Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in African Spain, Part I

As an American in Morocco I am obliged either to obtain residency through an arduous, non-descript process, or to leave before the end of three months. I held out for a while, gathering paperwork here and there. But eventually I gave in, realizing that leaving Morocco is less of a hassle than staying and navigating the bureaucracy. It is thus that I came to the brilliant idea last week to leave a day earlier than planned for the Eid el-Kebir celebration. Instead of departing on Thursday with my friend up to her family in Tangier, I decided to leave on Wednesday to Tetouan. My friend Alaina lives there—we studied beginning Arabic together in Jordan on the Critical Language Scholarship program in 2007.

On Tuesday 24 November I took a cab from my Arabic school to the CTM bus station, which is inconveniently located a ways from the city center, but convenient enough to where I study. I felt pretty good after my Arabic conversation with the taxi driver, but when I arrived to CTM I realized I had forgotten to bring enough cash for the ticket. Luckily when it was my turn I noticed a sign informing me that they were equipped to accept credit cards. Unluckily when it came my turn to pay, the handheld card swiper was out of receipt paper. In between I failed utterly to understand in Arabic a complication in the ticketing, eradicating the taxi conversation success. It took over an hour for someone to locate a ‘technicien’ (defined in French as a professional who has mastered one or several techniques—I’d like to know what the training program entails) to change the receipt tape in the machine. Buying the $20 bus ticket took almost 3 hours.

The next day I appeared at the bus station a bit over an hour before the scheduled 11 AM departure despite knowing the bus’d probably be late. Eventually a woman asked me the time, and after I answered her she began questioning me about my stay in Morocco. It all really felt like it was leading to a plea for money, especially because she told me almost immediately that her husband had slept with her best friend. There were also several interjections about her lack of money after the purchase of her expensive bus ticket. Since she informed me that she resided in Spain, I willingly gave her my contact information when she asked. It turned out to be a good decision, because just as I handed her my calling card, another woman sat between us and noticed the heading said “International Political Economy.” She joined and eventually hijacked the conversation, and I am expecting a call from her tomorrow to talk about some projects to work on together on economics and IPE in Morocco.

The bus ride from Rabat to Tetouan was uneventful. Alaina met me at the bus station and we spent a lovely, calm evening in her amazing apartment downtown with a fabulous view that she shares with a fellow English teacher. The next morning, Thanksgiving, I set off to find a grand taxi (shared ride to a specific destination) to Ceuta (Sebta in Arabic), one of the Spanish administered enclaves of Morocco. Getting there and across the border was a breeze. Not a single Spanish authority even bothered to look at my passport beyond a quick glance to establish that I wasn’t Moroccan. The no. 7 bus was waiting for me, and for €.70 I was schlepped to the city center. I wandered the city, taking copious amounts of photos and buying presents for myself like Spanish wine, nutmeg and a €22 sausage. It began to rain so I sidled into the Da Vinci Café on Calle Real for a chorizo and manchego bocadillo. That little grilled sausage and cheese sandwich was tremendously delicious. I finished it off with a café con leche, which I savored while staring at a very unhappy little boy who would have rather been anywhere else. There was a short pause in the rain allowing me to reach the bus back to the border in relative comfort.

The real adventure began in no man’s land between Spain and Morocco. TO BE CONTINUED...

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