Tetouan medina, handed over her wares, wished Eid Mubarak and parted. Radwan kindly accompanied me back to Alaina and Mary’s apartment with the inept directions I was able to offer in Arabic—they live next to a flower shop and you can see the mountains from the balcony.

It occurs to me as I write this that I owe him a thank you text, which I will dispatch shortly. On this Thanksgiving 2009, I am thankful for selfless reciprocity, vaccines, raincoats, and Spanish wine. I spent a pleasant, dry Thanksgiving with Alaina and Mary, enjoying my Thanksgiving shawarma and Spanish wine.

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